CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Perhaps he will take a moment when he’s alone, or when he’s speaking with friends or family. Maybe then Sam Darnold will admit just how good it felt to beat the team that gave up on him after just three seasons.
But in the moments after Sunday’s 19-14 win over the Jets and Zach Wilson, the quarterback who replaced him, Darnold was not willing to indulge in any public chest thumping.
Yes, he hinted that this was personal, that this was unlike an ordinary regular-season opener. But he simply wouldn’t go there when asked if he felt a sense of retribution by beating his old team. Especially after scoring a touchdown himself and throwing another to his former Jets’ teammate.
"I’m not going to lie," Darnold said, "seeing [the Jets] on the other side, that was a little different for me. But other than that, once you throw that away and you look at the scheme and our offense versus their defense, you kind of forget about it. We tried to execute to the best of our ability."
That’s for public consumption. Might some stronger feelings come out in a quieter moment?
"I’m sure later tonight, maybe tomorrow as I’m watching the game [on tape], I’ll start to feel that," he said when asked again if he felt vindicated. "But it was just good getting a win. I feel like we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to."
Darnold was mostly solid in his debut with the Panthers, which came a little more than five months after he was dealt by the Jets, who selected Wilson with the second overall pick in the draft. Darnold was 24-for-35 for 279 yards, and he threw a 57-yard touchdown to former Jets receiver Robby Anderson. Darnold also scored on a 5-yard QB draw. The only blemishes: two failures to get into the end zone after getting deep inside Jets’ territory. A botched exchange with running back Christian McCaffrey led to a fumble recovered by the Jets, and he had to settle for a field goal after getting to the Jets’ 3.
He loved connecting with Anderson on the long touchdown pass, but mostly because of the good it did for the Panthers, not the damage inflicted upon his old team.
"We really didn’t think about it like that," Darnold said. "It was just a good connection for a touchdown, that was it."
Actually, Anderson did see it a little differently.
"I got to make a big, impactful play and remind them," said Anderson, who was not retained as a free agent after the 2019 season.
Darnold did have some kind words for Wilson after the game.
"I just told him to hang in there," Darnold said. "I told him he’s a really good player. You just have to take it one week at a time. There’s a lot right now. He just has to take it one game at a time."