The Carolina Panthers’ first preseason game offered no definitive statements in the quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.
“I have to really watch the tape to see exactly what they did, but I thought they were both in command. They made the right checks, so I was pleased,” head coach Matt Rhule said following Saturday’s 23-21 win over Washington.
Mayfield got the start, but Rhule said the team was still in the evaluation phase of the battle. The coach declined to name a starter heading into the second preseason game.
“No, that was for today, that was just for today,” Rhule said of Mayfield starting. “So we’ll go back and look at this tape. Obviously, Sam got us in the end zone. Baker led us down the field. Looked like both guys played well in terms of production. We’ll go back and see where they are. That was just for today.”
Mayfield made the start and displayed solid development in the offense as he learns the new system. The former Browns QB made several good throws while getting hit behind a work-in-progress offensive line. He finished 4-of-7 passing for 45 yards on his lone drive. All four of Mayfield’s completions were less than 10 air yards (0-2 on passes of 10-plus yards).
Mayfield converted on several third-and-shorts and nearly hit a deep shot to Robbie Anderson. The quick processing on third downs to find the open guy could give Mayfield the edge in the competition.
Mayfield had the Panthers moving into the red zone before an incompletion, a botched snap, and miscommunication with Brandon Zylstra stalled the drive, with Carolina settling for a field goal.
“I thought we moved the ball well down the field. He did a nice job of moving it with his feet, finding the checkdowns,” Rhule said of Mayfield. “And then, you know we got down there tight in the red zone, called a play-action, receiver doesn’t run the route, blocks, [Mayfield] has to dirt the play. We fumbled it, fumbled the snap and ended up not scoring. Still a lot to build on, but I did think he moved the ball, in control, nice long drive to start the game. It looked somewhat clean until the very end.”
Darnold entered in favorable field position after the defense forced a fumble. Darnold had good ball location on his first completion to Zylstra. His second pass was a gorgeous touch throw off his back foot while getting hit that found Rashard Higgins for a touchdown.
“He took a big hit on the touchdown throw, made a courageous play,” Rhule said of Darnold. “The hat was on his head, he stepped up and made it.”
With Darnold playing just three snaps on his first drive, the incumbent returned for a second drive. But it lasted three plays — two runs, and a dirtball from Darnold, who was under immediate pressure.
P.J. Walker entered as the third quarterback and looked good against Commanders backups. Walker went 10-of-19 passing for 136 yards and added two runs for 12 yards.
Rookie Matt Corral entered in the fourth quarter. The Ole Miss product completed his first pass for 11 yards. He struggled from there, however. The third-round rookie finished 1-of-9 passing and was outplayed by Washington’s fifth-round draft pick — a UNC product — Sam Howell.
On the Panthers’ game-winning two-minute field goal drive, they went 40 yards on 11 plays without Corral completing a single pass.
The rookie will have time to work on his development this season and could use more reps in the final two preseason games.
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