CHARLOTTE. N.C. (AP) — Mac Jones overcame two early turnovers and threw for 139 yards and a touchdown, J.C. Jackson returned one of three Sam Darnold interceptions for an 88-yard touchdown and the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-6 on Sunday for their fourth win in the past five games.
Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson had 106 yards from scrimmage before leaving the game with a head injury and Damien Harris and Hunter Henry scored touchdowns as the Patriots (5-4) improved to 4-0 on the road.
Darnold had another miserable outing for Carolina. He finished 16 of 33 for 172 yards with three picks, two of them by Jackson after the Panthers (4-5) reached the red zone. Darnold has been intercepted nine times and thrown only one touchdown in four career games against the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots.
Unlike two weeks ago, Panthers coach Matt Rhule didn’t bench Darnold despite interceptions on three straight possessions in the second half. As has been the case for most of the year, Darnold spent most of the game under heavy duress after losing starting center Matt Paradis and left tackle Cameron Erving to injuries in the first half.
Even the return of Christian McCaffrey from a five-game absence couldn’t help Carolina’s offense. Christian McCaffrey had 14 carries for 52 yards and caught four passes for 54 yards in his return to the starting lineup.
But Carolina’s only points came courtesy of its defense, which forced two Jones turnovers in New England territory in the first half — one off Brian Burns’ sack-fumble and another when former Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore had an interception.
The Panthers trailed 14-6 at halftime after gaining just 65 yards in the first half.
The game changed for good in the third quarter. The Panthers reached the Patriots 20, but Darnold rolled out of the pocket on a second down play and overthrew tight end Ian Thomas. Jackson intercepted the ball and raced 88 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown.
Things continued to unravel from there with Darnold picked off on his next two possessions as well, including another by Jackson in the end zone. After that interception, wide receiver Robby Anderson followed Darnold off the field, threw his helmet toward the bench and proceeded to give the quarterback an earful as he passed by him twice on the sideline.
Patriots: Running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson and wide receiver Gunner Olszewski left the game with head injuries and did not return. Harris’ injury came in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. Tight end Jonnu Smith injured his shoulder in the second half.
Panthers: Defensive end Brian Burns injured his right ankle late in the fourth quarter and did not return. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin injured his hand. Melvin Paradis injured his left knee on Carolina’s second play from scrimmage and was carted to the locker room. Erving injured his calf later in the first half and did not return.
Patriots: Host Browns next Sunday.
Panthers: Visit Cardinals next Sunday.