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Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold give Panthers solid QB play in preseason win over Commanders

Baker Mayfield, looking to pass against the Washington Commanders on Saturday, remains deadlocked with Sam Darnold for the Panthers starting quarterback job.Scott Taetsch/Getty

Even though the Carolina Panthers are another day closer to announcing a starting quarterback before the beginning of the regular season, the first exhibition game did not do much to drastically change the status of the competition.

Sam Darnold threw a touchdown pass and Baker Mayfield was solid aside from a fumbled snap in Carolina’s 23-21 preseason-opening victory Saturday at the Washington Commanders. The Panthers will hold joint practices with the Patriots this week in Foxborough before their preseason matchup Friday night at Gillette Stadium.

Even if Mayfield appears to be the favorite after the Panthers traded for him and based on training camp, neither he nor Darnold separated himself in the race that might take more time to be decided before Week 1, Sept. 11 against Cleveland.

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“Our mentality is best suited to just put our heads down and go to work,” Mayfield said. “Just trying to improve each day, and the best man’s going to win.”

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. Darnold went back out for a second drive, threw incomplete on third down, and finished 2 of 3 for 16 yards.

“They were both in command,” coach Matt Rhule said. “Sam got us in the end zone, Baker led us down the field, so it looked like both guys played well in terms of production. We’ll go back and look and see where they are.”

Rhule has said he doesn’t want to rush into making the wrong choice.

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“It’s just understanding doing everything that I can with every play that I have,” Darnold said. “That’s really all I focus on when I’m out there playing.”

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. Rhule said Moore was dealing with a sore shoulder.

There’s no QB 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 run by rookie Brian Robinson Jr.

“It was good to get out here and not be booed and have some fun,” Wentz said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was good to kind of get our feet wet a little bit offensively.”

Browns prepare Jacoby Brissett as their No. 1 QB

Jacoby Brissett has jumped ahead of Deshaun Watson on Cleveland’s depth chart. Maybe for a while.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Brissett will take the majority of snaps with Cleveland’s first-team offense starting Sunday, a move necessitated by Watson’s pending suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy for sexual misconduct allegations.

Watson, who made his debut with the Browns by starting Friday’s 24-13 exhibition win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville, has been the No. 1 quarterback throughout training camp.

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But he’s going to miss at least the first six regular-season games — and potentially more — so the Browns need to get Brissett ready for the Sept. 11 opener at Carolina.

“That has been the plan really from the beginning is just to at some point let Jacoby get the majority of them, still work Deshaun, still work Josh Dobbs and still work Josh Rosen,” Stefanski said, referring to Cleveland’s four QBs during a Zoom call with reporters.

Watson’s situation remains in flux.

His six-game suspension handed down by independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson was appealed by the NFL and is being decided by Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey Attorney General appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Harvey’s ruling could come at any time and there’s still the possibility Watson and the league could agree to a settlement.

On Thursday, a person familiar with Watson’s defense told the AP the three-time Pro Bowler would accept an eight-game suspension and $5 million fine. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Before Friday’s game, Watson’s first in nearly 600 days, he apologized for the first time since two dozen women filed lawsuits against him alleging sexual harassment and assault during massage therapy sessions while he played for Houston.

“I just think Deshaun has been very committed to being the best version of himself,” Stefanski said. “That is off the field and that is on the field, obviously when he is in this building, but more so I do think he wants to learn and grow as a person. That is important.”

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In the meantime, the Browns need to get ready for the season.

Brissett was signed in March by the Browns, who viewed him as a perfect plug-in while Watson is sidelined. The 29-year-old Brissett has made 37 career starts and been thrown into unique situations, including in 2019 when he became Indianapolis’s starter following Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement.

The Browns didn’t play Brissett against the Jaguars to avoid the risk of an injury and to get Watson back into the flow of a game. Now, it’s time for Brissett to get more time with Cleveland’s starters.

“Jacoby has gotten a lot of reps to date. I go back to the nine-week offseason program and the weeks we have been together, he has gotten a ton of reps with the ones and with the twos,” Stefanski said. “He will keep on that same process and making sure he is running the show when he is in there. He does a nice job in the quarterback meeting room with those guys, so I just think this is also the natural progression for him moving forward.”

The Browns will practice twice this week against the Philadelphia Eagles before hosting them next Sunday in their first home exhibition. Cleveland will be without starting center Nick Harris, who will undergo surgery after suffering a season-ending right knee injury on the second play against the Jaguars.

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Harris was dropping back into pass coverage when his right knee appeared to buckle while blocking a Jaguars defender. He laid face down for several seconds before being checked by medical personnel and carted off.

Ethan Pocic, who signed as a free agent in the offseason after five seasons with Seattle, replaced Harris.

Bears outlast Mahomes, Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes threw for 60 yards and a touchdown on Kansas City’s first possession, then watched as the Chiefs lost to the host Chicago Bears, 19-14, in the preseason opener.

The game was the first for Chicago’s Matt Eberflus as a head coach. It also marked the return to Soldier Field for predecessor Matt Nagy, now the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach. He was fired in January after leading the Bears to a 34-31 record in four seasons, then reunited with Andy Reid after previously working for him in Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Chiefs safety Justin Reid showed he could be an emergency kicker, nailing an extra point after Justin Watson caught a 22-yard touchdown from Shane Buechele in the closing seconds of the first half. Reid, who made a 65-yard field goal in a training camp practice, sent the kick right down the middle to make it 14-0.

Mahomes had no trouble playing on a chopped-up field. He also picked apart a defense missing its two best players, with linebacker Roquan Smith in a contract standoff and the Bears holding out star pass rusher Robert Quinn.

Mahomes was 6 of 7 passing on a 72-yard drive after Chicago went three-and-out on the game’s first possession. The four-time Pro Bowler dumped the ball off to Blake Bell for a 5-yard TD, capping an 11-play possession — then called it a day.

Chicago’s Justin Fields, trying to build on a shaky rookie season, was 4 of 7 for 48 yards. He played three possessions before veteran Trevor Siemian replaced him.

Siemian was 7 of 13 for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 12-yard TD to Trestan Ebner early in the third quarter after Sanborn picked off Buechele and a 13-yarder to Dazz Newsome that cut it to 14-13.

Cairo Santos put Chicago on top 16-14 after Sanborn recovered a fumble by running back Derrick Gore and added a 47-yarder to bump the lead to five with about six minutes left in the game.

JC Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association blasted the conditions at Soldier Field on Saturday, anddidn’t exactly get an argument from the Bears or Chiefs after their preseason game.

Tretter tweeted the field was not up to NFL standards.

“The NFL said that this field met minimum testing standards,” he wrote. “We clearly need to re-evaluate what is an acceptable surface for players to compete on. We need new testing metrics looking at the performance and safety of every field. The NFL can and should do better.”