Panthers to start Mayfield at QB with Walker injured

Panthers to start Mayfield at QB with Walker injured

CHARLOTTE, NC — Quarterback Baker Mayfield will return to the Carolina Panthers’ starting lineup on Sunday after an MRI taken over the weekend revealed that PJ Walker had sprained his ankle during Thursday night’s win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Sam Darnold, who lost open competition to Mayfield for the starting job during training camp, will be the backup for the Week 11 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

It will be Mayfield’s first start since suffering a sprained ankle in a Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He was replaced by Walker the following week against the Los Angeles Rams and had remained the backup for the past four games, despite being healthy enough to play.

Mayfield’s only playing time last month came in the second half of a blowout 35-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7 in which he led three scoring streaks, going 14 in 20 for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Mayfield struggled to hit a 15.3 total QBR in a 1-4 start that was the lowest in the NFL this season and the worst since ESPN began using the stat in 2006. He has had four interceptions and four touchdown passes during that streak.

Interim coach Steve Wilks said the first thing Mayfield needed to do against the Ravens was to “protect the football”.

Having a solid running game led by D’Onta Foreman should relieve Mayfield, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Panthers rushed for a season-high 232 yards against Atlanta and averaged 159 .5 yards in the last four games since star Christian McCaffrey was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. They’re averaging 89.9 rushing yards in early games with Mayfield starting.

“It all starts up front,” said Wilks, who has been committed to the running game since Matt Rhule was fired after a 1-4 start. “We’ve got to do a great job of really establishing the running game, and when we pass, we’ve got to do a great job of giving him a clean pocket so he can track his progress and get the ball across the field. ”

With Darnold returning last week from injured reserve and Walker playing well, the Panthers had considered all options at quarterback, including a possible Mayfield release, according to a league source.

Walker was 2-3 as a starter, including Thursday night’s 25-15 win over the Falcons that kept Carolina (3-7) a factor in the NFC South, which is led by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ( 5-5). He suffered the injury in the fourth quarter, but it was never reported because, as Wilks said, Walker “sucked it up and played through it.”

Wilks didn’t put any timetable on the injury, saying only that Walker wouldn’t go to injured reserve.

“A sprained ankle is limiting his mobility…so we’re going to let him sit this week and go with Baker,” Wilks said.

Walker said on Monday he didn’t realize the severity of the injury at the time, adding “but the pictures and photos (from the MRI) say otherwise.”

“It’s really disappointing, especially as a team where we’re getting better every week,” Walker said Monday. “It’s hard to deal with and I want to be out there with the guys for sure.”

Walker is the third Carolina quarterback to sprain his ankle this year. Darnold was injured in the preseason and Mayfield in Week 5. All three injuries came at home on Carolina’s artificial surface, which was installed ahead of the 2021 season.

Mayfield has plenty of experience against the Ravens after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North before being traded to Carolina in July.

In his eight starts against Baltimore, the Browns went 3-5 as he had an 83.2 passer rating while throwing 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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