Panthers' Baker Mayfield 'rolling with the punches' as QB2

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Baker Mayfield, despite being healthy enough to play on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons, is accepting his role as the backup to journeyman quarterback PJ Walker.

This will be the first time since the first three games of his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns that the top pick of the 2018 draft hasn't started when healthy.

"It's one of those things. It's one of those new things,'' Mayfield said Thursday in his first interview since being sidelined for two games with a high ankle sprain. "You just have to roll with the punches. It's not my plan, obviously. I'm a competitor, but I'm rolling with the punches to help this team out in any way I can.

"I came here to win. If it's my role to help PJ out from the sideline and help this defense out with scout team stuff, I'm gonna do it. And I'm gonna do it with everything I can.''

Mayfield added he doesn't want to be traded before Tuesday's NFL deadline.

"I've spent enough times with these guys,'' Mayfield said. "I want to be here.''

Mayfield said this situation is different than it was in Cleveland in the spring when he asked to be traded after the Browns began pursuing former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

"That's a very different scenario,'' said Mayfield, who was acquired by the Panthers in a July trade. "They were 1-31 before I got there. That's very different. I'm not going to get into that. It's not even comparable situations.''

Mayfield also admitted he's at a crossroads in his career as he plays out his fifth-year option on his initial NFL contract.

"It's obviously instrumental,'' Mayfield said. "Fifth-year option. There's no more guarantees that I'll be here. So I'm just trying to handle it as well as I possibly can, do whatever role that is and do it the best I can and roll with the punches.

"I trust the opinions in this building that they see the work I put in constantly and I want the team to win. That's just who I am.''

Despite the decision to go with Walker, Mayfield also showed support for interim coach Steve Wilks, who was with him in Cleveland in 2019 as the Browns' defensive coordinator.

"You've got respect that he calls it like he sees it,'' Mayfield said. "He doesn't hold back. He's transparent. That that's what it's all about.''

This will be Walker's third straight start for Carolina (2-5) since Mayfield was injured in a Week 5 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. One day later, coach Matt Rhule was fired.

Wilks announced Monday he was sticking with Walker this week regardless of whether Mayfield or veteran Sam Darnold, also dealing with an ankle injury, were healthy.

Mayfield, who started 59 straight games at Cleveland after replacing Tyrod Taylor in 2018, made it clear he was healthy enough to play.

"If I'm going out there and practicing, I can play,'' said Mayfield, who missed two games for the Browns in 2021 because of a shoulder injury.

Mayfield couldn't say enough good things about Walker, a former XFL star who began his NFL career in 2017 as an undrafted rookie with the Indianapolis Colts.

"I don't think he's ever had that mindset he was fourth on the depth chart,'' Mayfield said. "PJ's a great leader. He's a great quarterback. He's a guy that's continuously stepped up in this place. He's obviously been a few other spots, but he didn't hesitate. He went in there and just did his thing. I have a tremendous amount of respect for PJ as a player, but more so as a man."

Mayfield is in a position of having to earn the job back for a reason. He ranked last in the NFL in Total QBR (15.3) during the first five games and is on target for career lows in almost every statistical category.

Walker is 3-1 as a starter -- and 1-1 this season -- since entering the league in 2020. He had a Total QBR of 73.9 in Sunday's 21-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, completing 16 of 22 pass attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Mayfield is handling his role as the backup well.

"Baker is Baker. Baker has no shortage of confidence,'' McAdoo said. "He's played a lot of football in this league. I don't see anything different from him. He's helping out in any way that he can.''

Darnold, the 2021 starter who lost the starting job in training camp, said Mayfield has a "great, positive attitude all the time.''

"It's business,'' Darnold said. "There's no change in body language, no one shaking their head in [the quarterback room]. Whatever the deal is, we understand what it is. PJ is playing this week and we're doing the best to help him.''

Wide receiver DJ Moore says Mayfield understands the business.

"I know he wishes he was the starter, but he's the backup right now,'' Moore said. "So he's going to motivate PJ the best way he can.''