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Panthers coach Steve Wilks won’t name starting QB until at least Wednesday

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Head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers looks on against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Head coach Steve Wilks of the Carolina Panthers looks on against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Rob Carr/Getty Images/TNS)

The Panthers are not ready to name a starting quarterback, interim head coach Steve Wilks said Monday.

“Operation of the offense, protecting the football, (finding who) gives us the best opportunity to do those things,” Wilks said of his looming decision.

Wilks said PJ Walker could be healthy enough to start Sunday against the Denver Broncos but he will not know for certain until Wednesday when the team returns to practice. Incumbent starter Baker Mayfield and backup Sam Darnold are also being considered.

Wilks said the Panthers played a strong three quarters of football against the Ravens but three fourth-quarter turnovers doomed them. Mayfield threw two interceptions after the 56-minute mark, which is when the team fell behind by 10 points.

For the past two weeks, Wilks has named a starter on Monday. He said he is waiting until at least Wednesday this week to gain more information, both on Walker’s availability and the Broncos, who feature one of the best defenses in the league.

Regardless of who starts for Carolina, Wilks had a clear message for his players on Monday.

“Our star players need to play like stars. They need to step up,” Wilks said. “Across the board, on both sides of the ball, they need to play. If you are a first- or second-round draft pick then you are that for a reason.”

Mayfield struggled in his first start since injuring his ankle in Week 5. But Carolina’s playmakers did not help him much either. Both DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall made critical drops that would’ve either extended a drive or scored a touchdown. Neither receiver Shi Smith nor Laviska Shenault Jr. consistently separated from Pro Bowl Ravens cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey or Marcus Peters.

Moore was first-round draftee in 2018, and is one of the highest-paid receivers in football after signing a three-year, $61.8 million extension in the offseason. Marshall and Shenault are recent second-round picks. The team traded for Shenault in September, sending future draft picks to Jacksonville.

Smith’s fourth-quarter fumble sparked a series of Carolina mishaps. The Panthers’ four fourth-quarter possessions resulted in a fumble, turnover on downs, and two interceptions.

Wilks said he is completely focused on Sunday’s game against Denver, despite internal support building to retain him.

“As long as I’m in this role, it’ll always be about right now,” Wilks said. “Now is what it is for me. I cannot look beyond Sunday.”

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