Panthers QB Sam Darnold will start vs. Broncos instead of Baker Mayfield

It's Sam Darnold's time to shine. The Carolina Panthers announced on Tuesday that their previously sidelined QB will make his first start of the 2022 season against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, pushing Baker Mayfield into the No. 2 spot.

Darnold, who made 11 starts last year for the 5-12 Panthers, has spent nearly the entire season on injured reserve after sustaining a high ankle sprain in a preseason game. He and Mayfield had been competing for the starting job, and while it didn't seem likely Darnold would win it, the ankle issue made the Panthers' decision easy.

The initial prognosis on Darnold was 4-6 weeks, and the Panthers designated him to return from injured reserve in mid October. They had 21 days to activate him, and they waited until day 19 (Nov. 7) to actually do it.

When Darnold went on IR, it was hard to see him getting a chance to start with Mayfield in the driver's seat. With Mayfield clear of Cleveland, he was expected to resume playing at or close to his top level. That did not happen. Mayfield has been limp and ineffective, to the point that interim head coach Steve Wilks had Mayfield's backup, P.J. Walker, make a handful of starts. But now Walker is nursing an ankle injury of his own. And faced with the choice of more Mayfield or giving Darnold a shot, Wilks decided to go with Darnold.

Weirdly, Darnold and Mayfield have performed about the same for the Panthers. In 12 games last year, Darnold completed 243 of 406 passes (59.9 percent) with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In seven games this year, Mayfield has completed 119 of 206 (57.8 percent) with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Sam Darnold #14 of the Carolina Panthers warms up prior to a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Panthers QB Sam Darnold will finally get a chance to start vs. the Broncos on Sunday after spending almost the entire season on injured reserve. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)