CHARLOTTE, NC – Sam Darnold threw for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score against his former team as the Carolina Panthers beat the Jets, 19-14, to win a game on Sunday. opening of the season for the first time since 2018.
Darnold connected on a 57-yard touchdown pass with fellow ex-Jet, Robby Anderson, and took full advantage of a healthy Christian McCaffrey, who racked up 187 scrimmage yards on 30 touches after missing 13 games last season with injuries.
The Carolina defense put pressure on Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, sacking him six times and intercepting him once. Wilson, a rookie drafted second overall, continued to fight and finished 20 of 37 for 258 yards with two touchdowns to Corey Davis in his first career start.
The loss also marred Robert Saleh’s head coaching debut for the Jets.
Darnold, acquired from the Jets for three draft picks in the last offseason, struggled in the red zone early on. He returned the ball in a failed transfer that hit his full-back’s arm and the Panthers had to settle for a short field goal from Ryan Santoso on another possession.
But the momentum changed midway through the second quarter when the Jets attacked him in the fourth and inches near midfield, and the Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos tackled Tevin Coleman behind the line of scrimmage.
In the next play, Darnold found Anderson scurrying through midfield for 57 yards. Darnold went on to score 16-0 in the next practice when he scored on a 5 yard touchdown run on a quarterfinal draw as the Panthers outscored the Jets 282-72 in the first half.
Wilson spent most of the match under a strong constraint, pressured 10 of his 19 first-half setbacks. He was 0 for 7 passing those pressures and took three sacks, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
The last sack Wilson picked up came with two minutes left, when his head hit the turf hard after being hit by 320-pound defensive tackle Derrick Brown. But he stayed in the game and joined Davis with 1:56 left to reduce Carolina’s lead to 19-14 and give his team a chance.
But the Panthers sidelined the game in the last practice on an 18-yard run from McCaffrey.
Despite the pressure, Wilson had a few bright spots including the late touchdown throw and a 22 yard pass to Davis at the end of the third quarter when he pulled out of his pocket to buy time.
Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ starting left tackle, started in the second half with a knee injury and did not return. Saleh said Becton was still being assessed and had no word on the extent of the injury. The Jets host the New England Patriots next Sunday, while the Panthers host the New Orleans Saints.