Panthers’ Darnold carted off field with sprained ankle

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers backup quarterback Sam Darnold and kicker Zane Gonzalez were both carted off the field in the third quarter of Carolina’s preseason game Friday night against the Buffalo Bills.

Darnold suffered a left ankle sprain after Bills defensive tackle C.J. Brewer landed on him as the quarterback was releasing the ball. Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Darnold will have an MRI on Saturday, but the team is fairly certain that he does not have a fracture.

If it is a high ankle sprain, that’s normally an injury that keeps players out four to six weeks.

“Sam’s a tough kid and he usually comes back pretty quickly,” Rhule said.

When asked if the Panthers might consider bringing back Cam Newton for a third stint with the team, Rhule said nothing is off the table. Rhule said he enjoyed his experience coaching Newton last year and views him as a true professional.

Several Panthers players ran over to Darnold as he was helped onto the cart. Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a good friend of Darnold’s, also ran onto the field to offer encouragement.

Darnold was 5 of 11 for 49 yards and ran for a 1-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 21-0 lead.

Earlier in the week, Panthers coach Matt Rhule announced Baker Mayfield as the starter over Darnold, who was 4-7 last season as Carolina’s starter.

This is the second straight week the Panthers have lost a quarterback to an injury in a preseason game.

Last week rookie Matt Corral, the team’s third-round draft pick, suffered a season-ending injury when he tore a ligament in his foot in a 20-10 loss to the New England Patriots.

If Darnold is out any significant amount of time, P.J. Walker would presumably be Mayfield’s backup.

Darnold’s injury came just minutes after Gonzalez was carted to the locker room with a groin injury. Gonzalez was injured while warming up on the sideline on the wet field. Punter John Hekker converted the PAT on Darnold’s touchdown.

Rhule was unclear on the extent of Gonzalez’s injury.

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