Matt Rhule entered his third season with the Panthers atop perhaps the warmest seat in the NFL.
It has only gotten hotter after Rhule's Panthers have won just one of their first four games. Carolina's performance in Sunday's loss to Arizona was a new low point of the campaign, as the Panthers were outgained 338-220 in yards, converted just 2 of 10 third-down attempts and fell to the Cardinals in a game that was more lopsided than the 26-16 final score indicated.
Much of the negative attention centers on quarterback Baker Mayfield, Rhule's latest hand-picked solution to Carolina's long-running QB conundrum. Like Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater, Mayfield hasn't come through, posting his worst passer rating of his short time with the Panthers on Sunday and causing the home fans to aggressively boo their struggling team.
"They want to see good offense and be entertained and it's not happening," Rhule said Monday, via the Associated Press' Steve Reed. "I get it."
Monday's questioning further emphasized the current state of displeasure with the club. Instead of recapping another frustrating loss, Rhule was forced to answer inquiries regarding his job security and potential new opportunities elsewhere after only one month of football.
Rhule declined to comment on collegiate vacancies, and refused to discuss the quarterbacks the Panthers didn't acquire (i.e., Jimmy Garoppolo) in the offseason. As for those currently on his roster, his best available option is Mayfield, at least for now with Darnold on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
"I think Baker's our quarterback," Rhule said, via The Athletic's Joe Person. "We have to continue to find ways to help him. ... Sam is not cleared right now."
That quote might best capture the current state of the Panthers. After celebrating their acquisition of Mayfield, the presumed superior option between he and Darnold, Carolina is potentially looking at Darnold as a possible savior by season's end.
Mayfield has struggled mightily in his first month with the Panthers, failing to direct the offense and move the ball consistently. He's had countless passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, has thrown a couple of bad interceptions, and hasn't countered those issues with enough positive plays to balance things out. Carolina's offense is downright terrible with Mayfield under center right now.
"We just need Baker to settle down and play within the scheme," Rhule said, via the Charlotte Observer's Ellis Williams. "That is something he believes in, we all believe in."
Darnold, though, was similarly bad last season, especially after the physical ailments started to pile up. Where Mayfield struggles with accuracy and clean releases, Darnold was overly hesitant and unreliable when protecting the football. The only difference between the two has been the presence of Christian McCaffrey, a luxury afforded to Mayfield upon which he has rarely capitalized.
Turning to Darnold as a franchise's last hope, however, is disheartening. In the last two weeks, the Panthers' defense has been its best source of points, which simply is not viable in today's NFL. That's where the Panthers are at this point, bringing reason to why media members are asking Rhule about his job security.
"If I make this about me, I'm not being the type of coach I want to be," Rhule said, adding, "Our team will respond. We always do."
Carolina has yet to respond this season. If things continue on this track, we can bank on Rhule being forced to reply to questions regarding his job in the weeks to come.