GREATER LANDOVER, Md. — Sam Darnold threw a touchdown pass and Baker Mayfield was solid aside from a fumbled snap in the latest stage of the Carolina Panthers quarterback competition, a 23-21 preseason-opening victory Saturday at the Washington Commanders.
Mayfield started and completed four of seven passes for 45 yards. He scurried for 3 yards on one play and botched the exchange with center Pat Elflein just inside the red zone, contributing to the first drive stalling and ending with a field goal.
Darnold took over with Carolina in the red zone after a fumble by Washington's Antonio Gibson and completed a play-action fade pass under pressure to Rashard Higgins for an 8-yard TD. After coach Matt Rhule said he expected each QB to play one series and get six to eight snaps, Darnold went back for a second drive, threw incomplete on third down and finished 2 of 3 for 16 yards.
Mayfield and Darnold operated an offense missing running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore, who were among the Carolina players held out.
Since the start of training camp, Mayfield and Darnold have been competing for the starting job, splitting snaps in practice. The team isn’t expected to choose a starter for Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns Sept. 11 until after the second preseason game because Rhule doesn’t want to rush into making the wrong choice.
While Mayfield has been more productive in practice, Rhule hasn’t previously given any indication as to who is leading the competition.
There's no such competition in Washington for the first time in years, and Carson Wentz looked good in his debut for the franchise that played its first game as the 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 culminated in a touchdown ru n by rookie Brian Robinson Jr.
QBs of the future?
The Commanders and Panthers each had a rookie quarterback who could be part of the future get some second-half snaps. Washington's Sam Howell impressed more than Carolina's Matt Corral.
Howell, once a projected top-10 pick who fell to the fifth round after his junior season at North Carolina, took over for Taylor Heinicke early in the third quarter and was 9 of 16 for 143 yards. He also juked out a few defenders on a 17-yard touchdown run, his first of two before a 2-point-conversion that put Washington up with 2:26 left.
Corral, a third-rounder out of Mississippi, entered in the fourth quarter and was 1 of 9 for 11 yards but also led the drive that ended with Zane Gonzalez's 45-yard go-ahead field goal in the final minute.
Gibson fumbling continues
Gibson fumbled on his second — and what turned out to be his final — carry of the game, continuing a troubling trend that worsened last season, his second as a pro. Gibson fumbled six times and lost the ball four of those times in 2021, and struggles to stay fully healthy led Washington to look for a running back high in the draft.
Robinson, that choice as a third-round pick out of Alabama, impressed in relief of Gibson. He rushed six times for 26 yards, including an 8-yard TD run, and caught two passes for 15 yards.
Panthers: Visit the New England Patriots on Friday in each team's second preseason game.
Commanders: Visit the Kansas Chiefs next Saturday in a reunion between Ron Rivera and mentor Andy Reid.