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After latest change, focus is on creating "playoff mentality"

Steve Wilks

CHARLOTTE — Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks isn't typically one to linger over decisions.

So after he told the quarterbacks Monday morning that Sam Darnold would start this week against the Seahawks and PJ Walker would back him up, Baker Mayfield asked for a release, so it was quickly granted.

Wilks said that Mayfield had been a "complete pro" his entire time here, so giving him a chance to find another spot seemed like the right thing to do.

"Yes, we felt we wanted to give him the opportunity to be able to seek whatever him and his agent felt would be the best for them," Wilks said. "Again, he has been nothing but a professional for us. So I wanted to extend that courtesy."

Since it's after the trade deadline, Mayfield will pass through waivers, meaning other teams can claim him if they'd like.

But for the Panthers, it was more about not needing a third quarterback on the roster (they generally only activate two). Mayfield's performance (74.4 passer rating, which ranked 32nd in the league) was hardly what they expected when they traded for him this offseason, but Wilks was gracious when asked about a player he worked with in Cleveland in 2019.

"I wouldn't say that he failed. I would say that it just didn't work out," Wilks said. "You know, he's still a good football player. Just like coaches, just like players sometimes, you know, they just need to change. And I wish him all the best."

The move leaves the Panthers with two quarterbacks for the short term, and Wilks said he wasn't sure if a third was on the way.

Former practice squad quarterback Jacob Eason (who appeared in the Rams game when Mayfield and Darnold were injured) is on the 49ers practice squad at the moment, taking that option off the board.

— Other than releasing a quarterback, Monday was a normal day at work after the bye week.

Wilks emphasized that he's talking to players this week about winning a road game (something they haven't done this year) and having a "playoff mentality" heading into this weekend's trip to Seattle, without getting bogged down in talk of playoff chances.

"What it looks like is a team that's resilient in their approach," Wilks said of that mentality. "Each and every week, which I've seen our preparation, I just told the guys I'm not worried about our preparation. We've had exceptional preparation each week."

Specifically, considering Seattle's reputation for fan noise, Wilks said they have to "over-communicate" on the field to make sure they don't suffer self-inflicted mistakes.

"But the mindset is not, you know, what can happen at the end (of the season)," he said. "It's really trying to take care of each day in and day out. And once we do that, we'll look at the end and see where we are."

While Monday's news was just the latest big change for the Panthers this year (they've already fired a head coach and traded Christian McCaffrey), they've also responded well to some of those events, and Wilks said the reality of the league is that you have to be prepared for changes.

"Really, the message that I that I try to convey is, don't let 'it' get in the way, you know, whatever 'it' may be," Wilks said. "We have to understand as professionals is that this league is not going to stop. And each week is another challenge. So, we know, we know we signed up for as players and coaches, and this is part of the business. And we just got to continue to go out and respond. And they have done that all year."

— Running back D'Onta Foreman, who has carried the offense in recent weeks (four 100-yard games in his last six), said he's something other than 100 percent.

He mentioned rib and foot issues but was optimistic that he'd be ready to play the Seahawks.

"Me being who I am, I'll go," Foreman said.

Wilks also mentioned that the bye gave some other players a good chance to return this week when specifically asked about Brian Burns and Foreman.

— Wilks said he encouraged players and his staff to get away over the weekend, and said he didn't spend a lot of time watching other games. But with New Orleans and Tampa playing tonight, Wilks said he'd be "locked in" to that game since the two NFC South rivals remain on their schedule.

View photos from the field and in the locker room after Carolina's win over Denver on Sunday.

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