It’s been a rough start for the last-place Carolina Panthers this season. But to complicate matters, they have now lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to a left ankle injury. Backup quarterback PJ Walker will start against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6.
On Monday, the Panthers fired head coach Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start to this season. Rhule had an overall record of 11-27 in Carolina, and team owner David Tepper finally got sick of losing.
The San Francisco 49ers dominated the Panthers in Week 5 in a game that was not as close as the 37-15 final score indicated. Mayfield suffered an ankle injury in the first half against the 49ers, but continued to play despite the injury. On Monday, an MRI revealed a high-ankle sprain, and Mayfield is expected to miss several weeks of action.
A little painful right now,” said Mayfield after the game while exiting the stadium in a walking boot.
The average high-ankle sprain takes anywhere from four to six weeks to heal. Mayfield is expected out anywhere from two to four weeks.
With Mayfield at the helm, the Panthers averaged 18.6 points per game as the eighth-lowest scoring offense in the NFL. In total yards, the Panthers have the worst all-around offense in the league, averaging 271.4 total yards per game.
Even though they have dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers are the sixth-lowest rushing team in the NFL, averaging 89.8 yards per game. With Mayfield at quarterback, Panthers averaged 181.6 passing yards per game, the fifth-lowest passing attack in the league.
Mayfield Struggled After Trade to Carolina
The Cleveland Browns took a flier on Mayfield with the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But he never lived up to the lofty expectations that are thrust upon any first pick.
During the 2021 season with the Browns, Mayfield gutted through a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder, but struggled with a 6-8 record as a starter in 14 games. He threw a career low 17 touchdowns, but also coughed the ball up with 14 interceptions.
After the Browns acquired Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans last March, the Browns put Mayfield on the trading block. The Browns did not field many calls from teams eager to add Mayfield to their roster. He was coming off shoulder surgery, and his stats and high salary were a deterrent. The desperate Panthers were not 100% sold on Sam Darnold as their starting quarterback, so they added Mayfield in a trade in July.
In five games this season, Mayfield completed 84-of-153 passes for a 54.9% completion rate. He connected on only four touchdown passes and threw four interceptions. He added one rushing touchdown, but had five fumbles.
It is a lot of frustration,” Mayfield said after the Week 5 loss. “And the more you think about it, anger because we haven’t played to our capabilities.”
Mayfield has a cringe-worthy 16.5 QBR rating, which is the second-lowest rating in NFL history for any quarterback through the first five games of the season since they began tracking the stat in 2006.
The Panthers hope a coaching change will shake up the team. But a quarterback change could also inject some much-needed life into the listless offense.
PJ Walker Next Man Up for Panthers
Darnold thought he was battling Mayfield for the starting quarterback job in the preseason. However, Darnold suffered a high-ankle sprain in their preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills. The Panthers placed Darnold on the IR, so Mayfield won the starting quarterback job by default. Darnold has not fully healed from his ankle injury, and he’s still a couple of weeks away from returning to action.
The Panthers selected quarterback Matt Corral with a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But he took a bad beat during a preseason game against the New England Patriots. Corral went down with a Lisfranc foot injury and will miss his entire rookie season.
With two quarterbacks going down in the preseason, PJ Walker moved up the depth chart and took over the backup role behind Mayfield when the season began.
Interim head coach Steve Wilks named Walker the starter in a road game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. The Panthers are +11 underdogs versus the Rams. The Panthers are one of the worst betting teams in the NFL this season with a 1-4 against the spread (ATS) record.
Walker made a name for himself in the XFL a couple of years ago before he joined the Panthers. He has a 2-0 record filling in for the Panthers as a spot starter for one game in 2020, and another last season. In limited action over the last two seasons, Walker completed only 55% of his passes, with two touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Walker saw some action against the 49ers in Week 5. He completed five passes for 60 yards while filling in for Mayfield during one possession. He was also sacked twice.
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