QB Mayfield will start for the Panthers in Week 1 against the Browns

CHARLOTTE, NC— The Carolina Panthers are turning to quarterback Baker Mayfield to lead their offense.

Coach Matt Rhule announced Monday that Mayfield will start Carolina’s regular-season opener on Sept. 11 against his former team, the Cleveland Browns — a decision that had been expected for weeks.

Mayfield, acquired in a trade with the Browns earlier this offseason, passed out incumbent starter Sam Darnold for the starting quarterback job.

“When we started this process, we looked at three things,” Ruhl said. “Firstly, offensive skill, secondly, situational football excellence and thirdly, moving the ball and getting guys involved. This has been our focus all along. Baker has made a lot of improvements, big growth in all three areas in a short period of time.”

Mayfield was known as a fierce competitor during his four years with the Browns, and said Monday that the chip on his shoulder “came back.”

“I feel extremely healthy, so I’m ready to go,” Mayfield said. “I’m loving football again and every once in a while everyone can start anew. I’m just going to take this opportunity and make the most of it and not take it for granted.”

Ruhl said he was impressed with how quickly Mayfield took notice of new coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense after joining the team on July 6.

“It’s not easy what he did — between the verbiage, the checks and all the options we give him. We think he’s a really smart guy,” Rule said. “As long as he stays on offense, he’s going to grow and grow and grow and get better and better and better.”

Both Mayfield and Darnold entered the league with the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the 2018 draft, but Mayfield had more success.

Mayfield is 29-30 as an NFL starter with 92 touchdown passes and 56 interceptions; Darnold is 17-32 as a starter with 54 TD passes and 52 INTs.

Mayfield led the Browns to an 11-5 record in 2020 and a first-round playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Mayfield battled a shoulder injury last year, and the Browns decided to go in a different direction by trading for controversial quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Cleveland’s pursuit of Watson essentially marked the end of Mayfield’s career in Cleveland.

“Obviously there’s a lot of attachment there and I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and say it doesn’t mean anything. It will,” Mayfield said of the season opener against the Browns. “But right now, the only thing that matters is that I continue to improve before the regular season starts.”

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t know Mayfield was selected as Carolina’s starter until a reporter told him.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Stefanski said. “I think we’ll wait to talk about Carolina until we get there. I’m still in Week 3 of the preseason.”

Darnold’s future as a starter in Carolina seemed tenuous when the Panthers tried to bench Watson. When that failed, the Panthers turned their attention to a disgruntled Mayfield.

The deal came only after Cleveland agreed to pay $10.5 million on Mayfield’s contract this season. The Panthers are paying him $4.8 million.

Ruhl said he still has a lot of confidence in Darnold and added that he handles the news like a professional.

Darnold said he feels like he’s been given a good chance to get the job.

“I really went out there every day and gave it my all, but it just didn’t go my way,” Darnold said.

For Darnold, the decision will put his career at a crossroads — though he said he’s not going to stop there now.

“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie,” Darnold said. “But it is what it is.”

But Darnold said, “I’m going to do everything I can to support Baker and get him ready to play.”

Rhule initially said the Panthers would keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but that was before rookie third-round pick Matt Corral suffered a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot in a preseason loss against the New England Patriots.

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