Panthers' Mayfield stuns team with helmetless head-butts

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers guard Brady Christensen's eyes got wide when he saw a helmetless Baker Mayfield coming down the celebration line giving head-butts to teammates in helmets following Thursday night's 25-15 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I tried to avoid it,'' Christensen said with a laugh. "We spend all this time protecting him. I didn't want to hurt him.''

Christensen didn't avoid contact as Mayfield caught him near the ear hole.

He also didn't hurt Mayfield.

Neither did any of the other half-dozen players Mayfield head-butted, which is a good thing since the first pick of the 2018 draft will return to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 5 on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens with quarterback PJ Walker out with a high ankle sprain.

Mayfield was just continuing a tradition he began in college, but it was magnified when it was caught on camera during prime time.

"They're going to get it regardless,'' Mayfield said wryly. "I don't know what that says about me, but I enjoy it. If they don't like it, too bad. They're getting a head-butt anyway.''

The look on Mayfield's and his teammates' faces following the 25-15 victory over Atlanta ranged from complete shock to exhilaration.

"Everybody's reaction ... [was] like, 'What's going on?''' Christensen said. "You just don't expect it, especially from a quarterback. Usually you see that stuff from a strength coach.''

Not all players hesitated when Mayfield thrust his head at them with only his cap between his skull and the hard, molded polycarbonate helmets. Guard Michael Jordan went in for a direct shot with the crown of the helmet.

"I told him he ought to get a targeting call on that one,'' guard Austin Corbett said.

Tight end Tommy Tremble took an unexpected hit directly to the facemask.

"I wasn't really paying any attention,'' he said. "I thought he was giving me a quick little dab up. Next thing I know I got a head straight to the helmet. It surprised me, but I loved him. I love him to death."

Center Bradley Bozeman, like Christensen, tried to turn away.

"That way he doesn't hit the facemask and cut his head,'' he said. "He caught me right under the chin with that one. I was, 'OK, that was a good one.'''

Long snapper JJ Jansen, near the back of the line, didn't give Mayfield a chance to butt him. Instead, he held up his right hand for a high-five.

"He doesn't need to waste any head-butts on a snapper,'' Jansen said. "I don't need to put any of our own players in the concussion protocol. That was a pretty cool deal, but I wouldn't recommend it to Baker or to my son or anybody else.''

The head-butting was the latest example of how well Mayfield has handled being the backup to Walker after being a starter since the fourth game of his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns five years ago.

"It spoke to his leadership, the amount of fun he's having,'' Jansen said. "He's been fantastic for us all year. There's been good times, there's been bad when he hasn't been playing. That was really indicative of how fired up he was. Quarterbacks always have a soft spot in their heart for offensive linemen. You saw a lot of that come out.''

Sam Darnold, who will back up Mayfield on Sunday, agreed. He also admitted to trying the helmetless head-butt at least once in his career.

"But consecutively like that, that's pretty impressive,'' he said. "Kudos to Bake. I don't think we want to keep doing that, but yeah, I enjoyed it.''

And if you're wondering if Mayfield ever has hurt himself doing this, he sort of put that to rest.

"Not that I know of,'' he said, suggesting if he had a loss of memory he never knew about it.