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Baker Mayfield threw two scoring passes and the defense did not allow a touchdown, as the Bucs beat the Titans 20-6 Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to snap a four-game losing streak.
The victory took on even more importance when New Orleans lost to Minnesota, pulling the Bucs (4-5) within ½-game of the first-place Saints (5-5) in the NFC South. The Falcons (4-6) later lost to the Cardinals (2-8) to slip into third, ½-game behind Tampa Bay.
Mayfield connected with running back Rachaad White on a 43-yard scoring pass in the second quarter and found receiver Mike Evans for a 22-yard touchdown in the third.
Kicker Chase McLaughlin added field goals of 25 and 35 yards for Tampa Bay.
An up-and-down day for Evans ended up with more good than bad, as he overcame two drive-killing drops, including one in the end zone, to finish with games highs of six receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 23.8 yards per catch.
A Bucs defense that allowed only field goals of 38 and 27 yards by Nick Folk preserved the win with three late stops.
Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted a Will Levis pass at the Tampa Bay 30 with just over six minutes remaining, and a YaYa Diaby sack helped to force one of two late turnovers on downs.
One week after allowing Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud to throw for an NFL rookie-record 470 yards and five touchdowns, the Bucs had no such trouble with Levis, the Titans’ first-year signalcaller.
Levis completed just 19 of 39 passes (48.7%) for 199 yards and one interception in his third NFL start. In addition to Diaby, Vita Vea, Devin White and Shaquil Barrett had sacks for Tampa Bay.
On top of the interception, Winfield led the Bucs with six tackles, including three solo stops, a pass defensed and a quarterback hit. Lavonte David, Zyon McCollum and Jamel Dean had five tackles apiece.
Tennessee running back Derrick Henry was a non-factor, limited to 24 yards on 11 carries, a 2.2-yard average.
Mayfield was 18-for-29 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. White contributed 98 total yards (51 rushing, 47 receiving). Chris Godwin added 54 yards on four receptions.
Here’s how it happened:
Leading by 11 with just under 13 minutes remaining, the Bucs mounted an 11-play drive that restored their two-touchdown lead.
Trey Palmer got things started by taking a short Baker Mayfield pass 15 yards to the Tampa Bay 40.
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After a holding penalty against Luke Goedeke made it second and 20, a defensive holding penalty against Elijah Molden gave the Bucs a first down at the 35.
Tampa Bay faced third and 6 at the 44 when Mayfield scrambled for 9 yards and a first down at the Tennessee 47.
One play later, a 9-yard pass to Chase Edmonds and face-masking penalty against linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair resulted in a 24-yard gain to the 18.
But three plays netted only 9 yards, and the Bucs were forced to settle for a 35-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal, increasing their lead to 20-6 with 7:01 left.
That lead seemed even more secure less than a minute later, when Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted a Will Levis pass at the Tampa Bay 30 and returned it 28 yards to the Tennessee 42, giving the Bucs possession with 6:14 remaining.
Down two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, the Titans mounted their best drive of the game, moving 66 yards in 11 plays for a field goal that trimmed their deficit to 11 points.
Will Levis completed passes of 13 yards to Tyjae Spears and 15 to Chigoziem Okonkwo. Tennessee also was helped by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Tampa Bay defensive tackle William Gholston.
Jamel Dean appeared to have an interception in the end zone, but receiver DeAndre Hopkins knocked the ball out at the last second.
After Calijah Kancey dropped Derrick Henry for a 2-yard loss and Levis threw incomplete for Kyle Philips in the end zone, Tennessee faced fourth and goal from the 9.
The Titans opted for a field goal, and Nick Folk’s 27-yard kick closed their gap to 17-6 with 12:54 remaining.
Mike Evans made up for two big drops earlier in the game with a couple of huge receptions during a late third-quarter drive that allowed the Bucs to extend their lead to two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay moved into Tennessee territory on a 27-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to Evans on a third-and-5 play to the 48.
Two plays later, Mayfield threw deep down the right sideline to Chris Godwin, whose 17-yard reception moved the ball to the 29. A 6-yard pass to Trey Palmer advanced it to the 23 before a Chase Edmonds 1-yard run brought up third and 3.
Mayfield went back Evans, hitting him deep over the middle, and the receiver powered his way into the end zone to complete a 22-yard touchdown. Chase McLaughlin’s extra-point kick made it 17-3 Bucs with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bucs came away with points, but a Mike Evans dropped pass early in the third quarter likely cost his team points for the second straight possession.
Baker Mayfield kept the drive alive with a 6-yard completion to tight end Cade Otton to the Tampa Bay 38 on third and 3. Rachaad White then picked up 11 yards to the 49 on a run around right end.
Mayfield prevented a turnover on the next play, knocking down a pass that defensive back Eric Garror had batted high into the air.
It seemed to pay off one play later, as Mayfield hit Trey Palmer deep downfield for a 32-yard gain to the Tennessee 19. But the Titans challenged the play and the call on the field was overturned, bringing up third and 10.
It didn’t matter. Mayfield went back deep downfield on the following play and connected with a sliding Mike Evans for a 43-yard gain to the Tennessee 8.
An apparent touchdown went for naught when a wide-open Evans dropped a pass in the end zone. When Mayfield threw incomplete for White on third down, the Bucs had to settle for a 25-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal, extending their lead to 10-3 with 10:42 to play in the third quarter.
The Bucs drove into Titans territory on their final possession of the first half before a Mike Evans drop forced Tampa Bay to punt.
Baker Mayfield jump-started the drive by finding Chris Godwin over the middle for 14 yards to the Tampa Bay 44. Deven Thompkins then gained 6 yards around left end on a misdirection play.
After Chase Edmonds ran up the middle for 3 yards, the Bucs faced third and 1 from the Titans 47. Mayfield picked up the first down on a quarterback sneak, bringing on the two-minute warning.
But a Rachaad White run and Mayfield scramble netted only 5 yards, setting up third and 5 from the Titans 41. With Tennessee cornerback with Roger McCreary flashing in front if him, Evans dropped a Mayfield pass that would have picked up the first down.
Rather than attempt a 59-yard field goal, the Bucs opted to punt the ball to the Titans with 36 seconds remaining in the half. Tennessee opted to run out the clock.
Mike Evans kept the drive alive, and Rachad White finished it off.
The Bucs drove 85 yards in six plays midway through the second quarter to take their first lead of the game.
Baker Mayfield got things started by connecting with Evans over the middle for a 15-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 32.
After a 5-yard White run and 4-yard Cade Otton reception set up third and 1, Mayfield went back to Evans, who pulled in a 16-yard reception for a first down at the Titans 43.
White took things from there, grabbing a screen pass from Mayfield and racing 43 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to put the Bucs ahead 7-3 with 5:39 remaining in the second quarter.
One step forward, two back
Titans running back Derrick Henry finally got untracked early in the second quarter, picking up 8 yards up the middle to the Tennessee 32.
But back-to-back false start penalties against left tackle Dillon Radunz pushed the Titans back 10 yards. After Devin White knocked down a Will Levis pass, the Titans faced third and 12 from the 22.
Levis threw underneath to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, but he was brought down by Anthony Nelson and Zyon McCollum after an 8-yard gain, forcing a Titans punt.
After the Titans stopped the Bucs deep in their own territory early in the second quarter, Eric Garror returned a Jake Camarda punt 15 yards to the Tampa Bay 41.
But the Bucs defense did its job, forcing a three-and-out, and Nick Folk was wide right on a 51-yard field-goal attempt, his first miss of the season.
Devin White sacked Will Levis for a 6-yard loss, putting Tennessee into a third-and-12 situation. A Levis pass to Chris Moore picked up only 10, and the Titans sent Folk on to the field.
The Titans converted a third down on their second possession, but that was all.
Tennessee faced third and 8 from its 19 when Will Levis connected with Kyle Philips for 9 yards and a first dow at the 28.
But Tennessee lost those yards and more on the next play, when Levis lost his footing while dropping back and Shaquil Barrett brought him down for a 10-yard loss.
Tyjae Spears then was stopped after a 2-yard run, making it third and 18. Bucs linebacker Devin White down on the field after the play. He returned early in the second quarter and sacked Levis shortly afterward.
Levis threw a short pass to Spears, but it only amounted to 6 yards and the Titans were forced to punt.
Turning it over
The Bucs’ opening drive started with promise but ended with a turnover.
Tampa Bay got off to a good start, with Baker Mayfield connecting with a leaping Chris Godwin on the first play from scrimmage for 17 yards and a first down at the Bucs 42-yard line.
Two plays later, Mayfield rolled to his left and found Mike Evans for 20 yards, moving Tampa Bay to the Tennessee 37.
But that’s where things bogged down, as Rachaad White was stopped after a 2-yard gain and Mayfield was sacked, setting up third and 15 from the 42.
Mayfield threw deep down the middle of the field, where his pass was intercepted at the Titans 1 by Tennessee cornerback Roger McCreary, who returned it to the 17.
Better late than never
The Bucs defense bent but didn’t break on the Titans’ opening drive.
Playing with tempo, rookie quarterback Will Levis quickly drove Tennessee 55 yards in 12 plays before the Titans were forced to settle for a field goal.
Starting at his 25, Levis hit DeAndre Hopkins for 15 yards to the 40. The Titans picked up 15 more on the next play, with Tyjae Spears taking a direct snap and running around right end to the Bucs 45.
After Joe Tryon-Shoyinka dropped Derrick Henry for a 2-yard loss, Levis connected with Chris Moore for 11 yards, setting up third and 1 from the 36. Henry picked up the first down with a 2-yard run up the middle.
Tryon-Shoyinka was offside on the following play, moving the ball to the 29. A 9-yard pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine gave Tennessee another first down at the 20.
Greg Gaines stopped Spears for no gain, but Levis hit a wide-open Josh Whyle over the middle for a 10-yard gain to the 9.
That’s when the Bucs defense tightened up.
Lavonte David dropped Henry for a 2-yard loss and Levis threw incomplete for Whyle, bringing up third and goal from the 9. Vita Vea then sacked Levis, forcing the Titans to settle for a 38-yard Nick Folk field goal and 3-0 lead with 8:34 to play in the first quarter.
Stealing the spotlight
Had it not been for C.J. Stroud’s last-minute heroics, quarterback Baker Mayfield would have been the talk of the town this past week in Tampa Bay.
With his team trailing by four and less than five minutes remaining last Sunday in Houston, Mayfield seemingly willed the Bucs down the field on a 10-play, 61-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive.
Ducking pass rushers and on target to his receivers, Mayfield completed four of five passes for 58 yards, including a go-ahead, 14-yard touchdown toss to tight end Cade Otton with 46 seconds remaining.
He was at his best while digging Tampa Bay out of a third-and-23 hole after Chase Edmonds was dropped for an 8-yard loss and Tristan Wirfs was penalized for a false start, pushing the Bucs back to their 38 with less than two minutes to play.
Mayfield found rookie receiver Trey Palmer over the middle for a 21-yard gain to the Texans 41, setting up fourth and 2. Then, with nowhere to throw the ball, Mayfield scrambled 5 yards to the 36 for a first down.
Two plays later, Mayfield went back over the middle to Palmer for a 15-yard gain to the 14. Palmer fumbled, but Mike Evans recovered, giving Mayfield the chance to connect with Otton in the end zone on the next play.
Chase McLaughlin’s extra-point kick gave the Bucs their 37th point of the game, a season high and as many as they had scored in their three previous games combined.
Had the game ended there, it would have pulled Tampa Bay out of its three-game tailspin, provided some vindication for coordinator Dave Canales’ offense and maybe even spurred talk of extending Mayfield’s contract long term.
But Stroud matched Mayfield’s magic with more of his own, driving Houston 75 yards in six plays and pulling out a 39-37 victory on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tank Dell with six seconds remaining.
It capped a spectacular performance in which Stroud passed for an NFL rookie-record 470 yards and five touchdowns while the Bucs defense seemed powerless to stop the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 draft.
Now comes Will Levis, who the Titans selected with the second pick of the second round (33rd overall) and announced earlier this week will be their starting quarterback moving forward.
Levis burst onto the scene Oct. 29 in Nashville, throwing for four touchdowns in his NFL debut, a 28-23 win over the Falcons. Stepping in for injured Ryan Tannehill (ankle), Levis completed 19 of his 29 passes for 238 yards and was not intercepted.
The Steelers brought him back down to Earth in a Thursday night game on Nov. 2, limiting him to 56% passing (22-for-39) and keeping him out of the end zone in a 20-16 Pittsburgh win. Like Stroud, Levis had a chance to bring his team back in the final minute, but the rally ended with the first interception — and loss — of his career.
With NFC West-leading San Francisco (5-3) lurking next weekend, Tampa Bay likely has to win today to avoid taking a 4-7 (or 3-8 if it also loses Nov. 26 to Indianapolis) record into December.
Even in the dismal NFC South, that would likely remove the Bucs from serious playoff contention and bring the futures of head coach Todd Bowles, Mayfield, Evans and linebacker Devin White (pending free agents), among others, into question.
All they have to do is beat a rookie quarterback, which they have done seven of 12 times since Bowles first arrived as defensive coordinator in 2019.
They couldn’t do it last week. Can they do it today?
Bucs’ Davis inactive, Dean to play
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis, who surrendered three touchdowns last weekend against the Texans, has been deemed inactive for today’s game. Second-year speedster Zyon McCollum is expected to make his seventh career start in Davis’ place.
On the positive side, starting cornerback Jamel Dean is active after spending most of the week in concussion protocol. Dean was a full participant in Friday’s practice.
Who’s in/who’s out
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