CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The customer’s locker room was eerily quiet because the Carolina Panthers processed their additional time loss to the Atlanta Falcons 11 days in the past. Gamers have been devastated at going from the excessive of PJ Walker‘s 62-yard, game-tying landing that was known as the “throw of the 12 months” by Kansas Metropolis Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to the low of failed alternatives to win on missed kicks by Eddy Pineiro.
Defensive finish Brian Burns was so down he declined postgame interviews for the primary time all season and canceled his Halloween plans the following day.
As Pineiro positioned himself in opposition to a cinder block wall to elucidate how he missed the successful 48-yard further level with 12 seconds left in regulation (after a 15-yard celebration penalty) and a 32-yard area aim in additional time, a quarterback who did not play a snap stood with a number of different teammates behind the ocean of reporters surrounding the kicker to indicate assist.
Baker Mayfield was hurting like everybody else, in some methods maybe extra. Two years faraway from being on the point of turning into a top-tier quarterback, he was on the point of being irrelevant.
He’d misplaced his beginning job to Walker, an undrafted participant out of the XFL, and there have been no indicators that Baker, the No. 1 general choose of the 2018 draft, will get it again.
Mayfield hadn’t misplaced his skill to steer.
“What Baker is having to take care of … being wholesome and a backup, isn’t a simple factor,” veteran long-snapper JJ Jansen stated as he recalled Mayfield’s assist of Pineiro. “After I let you know he is been nearly as good of a pacesetter as we have had on this crew, going by all the pieces that he is gone by, he is been nearly as good as anyone on the crew.”
That is Mayfield as we speak.
That is the Mayfield who has been there once you peel again the brash persona that outlined his profession till now.
Not many have seen him uncovered like this.
“I got here right here to win,” stated Mayfield, who will stay the backup for Thursday evening’s rematch with Atlanta (regardless of Walker’s disastrous first half in Sunday’s 42-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals). “I’ve performed plenty of ball and I’ve gone by plenty of various things. We’re on this for a similar causes. All of us need to win. Why not use my expertise and management to do this?”
TWO YEARS AGO, Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to an 11-5 regular-season report and a playoff win. He was being in contrast by analysts to among the top-tier quarterbacks within the league.
Then after the 2021 season, by which Mayfield struggled, the Browns traded for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, and Mayfield requested for a commerce.
Now Mayfield, whose 15.3 Complete Quarterback Score this season is the bottom since ESPN started monitoring the quantity in 2006, is not sure of his NFL future as he approaches the top of the fifth-year choice on his rookie deal. It is nearly surreal listening to him discuss it.
“I do not know if he’ll ever get one other likelihood, however I am telling you, any individual has missed the boat on him,” a supply near Mayfield stated. “Is he prime 10 within the NFL? I do not know. However I promise you he is prime half from a capability standpoint.”
A number of league govt sources advised ESPN the marketplace for Mayfield throughout the offseason will probably be minimal barring a tremendous turnaround within the second half of this season. They are saying the 27-year-old will not get greater than a prove-it, one-year deal within the $5 million to $7 million vary.
A personnel supply stated there’s additionally an opportunity the Panthers (2-7) launch Mayfield within the coming weeks if Walker bounces again from Sunday’s outing — 3-of-10 passing for 9 yards, two interceptions and a 0.0 passer score within the first half earlier than being benched for Mayfield — in opposition to Atlanta (4-5). Or even when Walker does not bounce again.
There’s incentive for Carolina to maintain Mayfield on the bench. The 2024 conditional choose despatched to the Browns when the Panthers acquired Mayfield in July goes from a fourth- to a fifth-rounder if Mayfield does not play 70% of the snaps. He is presently round 60%.
Interim coach Steve Wilks stated he needs to get a have a look at final season’s starter Sam Darnold, the No. 3 choose within the 2018 draft, to see how he performs in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system. Darnold on Monday got here off injured reserve as he works his method again from a excessive left ankle sprain.
Then there’s the dialog no person within the group needs to have about tanking for the primary choose in 2023 to draft a franchise quarterback.
So whereas Mayfield will probably be Walker’s backup in opposition to Atlanta, there’s an opportunity he will probably be inactive the next week in opposition to the Baltimore Ravens with Darnold elevated to the backup position.
“It is too unhealthy what’s occurred to Baker,” stated Drew Stanton, who was Mayfield’s backup in Cleveland from 2018 to 2019. “In the event you’re not the beginning quarterback, you are type of forgotten about. And the final set impression that he has proper now’s that QBR. That is what individuals have a picture of proper now. He is aware of that.”
STANTON STARTED 17 video games in 13 NFL seasons after being a second-round select of Michigan State by the Detroit Lions in 2008. He did not play a down throughout the 2011-13 seasons for the Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
So he understands what it is prefer to go from starter to not seeing the sector.
He does not see that for Mayfield.
“I nonetheless suppose all the pieces is in entrance of him,” stated Stanton, who retains shut contact with Mayfield. “Sadly, once you go right into a tough state of affairs like was arrange this 12 months in Carolina, you do not know what you are going to get.”
Stanton is referring to Mayfield getting traded to Carolina in July whereas gamers have been on break and beginning coaching camp from scratch with a brand new offensive coordinator and teammates.
That coach Matt Rhule was on a brief leash with proprietor David Tepper, who fired Rhule after a 1-4 begin, did not assist.
“Each time I discuss to him, my message is to take care of, keep the identical and be prepared to return in, since you by no means know, particularly in that sort of operation, when a chance will current itself,” Stanton stated.
That chance offered itself Sunday when Mayfield began the second half with Carolina trailing 35-0. He accomplished 14 of 20 go makes an attempt for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He led three scoring drives.
However that wasn’t sufficient to get the job again.
That Mayfield hasn’t publicly gone off on Carolina administration as he did with Cleveland, when he requested for a commerce after the Browns started their pursuit of Watson within the spring, does not shock these near him.
“The notion of him that is on the market, particularly with what was popping out of Cleveland, wasn’t who he’s,” Stanton stated. “There’s probably not a lot you are able to do if you happen to reply to among the feedback that have been stated about him being immature or a nasty teammate.
“Folks love being his teammate, and that is the true measure of who he’s.”
Carolina gamers have seen that facet of Mayfield, as he has embraced operating the scout crew the previous three weeks whereas wholesome.
“He isn’t placing himself over the crew,” Jansen stated.
In addition they notice not being the starter eats at him regardless of his team-first strategy.
“I imply, you’ll be able to simply inform,” Walker stated. “It is powerful. It ain’t all the time about physique language, however as a competitor, I am positive he is sick.”
RHULE’S HOPE WAS the Panthers received the 2020 model of Mayfield, not the 2021 model who was stricken by an injured non-throwing shoulder.
Rhule was impressed with the way in which Mayfield shortly grasped McAdoo’s offense and received the open competitors with Darnold for the beginning job.
However to actually perceive why Mayfield hasn’t lived as much as 2020 expectations one wants to return to 2019 below then-Browns coach Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield threw 21 interceptions to 22 landing passes throughout that 6-10 season.
The turnovers performed a significant component within the crew’s struggles and the firing of Kitchens after one season in favor of former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
Dig deeper and you will find Mayfield’s completion share to broad receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry was 58%. His completion share to everybody else was 67%.
You will additionally discover 15 of Mayfield’s 21 interceptions have been focused at Beckham or Landry, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Data, and 10 of his 22 touchdowns went to them.
That is important as a result of Beckham and Landry have been restricted in observe by accidents most of that season, so Mayfield by no means received the time wanted to develop a chemistry with them, stated a supply near Mayfield.
“When you’ve a man like Odell that’s so dynamic and might accomplish that many various issues, and he isn’t essentially simply going to observe precisely what it says within the framework of the route as a result of he understands the best way to get open, guys like that take a while to get used to,” Stanton stated. “Everyone was attempting to determine a option to get it to work.”
There additionally was strain on the workers to verify Beckham and Landry have been focused by Mayfield, in keeping with a training supply near the state of affairs.
The supply stated after the Browns beat Baltimore 40-25 in Week 4, there have been some within the group who wished to know why Beckham did not have greater than two catches.
“That is a bit of perception to the strain that he was below so far as not solely succeeding, however the way you succeeded in Cleveland,” the supply stated. “That held again his development. However am I a believer in Baker Mayfield? You are rattling proper I’m. A hundred percent.
“There’s additionally some work that must be performed.”
FLASH FORWARD TO the 2020 season below Stefanski. The Browns drafted left deal with Jedrick Wills Jr. with the No. 10 choose and beefed up the offensive line to offer extra safety after Mayfield was sacked 40 occasions in 2019.
Stefanski launched Mayfield to extra of a dink-and-dunk system based mostly on high-percentage passes and constructed an influence operating recreation behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to take the strain off of his quarterback, who had a fame for being simplest throwing deep.
Mayfield responded with 26 landing passes and eight interceptions. He had two 1,000-yard receivers in Beckham and Landry and a 1,000-yard rusher in Chubb. His Complete QBR was 90.7 off play-action passes, second finest within the NFL to the Inexperienced Bay Packers‘ Aaron Rodgers. Mayfield had 13 touchdowns to at least one interception off play-action passes.
Mayfield additionally averaged 10.5 yards per try off designated rollouts in 2020 and eight.2 yards per try outdoors the pocket, each second finest within the NFL to Watson, then with the Texans.
The Browns have been run heavy with the fourth-highest designated rush share (45%) within the league and the fourth-highest quarterback below heart share (58%). They ranked first within the NFL in utilizing two tight ends on the sector (33 performs per recreation). These tight ends had a mixed 70 catches and 7 touchdowns.
The Panthers have not use Mayfield schematically like Stefanski did. In Mayfield’s 5 begins, they ranked twenty sixth in rush share (33%) by Week 5, 14th in quarterback below heart (41%) and twenty second with 14 performs per recreation with two tight ends. Tight ends had solely 14 catches (2.8 per recreation) in Mayfield’s 5 begins.
Consequently, Mayfield had a 50.5 Complete QBR on play-action, which ranked twenty second, and solely seven designed rollouts for a mean of 6.0 yards per go, which ranked seventeenth.
This all with Christian McCaffrey, arguably the very best dual-threat operating again within the NFL, earlier than the Panthers traded him to the San Francisco 49ers.
“Baker’s at his finest when he is on the transfer and shifting within the pocket,” Stanton stated. “Ben McAdoo likes a fast passing recreation, he likes to get the ball out, he likes to take strain off the offensive line.”
As poorly as Mayfield carried out in his system, McAdoo will not say Mayfield failed.
“Baker has not failed. Baker received injured,” he stated, referring to Mayfield’s ankle harm within the fifth recreation of his 1-4 begin. “Actually, these questions are higher for coach than they’re for me. He has last say on all the pieces.
“However Baker is super for us. He had moments of taking part in effectively earlier than the harm.”
NOBODY APPEARED MORE excited for Walker than Mayfield after Walker’s game-tying landing in opposition to Atlanta that had a 12% likelihood of being accomplished, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Data. He rushed to Walker and started kissing his teammate’s helmet.
However the second within the locker room with Pineiro confirmed much more about Mayfield’s character.
“You possibly can see the look on Eddy’s face proper after the primary miss,” Mayfield recalled. “He by no means wished to be in that place however, sadly, he was. So I used to be there to let him know we now have his again, simply to be there for him.”
Mayfield demonstrated much more character when the dialog turned to his state of affairs.
“What’s misplaced on this entire factor is how arduous it has been for Sam,” Mayfield stated of Darnold, the 2021 starter Mayfield was introduced in to exchange. “It has been tough for all of us … however we assist one another.”
Darnold, 4-7 because the starter final season, says Mayfield has been nothing however supportive of him.
That is the facet of Mayfield few noticed when he was the starter at Cleveland and even in faculty at Oklahoma — the facet with out the chip on his shoulder that he by no means actually needed to present as a result of he’d by no means been on this place earlier than.
“There’s a component to Baker that he likes to poke and prod with you guys within the media,” Jansen stated. “He is been nothing however an incredible teammate right here.”
That is why these near Mayfield consider he’ll survive this fall from stardom if put in the suitable state of affairs, which will not be with Carolina. As a lot as crew officers have been impressed by Mayfield’s professionalism because the backup, they do not have a look at him because the long-term answer.
“I am actually pleased with the way in which he is dealing with himself, as a result of it isn’t like he is doing it for the digital camera, that he is blowing a bunch of sizzling air,” Stanton stated. “That is who he’s.”