Panthers starts Baker Mayfield in the QB with PJ Walker injured

Panthers starts Baker Mayfield in the QB with PJ Walker injured

CHARLOTTE, NC — Quarterback Baker Mayfield will return to the starting lineup for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday after an MRI taken over the weekend revealed PJ Walker suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday night’s win over the Atlanta Falcons.

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

This will be Mayfield’s first start since spraining his ankle in a Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He was replaced by Walker the next 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 game time over the past month was the second half of a 35-17 blowout loss at the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7, during which he led three scoring drives and lapped 14-for-20 for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Mayfield struggled during a 1-4 start to an overall QBR of 15.3, which was the lowest in the NFL this season and the worst since ESPN started using the stat in 2006. He had four interceptions and four touchdown passes during that stretch.

Caretaker manager Steve Wilks said Mayfield’s most important role against the Ravens was “to protect the football.”

A solid running game under the direction of D’Onta Foreman should take some pressure off Mayfield, who was the top overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft. The Panthers rushed for a season-high 232 yards against Atlanta and have averaged 159.5 yards in the last four games since Christian McCaffrey returned to the San Francisco 49ers. They averaged 89.9 yards as they started the first give games with Mayfield.

“Everything starts at the front,” said Wilks, who has committed to the running game since Matt Rhule was fired after a 4-1 start. “We’ve got to do a great job of really establishing the running game and if we pass, we’ve got to do a great job of giving him a clean pocket so he can go through his progress and get the ball down the field.

After Darnold returned from injured reserve last week and Walker played well, the Panthers had been exploring all options at quarterback, including a possible release of Mayfield, according to a league source.

Walker was 2-3 as a starter, including Thursday night’s 25-15 win over the Falcons that made 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 “soaked it up and played it through.”

Wilks did not set a timeline for the injury, saying only that Walker would not go on injured reserve.

“A major ankle sprain limits his mobility…so we’re going to dump him this week and go with Baker,” Wilks said.

Mayfield has plenty of experience with the Ravens, having spent 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 posted an 83.2 passer rating while throwing 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

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