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Panthers Send Clear Message About Starting Quarterback Decision

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 10: Carolina Panthers helmets sit on a cart during the game between the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 10, 2021 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 10: Carolina Panthers helmets sit on a cart during the game between the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 10, 2021 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Carolina Panthers thoroughly outplayed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a surprising 21-3 upset.

Days after trading Christian McCaffrey, D'Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard combined for 181 rushing yards. But the Panthers also got an efficient performance from PJ Walker, who completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

During the post-game press conference (h/t Ari Meirov of Pro Football Focus), Steve Wilks was asked who he plans to play at quarterback next week. The interim head coach didn't offer a definitive answer, but he might have tipped his hand.

"PJ [Walker] had an outstanding performance," Wilks said. "When you look at what he did today, we still got to evaluate the tape, but it’s going to be hard to pull him out."

Baker Mayfield has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and Sam Darnold has spent the entire season on the injured reserve. However, ESPN's Adam Schefter said both quarterbacks may be able to play against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8.

That doesn't mean either will.

Before getting injured, Mayfield averaged a career-worst 6.3 yards per pass attempt with a 15.5 QBR in five starts for Carolina. The Panthers wouldn't have acquired him if not for Darnold faltering in a similar circumstance last year. 

Given a second chance as an NFL starter, Darnold posted nine passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions last season.

Carolina's offense enjoyed its best performance of the season behind Walker, who connected with slumping wide receiver D.J. Moore for 69 yards and a touchdown. The former XFL star might have earned another opportunity.

Then again, Walker is only one week removed from mustering just one completion past the line of scrimmage.

Wilks has an interesting decision to make ahead of next Sunday's game at Atlanta. With the entire NFC South reeling, the 2-5 Panthers could actually end Week 8 atop the division with a win and a Buccaneers loss.