Sam Darnold knows what’s at stake with the Carolina Panthers in 2021

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Sam Darnold /

Sam Darnold performed well in the final preseason game, but the Carolina Panthers quarterback knows exactly what’s at stake in 2021.

It was an important part of the process for Sam Darnold on Friday night. The Carolina Panthers quarterback is holding himself to high expectations following his trade from the New York Jets, so there was a lot on the line despite it being just a warmup contest before the regular season gets underway.

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t put on their first-team unit. But Darnold still had to go out there at Bank of America Stadium and perform.

Not only for himself.

But for the doubters who are questioning the Panthers’ decision to bring him on board in the first place.

There were some things to work on. However, the composure and conviction displayed by Darnold in the first half left more reasons to be encouraged than not.

His eventual stat line of 16-25 for 162 passing yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 119.1 was a big step in the right direction. It also immediately followed an impressive training camp for the USC product that saw Darnold come to life once the pads were permitted to go on.

Sam Darnold is aiming to get better throughout the season.

It’s just a start. Much more will be needed when competitive action begins for Darnold to prove beyond all doubt that he can be an effective starting NFL quarterback and take Carolina where they want to go.

Darnold brushed aside his eye-catching showing – his first meaningful reps under center since the trade – but his determination to keep getting better is sure to stand the player and the Panthers in good stead moving forward.

"“It was good to get out there and get that game feel. I think all the starters can attest to how there was some good; there was some bad. For me, it’s really just learning from last year and understanding when to get the ball out in a timely manner. I think that’s the biggest thing is finding completions when the defense does a good job of covering guys. So I’ve just got to keep learning from that and getting better in that area.”"

There was a real velocity to Darnold’s throws. This was especially evident during a two-minute drill that ended in a touchdown and outside of one or two poor decisions, he left the field having made a notable contribution.

Darnold has a lot riding on the 2021 season. Most people are giving him a pass for what turned out to be a disastrous three years at MetLife Stadium, which wasn’t helped by a lack of quality players around him and a head coach Adam Gase who should have been fired long before the decision eventually came.

Getting his teammates to buy in is something that Darnold has accomplished. If he can produce the goods and come through for them in clutch situations early on, it’s only going to increase their belief.

A looming cloud is hanging over the organization in the form of Houston Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson, who was once again linked with a potential trade to the Panthers on Saturday before media close to the team stated it wasn’t something they are currently pursuing – and perhaps rightfully so with everything going on.

This is Darnold’s team. At least for now.

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Just how long that’s for is entirely up to Darnold. And make no mistake., he knows exactly what’s at stake from a personal perspective in 2021.