CHARLOTTE, NC — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule didn’t want to discuss if he’d consider benching quarterback Baker Mayfield before next week’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, but a left ankle injury could take the decision out of his hands.
Mayfield injured the ankle late in the first half when a player fell on it. He limped into the locker room with 11 seconds left and played most of the second half before former XFL star PJ Walker came on to finish the 37-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers that left Carolina with a 1-4 record.
Mayfield was wearing a walking boot when he met with reporters.
“A little painful right now,” Mayfield said of the injury. “I’m not really sure exactly what it is. We’ll examine that tomorrow and find out. So right now I’m managing the pain and learning to step in the boot.
Mayfield entered the game with a 15.3 Total QBR that ranked last in the NFL and was the second worst by any quarterback in the first four games of a season since ESPN began tracking the stat in 2006.
He had a 25.5 Total QBR on Sunday, going 20-of-26 for 215 yards passing with no touchdowns and an interception returned for a touchdown late in the first half that Rhule called a “punch in the gut.”
Mayfield’s 16.8 Total QBR is now the second worst by a quarterback in the first five games, ahead only of JaMarcus Russell in 2008 for the Raiders.
Should Mayfield not be available for the Rams, the Panthers likely would turn to Walker, who was 5-for-6 for 60 yards in what Rhule called “mop-up duty.”
Walker is 2-0 as a starter for Carolina.
Sam Darnold, the 2021 starter, remains on injured reserve with an ankle injury suffered in late August despite being eligible at this point to come off it. Rhule has indicated that Darnold won’t be ready for a while.
When Mayfield’s job security was questioned Sunday, the first pick of the 2018 draft fired back, “Did you question my job, because I’m not [questioning it].”
“I’m confident with where I’m at,” added Mayfield, acquired by Carolina in a July trade with the Cleveland Browns. “I haven’t played well enough, obviously. There’s a lot of balls left. We have to get it fixed. That’s how I’m wired. I don’t live in the past. I live in the moment. Figure it out and move forward.”
Mayfield’s immediate job security may have more to do with his ankle than his play even though he’s on pace for career lows in almost every statistical category.
The Panthers entered Sunday with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense and did little to change that with only 308 yards and 15 points against San Francisco’s top-ranked defense.
“We’re not going to win unless we score more points,” Rhule said. “I think we all know that. But in terms of terms of a complete [overhaul] I don’t know if that is the answer.
Rhule’s job security also continued to be questioned. The Panthers lost for the 11th time in 12 games dating back to last season to fall to 11-27 under the third-year coach.
Mayfield and other players said Rhule isn’t the problem.
“We’re fine in that locker room when it comes to that,” Mayfield said. “There’s a lot of plays we just have to flat out make. He can’t do that. He can’t go make plays for us. He can’t do the execution for us.
“We just have to make plays. We have good players. We have to be better.”