CINCINNATI — Baker Mayfield wondered earlier in the week whether he would get another shot to play quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
Facing the largest halftime deficit in team history, down 35-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paycor Stadium, interim coach Steve Wilks finally turned to the first pick of the 2018 draft and benched a struggling PJ Walker.
Mayfield, playing for the first time since a Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Tremble on his first drive to cut the lead to 35-7. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 34 yards and the touchdown, his first since a Week 4 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
It was only the fifth touchdown pass of the season for Mayfield against four interceptions.
Mayfield was replaced by Walker in Week 6 after suffering a high ankle sprain in the 49ers’ loss. He remained the backup despite being healthy enough to play the next two games and on Sunday against the Bengals, in part because Walker was playing well and in part because his 15.3 Total Quarterback Rating the first five games was last in the NFL and the worst for a quarterback since ESPN began tracking the stat in 2006.
Walker had a disastrous first half against the Bengals, completing only 3 of 10 pass attempts for nine yards with two interceptions. The Panthers were outgained 268 yards to 19 in the half, and the 35-point deficit was the largest for a first half in team history.
The previous record was a 32-point deficit to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 29, 2019.
Mayfield talked earlier in the week about the “looming question” of what his future would be at Carolina when 2021 starter Sam Darnold was activated from injured reserve with the Tuesday deadline coming up. That would leave the Panthers with three quarterbacks in Walker, Mayfield and Darnold, and teams seldom carry three quarterbacks with another on the practice squad.
Wilks also has said previously he wanted to get another look at Darnold before the season is over.
“That’s not for us to handle,” Mayfield said on Thursday. “We’re worried about one day at a time. That’s how it’s been handled. We’ll see when that time comes. I don’t have the right answer.”