As if Baker Mayfield does not already command a spotlight wherever he goes, the 2022 season opener comes with an extra level of shine for the new Carolina Panthers quarterback.
Mayfield’s presence has expectedly loomed large since he arrived from the Cleveland Browns in an July trade.
Now comes Baker’s chance to make his mark on the field when the Panthers open the season Sunday afternoon at home against those Browns.
The Panthers’ trade for Mayfield came after the Browns acquired QB Deshaun Watson in March.
“It ended abruptly and unexpectedly, but we’re here now,” Mayfield said Wednesday. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m rolling with the punches.”
At least in the lead-in to Sunday’s game, Mayfield has tried to downplay the decision by his former team to move into a new direction.
“It doesn’t give me an edge, nor does it give them an edge,” Mayfield said. “It gives us both familiarity.”
Mayfield won the Panthers’ first-string QB job in a training-camp competition with Sam Darnold, who has since landed on the injury list.
“This system is going to fit me well,” Mayfield said. “The whole offense is going to grow.”
The Browns don’t want to be consumed with the quarterback saga either, although they did create it.
“It’s Browns vs. Panthers,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said. “It’s pretty simple. We have to prepare for their offense, their defense, their special teams.”
Carolina coach Matt Rhule said Mayfield has been quizzed by his teammates in order to gain insight about the Browns.
Stefanski said the Browns don’t want to alter their tendencies just because Mayfield is on the other side.
“You don’t want to overthink those types of things,” said Stefanski, who admitted to altering some signals and play calls ahead of the showdown.
The Browns will have Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback as Watson serves an 11-game suspension to begin the season over sexual misconduct accusations.
Brissett is familiar to many in North Carolina after he finished his college career at North Carolina State in 2014-15.
Cleveland’s offense also added four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Browns have nine of their 11 defensive starters from 2021 in place, making that side of the ball the potential strength of the team at least until Brissett and the offense find a groove. Defensive ends Myles Garrett (Browns single-season record 16 sacks last season) and Jadeveon Clowney will be pursuing Mayfield.
Neither team made the postseason last year with sub-.500 records. The Panthers were 5-12, while the Browns were a disappointing 8-9.
“The first game does offer a little bit of suspense,” Rhule said.
It’s a return of storylines to some degree for the Panthers. Last September, Darnold was in his first game with Carolina and faced his former team, the New York Jets, in Charlotte and came out on top.
That gave the Panthers their first victory in a season opener since 2018.
The Panthers have a new kicker in Eddy Pineiro, who has spent time with six organizations and most notably played all 16 games for the 2019 Chicago Bears. He was 8 of 8 on field goals last year for the Jets.
Rhule said the Panthers are anxious to start anew, but he would like to see the type of focus that was present during the past month.
“They did a great job of that all camp and I just reminded them to stay that way this week,” he said.
Carolina’s lone player on the injury list was tight end/fullback Giovanni Ricci, who was limited in Wednesday’s workout because of a hip ailment. He plays on several special teams.
The Panthers are 4-2 all-time (and 2-0 at home) against Cleveland, though the Browns won the most recent meeting in 2018 in Mayfield’s rookie season.
–Field Level Media