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Carolina Panthers

Counted out before, Baker Mayfield hoping to bounce back again

Baker Mayfield

CHARLOTTE — There are enough tangible things to point to with Baker Mayfield's game right now that there's plenty of game tape to analyze and fix.

What head coach Matt Rhule isn't worried about is his quarterback's ability to put those bad games behind him.

On the heels of Mayfield's worst game of his short time with the Panthers, Rhule said he was encouraged after his Tuesday meeting with Mayfield, where they talked about his game as well as the state of the team. And because of the way he's responding to the specific things they saw on tape, Rhule expressed confidence they'd correct those things.

"I think he's elite-ly resilient," Rhule said of Mayfield Wednesday. "You don't go from unrecruited out of high school to the Heisman Trophy to the first pick in the draft without having self-confidence. . . .

"Baker's been through a lot as a player. I have no concerns about his resiliency; he's fantastic that way."

That's good if it plays out that way, because he's in a spot where resilience will be crucial.

Mayfield is leading the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense at the moment, last in the league in third-down conversions (which means they've also run the fewest plays in the league), and they happen to be playing the league's top-ranked defense this weekend in the 49ers.

"I've been here before," Mayfield said when asked about the recent struggles of the Panthers' offense. "I'm pretty comfortable in this position. I have experience being able to bounce back and being able to handle things the right way and lead. To me, we'll be just fine."

He made a number of references to particular things they saw on tape, the clear teaching moments, and the specific plays that needed fixing. At the same time, he knows it's time to start fixing them.

The Panthers are playing well on defense right now, but that's not as sustainable when they're out there all day (like the 38-plus minutes they had to defend against the Cardinals, so it's no coincidence they gave up 16 points in the fourth quarter thanks to a turnover deep in their own territory).

"Yeah, it's like I said after the game. Nobody's happy where we're at, plain and simple," Mayfield said. "But you can either harp on it or look at the tape, fix it, and get better from it. We have to overall be better. It's consistent from looking at the tape. We have to do our job better, at a higher level.

"It's time for our offense to actually play well, instead of just relying on our defense and special teams to save us and bail us out. Handling the next punch is how adversity goes for me. Things are going to happen. Some things happen in a game you can't control, but some things that have hurt us we can control. That's how we need to process this information."

There were things last week he wouldn't mind replicating, like the nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drives as boos were raining down on him in the fourth quarter. It was their longest drive of the day, and a rare example of sustaining anything offensively.

They've hit some quick-strike plays (like a 75-yard touchdown to Robbie Anderson against the Browns or Laviska Shenault Jr.'s 67-yard score against the Saints), but those have been more common than long drives.

"I think he keeps fighting, you know," Anderson said of Mayfield. "He stays resilient, as much as possible, you know. Just by playing. Just by playing, effort, not giving up."

Running back Christian McCaffrey said Mayfield's been "the same guy" throughout the early problems, which appeals to McCaffrey's everyday ethos.

"He's a great leader, great in the huddle, takes extreme ownership, and is someone you want to go to battle with," McCaffrey said. "He's consistent all the way around."

Statistically, maybe not, but there are some numbers that suggest that not everything is off.

Perhaps oddly enough, Mayfield's the league's third-highest-rated passer in the fourth quarter (117.4). Trailing the Cards by two scores made that a bit easier since they were playing less aggressively on defense, but it's something. He's 18-of-30 passing in the fourth, for 330 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the final quarter.

But the fact he's 30th in the league in passer rating for the whole game speaks to the problems they've had passing the ball.

"Right now, there's no identity because we're not consistent enough," Mayfield admitted. "That's not anything schematically wise; that's on us as players executing. We have to be better. We have to own that. We just haven't been good enough. There's no excuses; we just have to fix it.

"I'll take that (criticism) every day of the week. We just have to be better. I've always prided myself on being able to elevate the guys around me and lead at an extremely high level. Obviously, that hasn't happened, and I'm working really hard on that. And it starts with me doing my job the best I can and going from there. I'll take a lot of blame for that, and I consistently will."

And going back to the particulars is all they can focus on now, especially considering this week's opponent.

"If there's a solution, there's always hope," Rhule said of the things they see on tape.

Now they just have to fix them.

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