Darnold, defense lead Panthers past Jets 19-14 in season opener

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold celebrates after scoring against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Sam Darnold threw for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score against his former team as the Carolina Panthers defeated the New York Jets 19-14 on Sunday to win their first season opener 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 piled up 187 yards from scrimmage on 30 touches after missing 13 games last season with injuries.

Carolina’s defense brought the pressure on Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, sacking the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft six times and intercepting him once. Wilson kept battling, though and finished 20 of 37 for 258 yards with two touchdown passes to Corey Davis in his first career start.

The loss also spoiled the head coaching debut of Robert Saleh for the Jets.

Darnold, acquired from the Jets for three draft picks this past offseason, struggled in the red zone early. He turned over the ball on a botched handoff that hit his fullback’s arm and the Panthers had to settle for a short field goal by Ryan Santoso on another possession.

But the momentum changed midway through the second quarter when the Jets went for it on fourth-and-inches near midfield and Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos tackled Tevin Coleman behind the line of scrimmage.

On the next play, Darnold found Anderson streaking down the middle of the field for a 57-yard score. Darnold then made it 16-0 on the next drive when he scored on a 5-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw as the Panthers outgained the Jets 282-72 in the first half.

Wilson spent the better part of the game under heavy duress, pressured on 10 of his 19 dropbacks in the first half. He was 0 for 7 passing with three sacks on those pressures, according to ESPN Stats Info.

Wilson’s final sack came with 2 minutes left when his head hit the turf hard after getting landed on by 320-pound defensive tackle Derrick Brown. But he stayed in the game and connected with Davis for with 1:56 left to cut Carolina’s lead to 19-14 and give his team a chance.

But the Panthers put the game away on the final drive on an 18-yard run by McCaffrey.

Despite the pressure, Wilson had some bright spots including the late TD toss and a 22-yard touchdown pass to Davis late in the third quarter when he rolled out of the pocket to buy time.

INJURY UPDATE

Jets: Starting LT Mekhi Becton left in the second half with a knee injury and did not return. Saleh said Becton was still being evaluated and had no word on the extent of the injury. … P Braden Mann (left knee) left in the first half after a teammate grabbed a Carolina player and fell into him. K Matt Ammendola took over punting duties and did well, including a booming 65-yard punt. … Rookie LB Jamien Sherwood (ankle) and S Lamarcus Joyner (elbow) left in the first half and did not return.

Panthers: CB Myles Hartsfield left with a wrist injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Jets: Host the New England Patriots next Sunday.

Panthers: Host the New Orleans Saints next Sunday.

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