Can Sam Darnold lead Carolina Panthers to glory in Week 17 at Bucs?

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

Can quarterback Sam Darnold continue his recent resurgence by leading the Carolina Panthers to glory in Week 17 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Nobody could have imagined the impact Sam Darnold has made since coming back into the starting lineup. The quarterback might be well insulated and playing within a system that relies heavily on establishing the run, but four-straight games without a turnover for someone that dished out interceptions like confetti in 2021 is immensely encouraging.

Darnold came into the team with renewed purpose. The Panthers had no other option, in all honesty, but the signal-caller’s seized his final chance to prove capable of becoming a productive starter and he’s also shifting the narrative surrounding his future career aspirations for good measure.

The former USC star was nothing short of outstanding against the Detroit Lions in Week 16, throwing for 250 yards, securing two combined touchdowns, and earning a lofty 85.4 QBR. Darnold was poised, made big throws in critical moments, and kept the offense ticking over when needed behind a phenomenal rushing attack.

This bodes well for Darnold heading into Carolina’s crunch clash at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. A game that has added significance with the NFC South championship still up for grabs.

Sam Darnold faces a high-pressure situation in Week 17

It’s a high-pressure environment that represents unchartered territory for most on the Panthers’ roster. This is the biggest franchise game in the last four years at least, which is something that piles additional pressure in the face of a far more experienced Buccaneers team led by legendary gunslinger Tom Brady.

There is a newfound aura where Darnold is concerned right now. No longer is he the hesitant, laid-back individual that struggled to reach pre-draft expectations – this is now a determined, focused veteran with a huge opportunity in front of him.

Carolina will aim to establish the run and go from there at Raymond James Stadium. This is the blueprint that’s been so successful under Steve Wilks – who can cement his long-term head coaching hopes with the Panthers by overcoming the Bucs – but the offense also needs Darnold firing on all cylinders when called upon.

Playing the game and not the occasion, being efficient with the football, and making solid pre-snap reads will help enormously. If Darnold can do this and others hold up their end of the bargain, the Panthers have a real shot at overcoming the odds.

Darnold’s career renaissance is almost a microcosm of how things are currently unfolding in Carolina. Some significant momentum has been generated in recent weeks and if this carries on over their remaining two games, then the unlikeliest NFC South title and postseason berth imaginable can be secured.

What’s important for Darnold is maintaining a sense of perspective, keeping calm with the spotlight glaring, and continuing to let things come to him rather than forcing the issue. Something the Panthers hope can spearhead their route to glory in Week 17.

Tampa Bay’s secondary is among the league’s best and can turn mistakes into turnovers in the blink of an eye. And the last thing Carolina needs is Darnold returning to the indecisive quarterback we saw plenty of in 2021.

Darnold’s presence under center when all hope seemed lost is fascinating. Another strong performance could be the deciding factor in potentially securing a new short-term deal ahead of free agency.

And that would be an absolute fairytale considering how bleak things looked for Darnold this summer.

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