Baker Mayfield back to bench with P.J. Walker named Panthers starter vs. Falcons

Baker Mayfield is heading back to the bench.

P.J. Walker will start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. Interim head coach Steve Wilks announced the decision on Monday. Mayfield will serve as backup.

Wilks declined to address what went into his decision other than to note that the Panthers are on a short week. Carolina plays Atlanta on Thursday, and Walker has been the team's starter since Week 6.

Wilks benched Walker after he completed 3 of 10 passes for 9 yards and two interceptions in the first half of Sunday's 42-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Mayfield, who began the season as Carolina's starter, took over with with the Panthers trailing 35-0 in the second half. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 155 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers.

The effort was Mayfield's best since he joined the Panthers via an offseason trade from the Cleveland Browns. It also took place in the second half of a game whose outcome was decided before he took the field. The former No. 1 overall pick struggled in five starts to begin the season, completing a career-low 54.9% of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions during a 1-4 start to the season. He suffered a sprained ankle in Week 5 and did not return to his starting position after he recovered.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 09: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field at halftime against the San Francisco 49ers at Bank of America Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Baker Mayfield is headed back to the bench. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images) (Eakin Howard via Getty Images)

Walker has started the four games since Mayfield's injury and led the Panthers to a 21-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7. But Carolina's lost his other three starts as Walker completed 58.9% of his passes for 124.6 yards per game with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

After announcing the decision, Wilks was asked about speculation that the Panthers were tanking in an effort so secure a high draft pick.

"Trust the process and trust my decision-making," Wilks responded.

If Mayfield plays 70% of Carolina's snaps this season, the fifth-round pick they traded to Cleveland would convert to a fourth-round pick. Wilks took over for fired head coach Matt Rhule after Week 5. As an interim coach with little job security, intentionally tanking would do little to serve him personally.

The Panthers, meanwhile, activated Sam Darnold from a high-ankle sprain that's kept him sidelined since Carolina's preseason finale. The 2021 Panthers starter will remain behind Walker and Mayfield on Carolina's depth chart.