CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — P.J. Walker will remain the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons, interim coach Steve Wilks said Monday, despite finishing with a 0.0 QB rating and getting benched at halftime of a 42-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Baker Mayfield will remain as Walker's backup with Sam Darnold, who was activated to the 53-man roster on Monday, expected to be inactive as he works his way back into shape.
Wilks made no promises as to who’ll play beyond this week.
Wilks cited the Panthers being on a short week and Walker having played well against the Falcons in Week 8 — he threw for a career-high 317 yards and a touchdown in a 37-34 overtime loss — as the reasons for sticking with the QB.
“Hopefully we can get a spark out of the offense,” Wilks said.
The only other quarterback in franchise history to finish with the league's lowest possible QB rating was Randy Fasani in 2002.
Walker completed 3 of 10 passes for 9 yards with two interceptions against the Bengals before being yanked with Carolina trailing 35-0 at the half. Mayfield played the second half and looked better than he has all season, engineering three touchdown drives and finishing 14 of 20 for 155 yards with two TDs passing — although some of that came in garbage time against a soft zone and Bengals backups.
Wilks has repeatedly said the Panthers aren't tanking.
The Panthers will need to give the Cleveland Browns a fourth-round draft pick in 2024 if Mayfield plays at least 70% of the team's offensive snaps. However, if he plays less than 70%, the Panthers only owe the Browns a fifth-round pick.
So far, Mayfield has played 61% of Carolina's offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.
Red-zone offense. If there was one bright spot for the Panthers, it was their 3-for-3 performance inside the Bengals 20-yard line. Granted, by the time Mayfield entered the game the Panthers were down by 35 points and the Bengals were protecting against deep balls and allowing Carolina to take what it wanted underneath.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Run defense. Carolina's was nothing short of embarrassing on Sunday as the Bengals amassed 241 yards and five TDs on the ground. Joe Mixon, who had been in a season-long slump, broke out against Carolina with 153 yards rushing and four touchdowns, along with a TD catch. Cincinnati averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
“We weren’t setting edges on the defense,” Wilks said. “We’ve got to understand, even though we’re in man-to-man, we’ve got to get a little wider. Inside, we can’t get reach. We’ve got to fight and play downhill as linebackers, using our hands to get off blocks. It was a combination of things.”
WR Terrace Marshall. Granted, it came in garbage time, but Marshall continues to make some plays for Carolina, finishing with three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. His production has increased since the team traded Robbie Anderson to Arizona.
Defensive coaching. Wilks fired two defensive assistants a day after the Panthers trailed 35-0 at halftime. Cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni were dismissed.
Cooper has been with the Panthers since 2020, while Pasqualoni, the former head coach at Syracuse, joined the Panthers this offseason.
Defensive assistant Bobby Maffei will help coach the defensive backs, with interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb playing a more prominent role. Pass rush specialist Don Johnson and assistant defensive line coach Terrance Knighton will continue to coach the defensive line.
Panthers CB Donte Jackson continues to be hobbled by an ankle issue, while DE Brian Burns was limited on Sunday after sustaining a neck injury vs. the Bengals. S Jeremy Chinn is expected to return soon after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury.
24-50 — The Panthers' record since David Tepper bought the team in 2018.
The Panthers don't have much time to sulk after their blowout loss as they're back on the field Thursday night. Carolina lost 37-34 in overtime to Atlanta in Week 8 after D.J. Moore was penalized for celebrating a Hail Mary TD catch and kicker Eddy Pineiro missed a potential winning extra point in regulation and field goal in overtime.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL