CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Baker Mayfield was disappointed, not distraught, after the Carolina Panthers’ 26-24 season-opening loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Mayfield came up short Sunday in game that was billed as the “Baker Bowl” — his ultimate shot at revenge against the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2018 only to kick him to the curb earlier this offseason in favor of since-suspended star Deshaun Watson.
“Everybody made this out to the Super Bowl, but despite what everyone is going to make this, there are 16 more games,” Mayfield said. “The Super Bowl is not until February and this is the beginning of September. There was a lot of anticipation, but we’re going to flush this and learn from it and be better from it.”
Cleveland’s celebration wasn’t so ho-hum.
Browns executive vice president JW Johnson called out Mayfield on Twitter after the game, writing “YES! HUGE TEAM WIN!! 1-0 #Browns. The locker (room) was Off The Leash.”
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said something similar after the game. The “off the leash” comments are a reference to the slogan Mayfield used on licensed, limited-edition t-shirts his camp put out last week.
Mayfield pointed the finger at himself for the offense’s slow start.
Carolina managed just 13 yards in its first five possessions to dig a 14-0 hole. Mayfield didn’t help matters as he bobbled a shotgun snap, had throws tipped at the line of scrimmage, a delay of game penalty and threw an interception that led to the Browns’ first touchdown.
Still, he rallied the Panthers from 13 points down in the fourth quarter and positioned his team for a win after leading a 64-yard drive that resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro to give Carolina a 24-23 lead with 1:13 left in the game.
Rookie Cade York’s 58-yard field goal with 8 seconds left spoiled that effort.
Mayfield finished the game 16 of 27 for 235 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. He also ran for a 7-yard touchdown.
“I’m disappointed in the way I started,” Mayfield said. “Obviously there were a ton of mistakes — self-inflicted mistakes — by the offense and I take the blame on that sure. The ball was on the ground too many times and there was miscommunication and things that we need to fix. Those are the ones that you harp on. But they are fixable, and that’s the good thing.”
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he liked what he saw from his new quarterback after the slow start.
“He, like the rest of our offense, just kind of settled down,” Rhule said. “A lot of little things got in the way in the first half. We were in a lot of third-and-longs, and it was not a good half.”
Mayfield said he’ll have to study the tape to see if he felt the Panthers got too conservative on their final drive.
After scoring touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, the Panthers moved to the Cleveland 14 with 1:27 left. But Mayfield fumbled the shotgun snap on first down and had to jump on the loose ball, costing the team a down.
The Panthers then ran Christian McCaffrey twice, losing 1 yard before settling for the field goal.
Rhule said Mayfield had a run-pass option on those plays but elected to hand the ball off.
“They are playing downhill with their safeties, and with the RPO we were taking care of the ball,” Mayfield said. “Am I going to look back at the film and think there is maybe a shot at one them? I don’t know.
Then he added, “But I don’t think there is anything wrong with putting the ball in your best player’s hands.”
After the game, Mayfield stuck around on the field to congratulate several former Browns teammates, including Garrett, who had two of Cleveland’s four sacks. But he never spoke to Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, whom he butted heads with in Cleveland.
“He fought like crazy,” Stefanski said of Mayfield. “Like he always does.”