Advertisement

How Baker Mayfield, Bucs offense had their coming-out party spoiled

The quarterback threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Cade Otton with 46 seconds remaining, only to see the defense lose the lead.
 
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws a pass as Houston Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins (96) applies pressure during the second half of Sunday's game in Houston.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws a pass as Houston Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins (96) applies pressure during the second half of Sunday's game in Houston. [ ERIC GAY | AP ]
Published Nov. 10, 2023

TAMPA — Baker Mayfield finally had his moment. With the Bucs trailing by a field goal Sunday in Houston, the quarterback quilted together a patchwork drive in the final minutes against the Texans.

Mayfield overcame a third-and-23. He used his legs on fourth down to move the chains. He fired a strike to tight end Cade Otton in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds remaining.

Of course, Mayfield and the Bucs offense, which scored 37 points, was robbed of the comeback when Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud threw his fifth touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Tank Dell with six seconds remaining in a 39-37 Houston win.

Instead of a raucous celebration on the sideline that would carry into the locker room and spill over to the charter flight home, Mayfield sat motionless on the bench for several minutes with his chin in his hands and a fourth straight loss on his record.

“He’s a fighter. He’s a heavyweight fighter,” offensive coordinator Dave Canales said. “You know, he was 70% completion on the day, which was great, and I think a couple of the weeks before that we had gone down a little bit in our completion percentage.

“But the way I see Baker, just his mentality and the way you’ve seen his passion and the way he emotes when he’s out there, it’s like he can’t wait to knock you out. Put your gloves down, he’s going to try to knock you out.”

Bucs tight end Cade Otton, left, makes a go-ahead touchdown catch in front of Houston Texans linebacker Henry To'oTo'o (39) with 46 seconds remaining.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton, left, makes a go-ahead touchdown catch in front of Houston Texans linebacker Henry To'oTo'o (39) with 46 seconds remaining. [ ERIC CHRISTIAN SMITH | AP ]

Mayfield seeks out those pressured-packed opportunities, Canales said.

“He’ll hit some, he’ll miss some,” Canales said. “But when we get into those end-of-half, end-of-game situations, it just fits his nature of who he is. He loves the chaos. He loves the fight. He loves it to be messy, especially if the defense starts chirping at him. Then he just really, I don’t know, it does something to him. It brings him into just the style of play that he likes. I couldn’t ask for more production out of him in the end-of-game situation.”

For all the drama and melodrama that has surrounded Mayfield during a four-team journey over the past 16 months, he’s played winning football. He’s completed nearly 65% of his passes for 1,865 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Over a 17-game season, that would translate to nearly 4,000 yards, 25½ touchdowns and 8½ interceptions.

But he’s far from satisfied.

“If you look at it from an overview look, we scored when we needed to (Sunday),” Mayfield said. “But I think the tale of it is not scoring in the third quarter. And then on that (final) drive alone, we overcame some things, but they were self-inflicted, some penalties. Yeah, third and 23 is not where you want to be on a critical drive in the fourth quarter when you need to score a touchdown.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“Luckily, Trey (Palmer) ran a great route over the middle and was able to get close enough to be able to convert a fourth down. But yeah, we showed we can get it done when we need to, but there’s still the same story on self-inflicted things that we need to eliminate.”

The Houston Texans' C.J. Stroud (7) and Bucs' Baker Mayfield (6) talk following Sunday's game in Houston.
The Houston Texans' C.J. Stroud (7) and Bucs' Baker Mayfield (6) talk following Sunday's game in Houston. [ ERIC GAY | AP ]

In the past two games, Mayfield’s connection with Rachaad White has come alive. He has completed his last 20 targets to the second-year back, who scored on a pair of 1-yard runs Sunday.

“Love the progress, right? Love to have that spark,” Canales said. “I mean, we’re all sitting in here having the same conversation for weeks, trying to get something going. So I was really excited for the guys. Another great end-of-game finish for the group, so I loved that part of it.”

Still, Canales said he believes he could have done more to help out the Bucs defense in the second half.

“Yes, 37 points, but you guys saw we came out of the half and they had an answer for the stuff we were doing. They made it hard on us, and we started punting the ball,” Canales said. “We’re putting our defense back out there a lot in the second half.

“So that’s where I’ve got to get better learning and taking those lessons that, OK, we’re taking a lead here and they’ve been drawing up all these things that worked in the first half. Take the next step and try to protect those things instead of going right back to them, because in my heart of hearts I’d love to just run it and run them out of the stadium and go away with a win right there. So, that’s where I can get better.”

Had the Bucs won, the discussion may have been whether there was momentum growing to consider signing Mayfield to a long-term deal.

Instead, all celebrations are on hold until the Bucs break their current four-game losing streak.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Instagram, X and Facebook.