Panthers players, coach Matt Rhule say they have Baker Mayfield’s back, despite boos

Baker Mayfield took a snap on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter and looked for a target.

Unfortunately for the Carolina Panthers (1-3) — like four other times in the team’s 26-16 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals (2-2) on Sunday — the only thing Mayfield could hit was a defender’s hand. Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen leaped and batted the ball down, forcing a turnover on downs.

The crowd launched into an onslaught of boos just minutes after rooting the team on with “Keep Pounding” chants. Mayfield and his teammates walked to the sideline as the chorus of jeers projected from the stands.

The game was effectively over, but the world wasn’t ending, according to the Panthers’ polarizing QB.

“Obviously, I’m frustrated, the fact that we’re 1-3,” Mayfield said. “I mean, that’s it though. We’re four weeks into the year. We can sit here and let you guys pile on us, or we’re gonna come together as a locker room. That’s exactly how we’re going to handle it.

“I don’t really care about the fact that our fans are booing or what’s going on — we’re going to figure it out and when we win, it’ll still just be us in the locker room, and that’s all I really care about. So, we’re going to be just fine.”

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule leaves the field after the teams 26-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals during at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule leaves the field after the teams 26-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals during at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.

While Panthers fans have grown frustrated with Mayfield’s struggles through the first four games of the season, his teammates and head coach Matt Rhule — at least publicly — are providing support.

Rhule was asked if he ever considered benching Mayfield during the loss to the Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium, and the head coach explained that the thought never crossed his mind.

“Obviously, I know it wasn’t good enough and I know that the numbers aren’t what they need to be in a lot of different areas,” Rhule said. “I have to, really though — even as I said to the team — go back and really look and see, ‘Why is this happening? Why are we not playing better than this?’ Cause I know we have the personnel on offense to make plays, and it’s just not coming together the way it needs to.”

Mayfield completed a season-high 61.1% of his passes, but only threw for 197 yards, a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown and two interceptions. He had multiple throws sail away from his receivers.

“Just didn’t make the plays when they were there,” Mayfield said. “Not a whole lot — got to look at the tape, but we just didn’t make the plays that were there.”

Like Rhule, Mayfield’s offensive teammates aren’t ready to quit on the quarterback. Starting right guard Austin Corbett, who played with Mayfield in Cleveland, said the quarterback is known for battling back through tough times.

Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, and teammate, Marquis Blair, walk off the field after losing to the Cardinals, 26-16 on Sunday, October 2, 2022, 2022 in Charlotte, NC.
Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, and teammate, Marquis Blair, walk off the field after losing to the Cardinals, 26-16 on Sunday, October 2, 2022, 2022 in Charlotte, NC.

“I think that’s kind of been the story of his life, is just responding to adversity and responding to people telling him he can’t do something,” Corbett said. “So, I know he’s ready to get back into the building, learn from this, make the changes and continue on. It’s a long season. We still got 13 (games) guaranteed. So, just need to keep attacking, a day at a time.”

Fellow starting guard Brady Christensen was quick to put some of the blame for Mayfield’s batted balls on the offensive line.

“It’s our job to keep the hands down,” Christensen said. “We got to do better, we’ve got to keep those guys’ hands down. However we can do that, we need to do it. Gonna go watch the film and really point the fingers at ourselves and see what we can do to get better up front.”

During the second quarter, Mayfield threw to a wide open D.J. Moore on a corner route. The pass sailed, and Moore was forced to reach for the ball with one arm. The ball then bounced off the receiver’s hands into the grasp of Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson for an interception.

Instead of blaming the quarterback’s throw, Moore put the onus on himself.

“It just tipped off my hands,” Moore said. “I can make that play. I gotta make that play. It just tipped off my hand.”

Mayfield has completed just 54.7% of his passes this season. He’s yet to eclipse 250 passing yards in a game, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio took a major hit in the loss to the Cardinals.

Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen, right, stretches out to block a pass by Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield during the game against the Cardinals on Sunday, October 2, 2022, 2022 in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers lost 26-16.
Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen, right, stretches out to block a pass by Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield during the game against the Cardinals on Sunday, October 2, 2022, 2022 in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers lost 26-16.

Rhule said the tipped passes and turnovers need to be corrected. But the head coach wasn’t ready to talk about benching Mayfield for Sam Darnold, who is eligible to return from injured reserve prior to next week’s matchup against San Francisco after suffering a high-ankle sprain during the preseason.

“I don’t have any thoughts about anything moving forward yet,” Rhule said. “I can talk right now, really, about this game. I don’t know anything in terms of health-wise, so I can’t make any comments on that.”

The Panthers are off to a sluggish start, but Mayfield isn’t panicking, and neither are the Panthers.

Not yet, at least.

“This is a four-game stretch that everybody wanted to have more success, including us,” Mayfield said. “It’s frustrating. We’re frustrated, but it’s not the end of the world. We can still turn this thing around. We’re four games into the year. We’re going to be just fine.”