Baker Mayfield not living up to franchise QB expectations with two close Carolina Panthers losses

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Baker Mayfield had a chance to be the hero Sunday, facing third-and-6 from the 46-yard line with 2:42 remaining and the Carolina Panthers trailing the New York Giants 19-16.

The Panthers’ quarterback knew the Giants would bring pressure, and they did, when strong safety Julian Love blitzed over rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu.


“I’ve got to do a better job of being able to get the ball out and give us a chance to win there,’’ Mayfield admitted after the 19-16 loss.

For the second straight week, the Panthers lost in the fourth quarter on a field goal of 56 or more yards, something that had never happened before in consecutive weeks in NFL history. And for the second straight week, Mayfield failed to do something special in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

The week before, in a 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, he fumbled the snap at the Browns’ 14 with 1:27 remaining and, ultimately, Carolina settled for a field goal that left it vulnerable to the 58-yard game-winner.

When you’re a franchise quarterback, you’re expected to make plays that result in wins. Mayfield hasn’t done that during an 0-2 start that extended Carolina’s losing streak to nine, the longest in the NFL.

He’s been average at best, and his stats reflect that.

Mayfield was 14-of-29 for 145 yards and 1 touchdown on Sunday. He was only 6-of-16 when the Giants sent four or fewer pass-rushers, a 35% completion rate that was the worst of his career in those situations.

The Panthers were only 2-of-12 (16.7 %) on third down a week after they were 4-of-11 (36.4 %) against the Browns.

This isn’t all Mayfield’s fault, but franchise quarterbacks tend to make big plays with the game on the line, and he hasn’t.

The third-and-6 play magnifies it.

“We were trying to get Christian [McCaffrey] on a quick play, because we were going to go for it on fourth down [if we failed],’’ coach Matt Rhule said. “Once it was a sack ...

“And that was really the tale of the second half, was our inability on third down to handle the pressure and pressure packages.’’

On a day when McCaffrey topped 100 yards rushing (102 yards, 15 carries) for the first time since 2019 and the defense shut down Giants running back Saquon Barkley for most of the day, Mayfield and the rest of the offense failed to make enough plays.


Rhule is quick to point out the team is getting “close,’’ that Mayfield has been in the system only a few months and is getting better.

But if Mayfield doesn’t start making plays and winning games, as silly as it might sound, there could be a buzz to bring Sam Darnold back in Week 5, when he is eligible to come off injured reserve and return from his left high ankle sprain.

Rhule isn’t looking that far ahead. And he’s not looking at other personnel moves even though he has basically played only three receivers – DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson and Shi Smith – for two weeks.

“We’re at that point now where we don’t need to change,’’ Rhule said. “We just need to battle and push through. That to me is how you get over a hump.’’

Mayfield has a reputation for being a fighter, but so far that hasn’t been enough to lift the team out of its mediocrity.

“If we can protect the quarterback, we have guys who can get open and make plays,’’ Rhule said. “But if we’re under duress and kind of running around all the time, it’s hard to do that.’’

If that doesn’t change, the Panthers will be in the precarious position of having to start over at quarterback for the fourth straight year.

Mayfield is staying focused on this season. He reminds that the Panthers haven’t played an NFC South game, with the first one coming next against the 1-1 New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, FOX).

“We just have to settle in and believe in what we’re capable of,’’ he said. “We just need to believe in the process and trust it’s going to come, because once it does, we’re gonna get rolling.’’