Mayfield back on top as Panthers solve injury puzzle, stability at QB, turf woes
By Timisha Collins
Quarterback Baker Mayfield will return to the starting lineup for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, after an MRI revealed that PJ Walker suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday night's 25-15 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, narrowly boosting their chances of making the playoffs slightly to 5 percent from 4 percent. Could David Tepper’s decision to replace the stadium’s grass field with turf be a contributing factor?
Three quarterbacks. Three similar injuries. PJ Walker is the third Panthers quarterback since August to suffer a high ankle sprain at Bank of America Stadium, which went from a grass field to turf as part of a $50 million renovation project. Several players around the NFL have been speaking out about the growing number of injuries related to playing on artificial surfaces.
Baker Mayfield suffered a similar injury in Week 5. Donte Jackson ruptured his Achilles tendon in Carolinas 25-15 win over Atlanta during the Nov. 10 Thursday night matchup – the team’s only prime-time game on the schedule this season.
According to the league's Players Association, six venues are planned to improve playing conditions by switching back to natural surfaces. Bank of America Stadium was not on the list.
Nonetheless, the team appears to have found this week’s answers at quarterback. After playing both PJ Walker and Baker Mayfield at quarterback, the team moved to activate Sam Darnold to the 53-man roster. But Darnold's activation won’t change Steve Wilks’ decision to start Baker Mayfield this week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Mayfield started the first five games this season, which did not go so well. He had four touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 71.9 passer rating in those five starts before he was injured against the San Fransico 49ers. He was replaced by Walker the next week against the Los Angeles Rams and had remained the backup the past four games despite being healthy and cleared to play. Mayfield has experience against the Ravens. He's started eight games against them in the previous four years he spent with the Cleveland Browns before being traded to Carolina in July.
Sam Darnold, who will also dress for this week's game, started the season on injured reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain during the final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 26.
With Walker injured, there are high expectations that Darnold will see playing time at some point this season. Whether he works his way back into the starting lineup or not, the team will likely want to see if Darnold can compete on a serviceable level for future decision making. Expect to see Darnold at some point this season.
Both Walker and Mayfield started in five games, and their numbers were relatively similar. Mayfield has completed 56.6 percent of his passes (98-of-173) for 1,117 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions, while Walker completed 59.4 percent of passes (63-of-106) for 731 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The Mayfield-led offense for the first five weeks turned the ball over seven times, while Walker's offense for the past five weeks totaled five turnovers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers continue to look at options for starting cornerback.
The next man up – CJ Henderson is now in line to start in Jackson’s absence.
THE WEEK 11 AGENDA
Coach Steve Wilks spoke about protecting the football as a top priority again this week. The Panthers have done a much better job in that area as of late.
When healthy, the Panthers have a relatively strong roster. The offensive line has played well for most of the season. There has not been any falloff in their ability to provide consistent pass protection despite having to make a change at Center when Pat Elflien went down with a hip injury. Plus, wide receiver D.J. Moore has continued to be a staple in the passing game following the departure of Robbie Anderson to the Arizona Cardinals and Christian McCaffery to the San Farncisco 49ers. Moore has collected 478 yards on 39 receptions. His three touchdowns ranks 20th in this year.
After a sluggish start to the 2022 campaign, the defense is playing up to expectations. They have stopped some of the top rushing attacks in the NFL and have also started to create the turnovers in games needed to help win games.
The Panthers next test is this Sunday, Nov. 20 against quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Gametime is 1:00 pm ET at M&T Bank Stadium.