What we learned about QB Baker Mayfield after his Carolina Panthers debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield showed for most of the first three quarters of Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns why the Browns moved on from him.

In the fourth quarter, he showed why the Panthers are optimistic the first pick of the 2018 draft can stabilize a position that has been in flux the past four seasons.

In other words, the jury is still out.

“Everybody made this out to be the Super Bowl,’’ Mayfield said. “There are 16 more games. The Super Bowl is not until February and this is the beginning of September.’’

He’s right. It’s too early to overreact.

But it’s not too early to notice the things Mayfield did poorly -- and, well, were a reflection of what he was the past four seasons in Cleveland, where he went 29-30 as the starter -- and the things he did well, as he works to turn his career around in Carolina.

What Mayfield did poorly

Tipped passes: Mayfield had five of them, four in the first half, beginning with his first pass attempt. He indicated he needed to do a better job of finding passing angles and the line needed to do a better job of getting the hands of linemen down. But this was a chronic problem at Cleveland, where from 2018 to 2021, Mayfield’s 44 passes batted down at the line led the league. He is only 6-foot-1, and that won’t change.

Turnovers: Mayfield’s 56 interceptions from 2018 to 2021 were the most in the NFL. More than even Sam Darnold, Carolina’s starter last season, who had 52 over that stretch. No. 57 for Mayfield came in the first half, leading to Cleveland’s first touchdown.

Mishandled snaps: Mayfield had four, three that were his fault. This was an issue in training camp, but it was magnified on Sunday. He had a critical one on first-and-14 from the Cleveland 14 with under two minutes remaining. Carolina settled for a go-ahead field goal.

Slow start: Mayfield had a passer rating of 14.6 after four series. He had four passes tipped at the line, an interception and a muffed snap. The Panthers had only 6 yards in the first quarter and 50 net yards through three quarters. This isn't unusual for Mayfield, who had only 14 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions in first quarters the past four seasons.

What Mayfield did well

Fast finish: He led Carolina to 17 fourth-quarter points, their most since Dec. 12, 2020, against the Denver Broncos. He helped generate 211 total yards, including a 7-yard touchdown scramble and a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson. He completed 5 of 6 pass attempts in the fourth quarter for 135 yards. Were it not for a 58-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining, he would have engineered his seventh career fourth-quarter comeback and eighth game-winning drive. This was a bonus; the fourth quarter traditionally is Mayfield's worst with 23 touchdowns to 19 interceptions with Cleveland.

Stretching the field: Mayfield’s completions of 50 and 75 yards marked the first time since 2019 at the New Orleans Saints that the Panthers had at least two receptions of 50 or more yards in one game. His reputation for doing that was an obvious edge early in the battle against Darnold for the starting job.

Bottom line

Mayfield showed many of the same inconsistencies Sunday that he did with Cleveland.

He showed why general manager Scott Fitterer won’t be willing to consider a long-term deal until late in the season when he has a full understanding of whether Mayfield can be a franchise starter or is expendable like he was for Cleveland.

He also showed one thing the Panthers and Browns know for sure.

“I am a fighter,’’ Mayfield said. “I fought my whole life. That is not going to change.’’