Jets on the Panthers Rating: Sam Darnold wins Carolina debut towards ex-team, rookie Zach Wilson

It wasn’t exactly the barn burner you were hoping to see, but things got extremely interesting before all was said and done. The New York Jets offered little resistance for most of the game, but some courage in the late game from rookie first-round pick Zach Wilson gave the Carolina Panthers a real last-minute scare on their way to escape with a 19-14 win at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Any other season, if you’re not a fan of either team, you would probably have glossed over that match in Week 1, but in 2021 it would have been stupid to do so even if it didn’t burn down the scoreboard. Under the headline of Wilson working to outperform his predecessor in former Jets first-round pick Sam Darnold, it was the latter who goes with the last laugh.

In the middle of the second quarter in a goalless tie, Darnold made a phenomenal throw against wide receiver DJ Moore for a sideline catch that required every molecule of the toe-drag swag to hold the inbounds. But Darnold gives and Darnold takes away, coughing a premature fumble at the fourth and 1 from the 4-yard line of the Jets as he tries to pass the ball to running back Christian McCaffrey. Luckily for Darnold, Wilson was prepared to make the first big mistake of his young NFL career: throwing an interception that was tipped and overtaken by linebacker Shaq Thompson.

The Panthers used the mulligan with a field goal that broke the goal drought and seemingly opened the floodgates because Darnold then reminded everyone that his arm can be a problem for opposing defenses. On the Panthers’ next run, Darnold tossed a point to Robby Anderson, his ex-jet compatriot, scoring a hit on a 57-yard moon shot. A missed field goal by Ryan Santoso saves a three-field goal affair, but the Panthers (both offensive and defensive) finally began to find a groove.

The second half was more of an accomplishment for the Panthers defense than Darnold, but that was all they needed considering Wilson continued to operate under duress and with little protection, with no help from Tevin Coleman and the running game. Playing from behind throughout the competition and being forced into a one-dimensional attack with a rookie QB on top was exactly what head coach Matt Rhule had hoped for, and the result was exactly what one would expect. Darnold and the Panthers were in the driver’s seat while Wilson was mostly a deer in headlights, but not before doing a little damage to the front end in Carolina – and being thrown for a second career touchdown late in the fourth quarter – something to hold on to when You are a fan of jets.

On the injury front, however, there are major concerns for Gang Green as Mekhi Becton was carted off the field as a third-quarter starter with an apparent knee injury. That, of course, is the Jets’ biggest story of the week, depending on what his test results show.

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