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Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold's return from IR not close, coach Matt Rhule says

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Stephen A. sends message to Baker: 'You look awful' (2:28)

Stephen A. Smith sounds off on Baker Mayfield for his play as well as his comments to the media. (2:28)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have little option but to stick with Baker Mayfield at quarterback for the NFL's lowest-ranked offense, with 2021 starter Sam Darnold at least another week from being ready to return from injured reserve.

"Not close right now,'' coach Matt Rhule said Monday of Darnold, who suffered a high ankle sprain in late August. "Not this week. Maybe he starts the window maybe the next week. This was a doctor thing. He's not going to be practicing this week.''

Darnold was eligible to be activated off injured reserve Monday, but a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter it's "still going to be a while.''

"Baker is our quarterback,'' Rhule said. "We have to continue to find ways to help him.''

Mayfield has the NFL's lowest QBR through four weeks at 15.4. His 55.4 completion percentage is third worst in the league, only better than that of two 2021 first-round draft picks -- the Chicago Bears' Justin Fields (50.7) and the San Francisco 49ers' Trey Lance (48.4), who is out for the season with an ankle injury.

Mayfield committed three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble, in Sunday's 26-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals that dropped Carolina to 1-3.

It was the 10th time since he entered the league in 2018 that he had three or more turnovers in a game, the most of any quarterback.

Mayfield also had five passes batted down at the line of scrimmage to raise his season total to a league-leading 11. Two came in the fourth quarter, one resulting in an interception and the other a turnover on downs.

Both led to touchdowns in a game that was tied at 10-10 going into the final period.

"It has to be corrected,'' Rhule said.

Mayfield, the top overall pick in the 2018 draft, has thrown for 747 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions after winning a training camp competition with Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, for the starting job.

Darnold suffered his injury in the Panthers' preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills.

Darnold had his own struggles as the starter last season. His Total QBR of 33.2 ranked 29th among qualified quarterbacks.

Rhule shot down speculation that Mayfield's struggles could be linked to not getting as many preseason repetitions because they were divided evenly with Darnold through most of camp.

"Right now, it's about trying to get this fixed,'' he said.

Scoring points has been a problem for the Panthers since Rhule was hired in 2020. Carolina is 1-26 in 37 games under Rhule when the opponent scores at least 17 points, which includes a streak of 24 consecutive defeats, according to NFL Network.

With Darnold and 2022 draft pick Matt Corral, who is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury, on IR, PJ Walker is the only other active quarterback on the Panthers' roster heading into this week's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Carolina is averaging only 262.3 yards per game, the fewest in the NFL. Rhule is focused on how to improve that more than replacing Mayfield.

"The quarterback always takes a little more blame than maybe sometimes he deserves,'' Rhule said. "Sometimes they don't. ... To me, right now, I'm in that process of saying, 'Hey, what can we do to improve the offense in general.' ''