The Carolina Panthers began the 2021 NFL season with three consecutive victories but have since dropped four straight games as All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey has been sidelined and is now on injured reserve because of the hamstring issue he first suffered back on Sept. 23.
Quarterback Sam Darnold has particularly seemed to miss McCaffrey's presence during this losing streak, and the Panthers had been linked in trade rumors with wantaway Houston Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson until a Wednesday update on that situation and before Darnold was benched in favor of former XFL star P.J. Walker in this past Sunday's 25-3 loss at the New York Giants.
Carolina coach Matt Rhule said last week that Darnold wasn't playing well enough but backed his quarterback while speaking with reporters on Wednesday and ahead of this Sunday's matchup at the 3-3 Atlanta Falcons.
"For me right now, I’m focused on this week and trying to beat Atlanta," Rhule remarked, per Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. "Feel really good about Sam. Obviously wasn’t a great game this past game. At the end of the day, when Sam goes back and watches himself or our whole team goes back and watches themselves against the New Orleans Saints, we see exactly what he is and was and can be, and we’ve just got to get back to that spot. Obviously, as you know, I can’t comment on any other player. I’m focused on Sam and getting him back to the level he was playing at. I think that has to be everyone’s focus."
According to ESPN stats, Darnold currently sits 29th in the league with a 77.5 passer rating and 24th with a 41.9 total QBR.