Baker Mayfield 'would love' long stay with Panthers, but focused on now

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Baker Mayfield isn't showing signs that his role as backup quarterback for the Carolina Panthers is bothering him or that he would want to move on from the team after this season.

If anything, he has embraced the role, lining up in practice on Thursday as an edge rusher, as the scout team quarterback and anywhere else he could to help get starter PJ Walker ready for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I care about winning right now,'' Mayfield said. "We'll see what happens. This is a great place. I would love to be here, but a lot of that stuff is out of my control. So I handle what I can, control what I can and just stay in the moment.

"Right now, that's focusing on going to Cincinnati and trying to find a way to win.''

Mayfield, 27, will be the backup while healthy for the second straight week, as Walker makes his fourth straight start since becoming the starter in Week 6 after Mayfield suffered a high ankle sprain.

Mayfield understands his role as the backup might even be in jeopardy next week if the Panthers activate Sam Darnold, the player he beat out in an open competition to be the starter in training camp, from injured reserve as expected.

It's unlikely the Panthers would keep Walker, Mayfield and Darnold active for the Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons or any other game moving forward.

"That's kind of been the looming question,'' said Mayfield, acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in July. "That's not for us to handle. 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.''

Mayfield said he hasn't talked to interim head coach Steve Wilks or general manager about his role moving forward this season or his future when he becomes a free agent after the season.

The first pick of the 2018 draft by the Browns also insisted he hasn't given thought to how he handles his role as the backup will be perceived by other teams that potentially could sign him next year.

"That's the way this league is,'' Mayfield said. "There's ups and downs. You hit adversity, you hit the crossroads. It's how you handle it. Because how you handle it speaks volumes to the character and what you're trying to do."

The Panthers were 1-4 under Mayfield when Matt Rhule was the head coach. They are 1-2 under Wilks, but at 2-6 they mathematically still have a shot to win the NFC South led by the Atlanta Falcons at 4-4 with Tampa Bay and New Orleans a game back at 3-5.

Carolina almost pulled off a miracle comeback on Sunday in Atlanta when Walker connected with wide receiver DJ Moore for a 62-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted was "the throw of the year.'' An unsportsmanlike penalty when two players celebrated without their helmets turned the extra point into a 48-yard attempt, which kicker Eddy Pineiro missed.

Pineiro also missed a 32-yard field goal in overtime and Carolina lost 37-34.

Still, Mayfield was the first to congratulate Walker coming off the field after the tying touchdown with a head-butt. He wasn't wearing a helmet and admittedly was as excited for Walker as anyone.

"Well, hell yeah,'' Mayfield said. "Have you seen a throw like that? Because I f---ing haven't. I mean, he let that thing go. I looked up and saw DJ next to two guys. At first I looked around and was like, 'Did that really just happen?' I looked for a flag and then then moved on to celebrating.

"It was a heck of a play in a crucial moment. Not a lot of people gave him a chance.''

Walker was the fourth-string quarterback entering training camp. The Panthers were planning to go into the season with Mayfield, Darnold and rookie Matt Corral before Corral and Darnold suffered injuries in the final two preseason games, Corral's season-ending.

Walker was expected to be on the practice squad. Mayfield, who has made a career out of overcoming long odds, appreciates what Walker has done.

"I knew he had that arm, but to be able to put it on the money like that down the field, that's difficult,'' said Mayfield, known for throwing downfield. "You can throw to a place, but it always doesn't land where you want it to. That landed right in the breadbasket.''

"I haven't had anything like that. I've thrown a few Hail Marys, but nothing like that.''

Mayfield still believes Carolina can turn around its season, and he wants to do whatever it takes to help, even if it's being the backup.

"I've always been about winning,'' he said. "I truly mean that. However I can help I'm going to do it. Right now, it's to go out there and play against the defense in practice and help this QB get prepared and give tips and pointers.

"I can't stand losers. It's all about winning.''