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Darnold shows Jets what they gave up, leads Panthers past his former team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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.

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Darnold said there was no sense of vindication beating the team that traded him in the offseason. He said seeing the Jets on the other sideline was “a little different,” but said once the game began he pretty much forgot about it.

“I mean, I’m sure later tonight or tomorrow when I’m watching the game I’ll start to feel that, but it was just good to get a win,” Darnold said.

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“I thought Sam played excellent,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “... We weren’t great up front tonight, but he hung in there and slid around the pocket and found guys down the field and made key third-down throws, key first-down throws and protected the football.”

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.

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

Darnold, acquired from the Jets for three draft picks in the 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.

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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 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.

“My neck is a little sore. But I’ll be all right,” Wilson said.

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.

Next up for the Jets is their home opener against the Patriots on Sunday.

Injury report

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.

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