Darnold TD, Mayfield solid in Panthers preseason opener | Professional national sports

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) – Even though the Carolina Panthers are one day closer to announcing a starting quarterback before the start of the regular season, the first exhibition game did not much to radically change the status of the competition.

Sam Darnold threw a touchdown pass and Baker Mayfield was solid apart from a missed snap in Carolina’s 23-21 preseason opener on Saturday over the Washington Commanders.

Even though Mayfield appears to be the favorite after the Panthers traded him and based on training camp, neither he nor Darnold have parted ways in the race which could still take a bit longer to be decided before the week. 1, September 11 against Cleveland.

“Our mentality is best suited to just put our heads down and go to work,” Mayfield said. “I just try to get better every day, and the best man is going to win.”

Mayfield started and completed four of seven passes for 45 yards. He rushed for 3 yards on a play and missed the rally with center Pat Elflein just inside the red zone, contributing to the first drive block and ending in a field goal.

Darnold took over with Carolina in the red zone after a fumble from Washington’s Antonio Gibson and completed a crossfade pass under pressure to Rashard Higgins for a TD from 8 yards. Darnold came out for a second drive, threw incomplete on third down and went 2 of 3 for 16 yards.

“They were both in charge,” coach Matt Rhule said. “Sam got us into the end zone, Baker got us into the field, so it looked like both guys had been playing well in terms of production. We’ll go back and watch and see where they are.

Rhule said he didn’t want to rush into making the wrong choice.

“It’s just figuring out doing everything I can with every game I have,” Darnold said. “That’s really all I focus on when I play there.”

Mayfield and Darnold made an attack missing running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore, who were among the Carolina players retained. Rhule said Moore had shoulder pain.

There’s no QB competition in Washington for the first time in years, and Carson Wentz looked good in his debut for the franchise which played its first game as Commanders.

In his first exhibition action with his third different NFL team in as many years, Wentz was 10 of 13 for 74 yards and led a 14-play, 82-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown run by rookie Brian Robinson Jr.

“It was nice to come out here and not be booed and have fun,” Wentz said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was good to get our feet wet offensively.”

QBS OF THE FUTURE?

The Commanders and Panthers each had a rookie quarterback who could be part of the future and get second-half snaps. Washington’s Sam Howell impressed more than Carolina’s Matt Corral.

Howell, once a top-10 draft pick who fell in the fifth round after his junior season at North Carolina, replaced Taylor Heinicke early in the third quarter and went 9 of 16 for 143 yards. He also has eliminated some defenders on a 17-yard touchdown run, his first of two before a 2-point conversion that put Washington in place with 2:26 to go.

Corral, a third-rounder from Mississippi, came on in the fourth quarter and was 1 of 9 for 11 yards but also led the run that ended with Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard field goal in the final minute.

GIBSON FUMBLING CONTINUES

Gibson fumbled on his second run of the game, continuing a troubling trend that worsened last season. Gibson fumbled six times and lost the ball four of those times in 2021, his second NFL season, and his struggles to stay healthy led Washington to seek a high running back in the draft.

Robinson, that pick as Alabama’s third-round pick, impressed in relief from Gibson. He rushed six times for 26 yards, including an 8-yard TD rush, and caught two passes for 15 yards.

“I thought Brian kind of showed why we drafted him,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s got this downhill physical presence inside.”

NEXT

Panthers: Visit the New England Patriots on Friday.

Commanders: Visit the Kansas Chiefs next Saturday.

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