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Baker Mayfield knows he has to improve

Baker Mayfield

CHARLOTTE — No one knows that Baker Mayfield has to be better, better than Baker Mayfield does.

But at the same time, there was almost a sense of relief that he could talk about his own shortcomings after a win, rather than being one of the reasons for another loss.

Mayfield won his first start as the Panthers quarterback despite another spotty passing day, making just enough plays late to get them through, to provide another chance to learn without a cloud hanging over their heads.

"We'll take wins whenever we get them," Mayfield said after Sunday's 22-14 win over the Saints at Bank of America Stadium. "It's extremely hard to win in this league; you never take that for granted. You can get beat by anybody, week in and week out.

"There's always stuff to work on; that's the good part about it, early in the season to get a win, but when you learn from wins, it's better than learning from losses. So we'll continue to progress and get better."

And there's plenty of room for that.

Mayfield was 12-of-25 passing (48.0 percent) for 170 yards and a touchdown, and an 83.8 passer rating that is utterly functional.

But for the third week, he was left to explain another rough go at converting third downs. They were 4-of-14 Sunday (28.6 percent), and they entered the game 29th in the league at 6-of-23 (26.1 percent).

So yeah, there's still plenty to work on.

Mayfield had some bad misses early, overthrowing DJ Moore among others, and he admitted his "ball location" wasn't as sharp as he needed it to be. He ascribed the problems as "physical errors," mentioning his footwork as something he had to work on.

"Third downs are completely on me, just ball location, so just continue to work on that, and just harp on our passing game," Mayfield said. "Obviously, throughout the whole game, we have to be better, but especially on third down. . . .

"I'm going to look back at the tape and not be real happy, honestly. Considering the third down conversions. We'll take wins when we get them, no doubt about that."

Baker Mayfield

As there have been in other games, there were individual moments in which Mayfield did what he needed. On a day when the defense carried things early, he got the ball to Laviska Shenault Jr. for a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown that gave the Panthers a 12-point lead.

Most importantly, it came moments after the Saints scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 13-7, opening the door for doubt to creep in.

It wasn't a particularly sharp day for Mayfield, but at least it was timely.

While he walked in the door with an image as an emotional player, those who have gotten to know him over the last two and a half months have been impressed with how he keeps things cool in huddles late in games.

"He's not saying a ton, but motivating and encouraging and onto the next play," center Pat Elflein said. "Last play doesn't matter; look forward to the next one and how we capitalize on that. Someone who's always got positive energy no matter what's going on.

"I didn't know him before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But he's a competitor, man, everything you want in a quarterback. Ever since he's been here, he's been all business. Working to make sure practice is right first and making sure the meetings are right. On the field, same thing. He keeps it simple, and keeps us in the right direction."

Running back Christian McCaffrey, veering into social commentary for a moment when asked about his new quarterback, said with a grin: "We're good at defining people based on perceptions, not if you've met someone or not."

To him, Mayfield's demeanor in the huddle and on the practice field overrides anything he might have heard out of Cleveland over the previous four years.

"Baker's the same guy. Whether things are going well or not, he's the same guy," McCaffrey said. "He's a great leader, he's tough as nails, and he's somebody we know is going to get the ball rolling. He's an easy guy to share the huddle with. I didn't have any preconceived notions on what he was going to be like.

"But every day, he shows us who he is. He comes to work, he's a first-guy-in last-guy-out guy, and he's a great leader, as I said. He's not overly emotional, and he's very businesslike, but he has fun with it at the same time."

After yet another performance that's beneath his expectations, though, Mayfield acknowledged that he needed to get better, though he's trying to keep it in perspective for a guy who has been here a short amount of time.

"It doesn't matter. There's no acclimation period for me," he said. " I know there's going to be bumps in the road, but I expect to be a whole lot better than I've been so far. I'm just going to continue to be my own biggest critic and just continue to push these guys.

"To play quarterback in this league, you have to have a short memory. Got to flush the good and the bad plays; anything can happen. I think we've seen league-wide crazy things can happen. So you have to be able to flush it and go onto the next play. A lot of these games aren't over until the clock hits zero, so that's how I've always been.

"Try to take care of the rock as much as I can, but if things happen, you've got to play the next one. You can't harp on it."

But he does know he has to be better.

View best in-game photos from Carolina's home game against New Orleans.

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