It remains to be seen whether Sam Darnold's worst performance of the season results in a benching for the Carolina Panthers quarterback, but for now, an injury has done it just the same.
P.J. Walker will start at quarterback this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after tests revealed that Darnold has a crack in his shoulder scapula in his throwing arm, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday. Darnold is expected to miss several weeks as he looks to heal from an incomplete fracture, Rapoport added.
It's been a rough couple of weeks for Darnold, who sustained the shoulder injury and was placed in concussion protocol after a Week 8 win over the Falcons. Atlanta linebacker Foye Oluokun crushed Darnold on a second-half hit that loosened the quarterback's helmet, resulting in his removal from the game and more than likely, per Rapoport, causing the shoulder injury, as well.
Darnold was limited in practice throughout last week and was listed as questionable to play against the New England Patriots; he ultimately played, but his performance suggested he probably shouldn't have. Darnold threw three interceptions, including a 88-yard housing by cornerback J.C. Jackson, and completed just 16 of 33 passes in a 24-6 loss.
After early season signs of effectiveness, Darnold has regressed with 10 interceptions over his last six games for a 4-5 team that won just once over that stretch. After the Patriots loss, Panthers coach Matt Rhule would not commit to Darnold as the team's starter going forward.
"That wasn't good enough from the quarterback position," Rhule said Monday, per the Charlotte Observer. "We had guys open with some opportunities that we weren't able to connect on. Too many batted balls that can't happen at this level. And then obviously, three giveaways. I think when you look at our season, when we protect the football, we've had a chance to win."
Rhule has been supportive of Darnold as the starter throughout the season until now, so if Walker is effective going forward, it could be his job to lose even after Darnold's injuries heal. Walker draws a tough assignment for his first start of the season, and his second-career start, Sunday on the road against the 8-1 Cardinals.