Panthers QB tracker: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold overcome distracting joint practice

·4 min read

Following another chaotic practice between Carolina and New England on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, Panthers coach Matt Rhule walked off the field and immediately knew what he had to address.

“It’s unfortunate after a day of such good football I know what the story line will be” Rhule said. “The decision of one or two guys impacts a lot of different people. ... I’d love to be talking about two-minute (drills) right now and Sam (Darnold) scrambling and making an excellent throw. There’s a lot of football things that matter way more to me, but distractions affect you and that’s what we can’t do.”

Mixed in between two sideline-clearing brawls, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold competed in what could be one of their final practices as co-starters. After practice, Rhule said the team is not ready to announce a full-time starter, but the Panthers are nearing a decision.

“The thing I said all along is we wanted to at least get to this point and when we know, we know. It could be any point. It could be two more weeks from now, and it could be now. We’re just making sure we’re thorough,” Rhule said about naming a starter. “We have a really good plan. I just don’t feel at liberty to say right now out of respect for the guys.”

Let’s dive deeper into their performances following a chaotic practice in New England.

Baker Mayfield

Stats (unofficial): 10 for 16, TD

Mayfield hasn’t been particularly sharp these past two practices. Mayfield’s offense did not do well in third-down, red-zone or two-minute situations again. Twice during a two-minute drill, Mayfield turned it over on downs.

It doesn’t help he is throwing to a rotating cast of targets as the Panthers receiver room navigates injuries. Robbie Anderson and Terrace Marshall did not practice. Shi Smith was limited. Carolina warmed up with only seven receivers before Smith joined practice.

Wednesday’s practice did not feature any explosive plays or spectacular throws. Mayfield did connect with DJ Moore for a touchdown during a red-zone segment. But the Patriots defense is causing problems for Mayfield.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get different looks and stuff that we’re not practicing every day and just really see how guys handle it,” Mayfield said. “It’s not like a scripted practice at all. You go in, it’s called like a game for the offense and just got to react and do your job. We’d love to be a little further along. There’s always room for improvement and progress to be had.”

Best throw: Mayfield fit a tight ball into a small window for Moore’s red-zone score. The pass dropped just underneath the goal post as Moore toe-tapped the end line.

Notable mistake: Most impressively, Mayfield did not turn the ball over during either practice against New England.

Sam Darnold

Stats (unofficial): 13 for 18, 2 TDs, 2 Int

Darnold keeps suppressing his highlights with ill-advised turnovers. He led Carolina’s first team on a nine-play drive, capped by a scrambling touchdown pass to Derek Wright, who made a twisting catch in the back of the end zone.

It was his best drive of training camp. He completed 5 of 7 passes. Darnold scored with less than 90 seconds to play after starting on his own 30-yard line. But the irony is the drive should not have happened.

Darnold’s initial two-minute drive began with an interception. On his very first play, Darnold dropped back and fired a quick hitch toward Moore. But it was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills, who sat on the route.

There are no mulligans on Sundays, but Rhule let Darnold start the drive over.

“We had to score a touchdown. I just saw the DB’s head was turned to the receiver,” Darnold said. “I knew if I put it in a spot where Derek could potentially catch it, that he would make a play on it.”

It was a spectacular play that would not have had the opportunity to occur in a real game because of Darnold’s drive-opening interception.

Best throw: Darnold noticed New England defensive back Shaun Wade had his head turned away from the backfield when he threw Wright open for a touchdown.

Notable mistake: Darnold threw two interceptions on Wednesday. Both came on short outside hitch routes that were anticipated and jumped.

Who won the day?

Last season Carolina ranked tied for second-most giveaways. Mayfield won the day by simply not turning the ball over.

Total wins this preseason

Baker Mayfield 7

Sam Darnold 3

P.J. Walker/Matt Corral 1

* There was a tie on Days 8 and 12