Cam Newton to start for Panthers, but with Sam Darnold activated from IR, is expected to play

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Sam Darnold and Cam Newton embrace following a game last season on Jan. 3 as members of the New York Jets and New England Patriots respectively. Sunday, the two are teammates and expected to share snaps for the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN) – Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold was officially activated from injured reserve this week and is active, and will also play, Sunday at home against division-rival Tampa Bay. But he won’t start.

Cam Newton will take the field for the Panthers’ first snap Sunday, and more, but head coach Matt Rhule said Carolina will deploy a two-quarterback approach against the Buccaneers – which isn’t actually a bad thing.

The Panthers have been more successful with a dual-QB approach this season than without it, despite Darnold and the Panthers beginning this season 3-0.

Carolina is 5-9 and has gone a disastrous 2-9 after the undefeated start. However, their wins have come with Newton and P.J. Walker both playing.

Darnold fractured his scapula, or shoulder blade, in Week 9 and has been out since.

However, multiple sources say Carolina wants (and needs) to see him play a few series. And, depending on how he does, could play a substantial amount. So much so that Rhule could give him the starting job back for the remaining two games.

“We brought him (Darnold) here to be a starter. We want to see if he can play at that level again,” Rhule said earlier this week.

Carolina has put a lot of stock into Darnold, acquiring him from the New York Jets prior to the 2021 season. They will pay him his full $19 million next season regardless, as his fifth-year option on his contract is already fully guaranteed regardless of performance or usage.

Furthermore, in Newton’s month and a half in his second stint with the Panthers he has already been benched multiple times. He’s not the “Superman” he once was.

A perfect formula on paper reads Newton as a short-yardage and goal-line performer, almost like a running back, while Darnold takes care of work in the mid-field. But will that plan be congruent and smooth come game time?

“Early on in the season I thought we were an excellent passing team,” Rhule said this week. “I’d like to see us get back to that.”

Newton has just 623 passing yards and as many interceptions as passing touchdowns (4) in five games played this season with Carolina. That’s 124.6 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Darnold had a 3-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio in the first three games this season before beginning to suffer from nagging injuries.

Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium is at 1 p.m. eastern today.

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