Healthy Mayfield “rolls with the punches” like QB2

CHARLOTTE, NC – Although Baker Mayfield is healthy enough to play on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons, he accepts his role as a backup defender to quarterback PJ Walker.

It would be the first time since the first three games of a junior season with the Cleveland Browns that the top pick for the 2018 draft did not start when he was healthy.

It’s one of those things. It’s one of those new things. You just have to roll with the punches. Obviously it’s not my plan. I’m one of the competitors, but I deal with the punches,” Mayfield said Thursday in his first interview since he missed two games with a sprained ankle. To help this team in any way possible.

“I came here to win. If my role is to help PJ out of the sideline and help this defense with the scouting team stuff, I’m going to do it. And I’m going to do it all I can.”

Mayfield added that he did not want to be traded before the Tuesday NFL deadline.

“I’ve had enough time with these guys,” Mayfield said. “I want to be here.”

Mayfield said that’s a different situation than it was in Cleveland in the spring when he asked to be traded after Brown began pursuing former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Mayfield, who was acquired by the Panthers in a business deal in July, said: “This is a completely different scenario. It was 1 to 31 before I got there. This is very different. I won’t go into that. They are not comparable situations.”

Mayfield also admitted that he is at a crossroads in his career as he plays his fifth-year option on his first NFL contract.

“Obviously useful,” Mayfield said. “Year five option. There’s no more guarantees I’ll be here. So I’m just trying to deal with it as much as I can, take whatever role it is and do it as best I can and deal the punches.”

“I trust the opinions in this building that they see the work I do consistently and I want the team to win. That’s just me.”

Despite the decision to go with Walker, Mayfield also showed his support for interim coach Steve Wilkes, who was with him at Cleveland in 2019 as defensive coordinator for the Browns.

Mayfield said, “You have the respect he calls it as he sees it. It doesn’t hold back. It’s transparent. That’s all there is to it.”

This will be Walker’s third straight start for Carolina (2-5) since Mayfield was injured in a fifth week loss to the San Francisco 49ers. One day later, coach Matt Rolle was fired.

Wilkes announced Monday that he has been sticking with Walker this week regardless of whether Mayfield or veteran Sam Darnold, who is also dealing with an ankle injury, are healthy.

Mayfield, who started 59-game winning streak in Cleveland after replacing Tyrrod Taylor in 2018, has made it clear he is healthy enough to play.

“If I go out and train, I can play,” said Mayfield, who missed two games with Browns in 2021 with a shoulder injury.

Mayfield couldn’t say enough good things about Walker, the former XFL star who started his NFL career in 2017 as an unpolished starter with the Indianapolis Colts.

“I don’t think he had that mentality at all,” Mayfield said, “he finished 4th on the depth chart. NPG is a great leader. He’s a great midfielder. He’s a guy who’s constantly progressing in that spot. He’s obviously been in a few other places, But he didn’t hesitate. He went out there and did the thing he wanted. I have a tremendous amount of respect for BJ as a player, but more than that as a man.”

Mayfield is in a position where he has to take the job back for some reason. He ranked last in the NFL in total QBR (15.3) over the first five games and was on target in the professional lowest in nearly every statistical category.

Walker is 3-1 as a starter — and 1-1 this season — since entering the league in 2020. He posted a QBR total of 73.9 in Sunday’s 21-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and completed 16 of 22 pass attempts. For 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Mayfield is handling his role as reserve officer well.

“Baker is a Baker. Baker has no lack of confidence. He has played a lot of football in this league. I don’t see anything different from him. He helps in any way he can,” McAdoo said.

Darnold, the 2021 starter who lost his first job at training camp, said Mayfield has “a great, positive attitude throughout.”

Darnold said, “It’s work. There is no change in body language, no one shakes their head [the quarterback room]. Whatever the deal, we understand what it is. PJ is playing this week and we are doing our best to help him. ”

Wide receiver DJ Moore says Mayfield understands the business.

“I know he wishes he was the initiator,” Moore said, “but he’s the replacement now. So he’s going to motivate BJ in the best way he can.”

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