Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold caught up in Panthers’ craziness at quarterback

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield can agree on one thing.

“It’s a crazy business,’’ Darnold said on Wednesday.

Crazy in that Darnold will start against the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium (1 p.m. ET, Fox), making him the third quarterback to start for the Panthers in three weeks.

Darnold replaces Mayfield, who beat him out for the job during an open competition in training camp. Mayfield, after going 1-4 the first four games before suffering a high ankle sprain that opened the door for P.J. Walker to start, returned as the starter last week because Walker suffered a high ankle sprain.

Mayfield is out again as the starter after throwing two fourth-quarter interceptions in Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Interim coach Steve Wilks replaced Mayfield with Darnold, who began the season on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain.

“It is a crazy year,’’ Mayfield said. “There’s a lot of strange things happening [at quarterback around the league]. . . . The quarterback room has pretty much handled it in the best way possible, rolling with the punches. We’re just doing what we’re told.’’

Being replaced for the second time appears to signal the end at Carolina for Mayfield, perhaps before the end of this season. One option would be for the team to move on from Mayfield, whose Total Quarterback Rating of 17.8 is by far the worst in the NFL.

“There’s a lot of things up in the air for the future here, so I don’t really know,’’ Mayfield said. “I’m doing what I can, what I can control. I know how my teammates feel about me and how I’ve handled things here. So I can leave here with my held high and understand that I did everything I could.’’

The Panthers (3-8) currently hold the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft and are expected to use it on a quarterback, a position that has been in flux since the middle of the 2018 season when Cam Newton suffered a shoulder injury. They’ve had eight different starters since.

On Sunday, they’ll have started three different quarterbacks in three of the last four seasons.

Darnold got the nod this week because Wilks wants to see what he can do in an offense built around the offensive line and running game that produced at least 169 yards in three of the last four games.

“That’s where it all starts,’’ Wilks said. “There’s not any indecision with the quarterbacks. I’m looking for that right mix and that guy that can come in and manage and operate the offense to the fullest.’’

Wilks declined to speculate on what the Panthers will do if Walker is ready to return after next week’s bye.

Whatever happens, Mayfield believes this year has been a learning experience for him.

“Did I draw it up this way? No,’’ Mayfield said. “You’ve got to handle the situation everywhere you go. It’s never gonna go as planned. That’s kind of how the season’s gone.’’

Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft by the New York Jets, returns to the starting lineup the same week the Jets benched Zach Wilson, the player that replaced him.

“I’m not really paying too much attention to what’s going on over there,’’ Darnold said with a smile. “But I did see it. It’s a crazy business.’’



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