Mayfield starts for Panthers, Darnold throws TD

Jeff Okudah Named Week 1 Starter at...
Jeff Okudah Named Week 1 Starter at Cornerback

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CHARLOTTE, NC — Baker Mayfield got the start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers in their preseason opener at Washington, but Sam Darnold held on.

Mayfield and Darnold are in what the Panthers call an “open” competition for the starting job. Neither made a big deal about who started after Saturday’s 23-21 win over the Commanders.

“It was my turn to start,” said Mayfield, who has mostly alternated with Darnold over who works with the first team in practice. “Just take it one day at a time. Don’t be critical of ourselves and try to get better.”

Said Darnold, “For me personally, it’s doing everything I can with the plays that I have. That’s how I have to take it at this point.”

Mayfield went 4-for-7 for 46 yards on his only drive, which ended with a 41-yard field goal. His biggest mistake was a fumbled snap in the red zone (19-yard line) that left him with a third-and-14 pass that he didn’t complete.

“Obviously, you have to clean up the center QB market,” Mayfield said. “It was 100% my fault. Points are always good on the opening drive, but not getting into the end zone is frustrating.”

Darnold took over at the Washington 19-yard line on his first series after the defense recovered a fumble. He needed just three plays to get Carolina into the end zone, the third an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who was one of Mayfield’s favorite receivers in Cleveland the past four seasons.

Darnold made a good impression on the touchdown in an area he struggled with last season. He completed just 54% of his passes in the red zone in 2021 and had an overall quarterback rating of 34.

Darnold got a second streak when his first came up short. He threw his only pass attempt under pressure on third down.

“It was a good first drive and the second drive … it wasn’t the best,” Darnold said on the telecast.

Mayfield got off to a fast start, completing his first two pass attempts and four of his first six to move Carolina to the 19. The drive stalled on his fumbled snap, but overall he commanded the offense against Washington’s first-team defense.

Mayfield and Darnold shared reps with the first team in the first phase of training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which ended Wednesday.

Coach Matt Rhule said he won’t make a decision on his Week 1 starter against Cleveland until after next week’s joint practice in New England and Friday’s preseason game against the Patriots.

His mantra since the camp opened has been “when we know, we know.”

But Mayfield wasn’t up until Thursday night’s FanFest at Bank of America Stadium, and now he’s started the preseason opener, signs the team is leaning toward him.

Rhule didn’t make a big deal about Mayfield starting, though.

“That was just for today,” he said. “Just for today. Both guys played well in terms of production.”

Carolina acquired Mayfield last month in a trade with the Browns, who replaced the top pick in the 2018 draft with Deshaun Watson.

Both Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called Mayfield’s progress through the first two and a half weeks of training camp “impressive.” Mayfield said Saturday that his understanding of McAdoo’s system is “night and day.”

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “It permeates our entire offense.”

PJ Walker got the bulk of the work in Saturday’s win, going 10-for-19 with no touchdowns or interceptions. Rookie Matt Corral went 1-for-9 for 11 yards.

Corral, despite leading Carolina to the winning field goal thanks to a pair of Washington penalties, said he needs to have better communication no matter who he’s playing with.

“We always say we want complete, clear and concise communication,” the third round said. “We were just all over the place out there and that’s on me.”

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