INDIANAPOLIS — Just finishing the game was the only triumph that Baker Mayfield took from Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Following the Bucs’ 27-20 loss to the Colts, he stood in the visiting locker room with no sock on his right ankle, which was Barbie pink from a post-game ice treatment and missing chunks of skin.
Mayfield was injured when he was stopped for no gain, but plenty of pain, on first and goal from the Indianapolis 1-yard line on the first drive of the game.
But after a false start, a run for 2 yards and backup Kyle Trask throwing a pass Chris Godwin caught with only one foot in the end zone, the Bucs settled again for field goal.
“Not getting hurt on the first drive on first and goal would help to be able to punch in a touchdown instead of a field goal,” Mayfield said. “But we’ve just got to be able to finish it. It came down to touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone.”
If you think how Mayfield’s day started was bad, how it ended was worse. Needing a touchdown to tie the score at 27, he was sacked and fumbled, losing the football at the Tampa Bay 41-yard line with three timeouts and 89 seconds remaining.
Turns out the Bucs (4-7) are a lot like their feisty quarterback. They have plenty of fight but keep getting knocked down at the end.
It was the Bucs’ sixth loss in the past seven games. The only thing that may be keeping this team from imploding and coaches from sending out resumes is they are only one game out of first place in the dreadful NFC South, after the Falcons (5-6) beat the Saints (5-6).
“We’ve got to stop making silly mistakes,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We can’t work any harder. We work harder than anybody in the league, if not more. We’ve seen things 1,000 times at this point. Young guys can’t make the mistakes they make and we’ve got to make plays. ...
“As crazy as it may sound, we’re one game out of first place. But the way we’re playing, it’s got to be turned around. It feels like we’re 10 games out.”
Playing without linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Jamel Dean, the defense looked as unsteady as Mayfield’s right leg. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns while Gardner Minshew passed for 251 yards and ran for a score.
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Badly overrunning Minshew’s 2-yard TD that gave the Colts a 17-3 in the second quarter was linebacker Devin White, who admitted his foot injury prevents him from braking or accelerating the way he wants to.
But as had been the case during much of the Bucs’ October and November, they had another coverage breakdown with Minshew converting on fourth and 1 from the Tampa Bay 49-yard line in the fourth quarter. Selling out for the run, the Bucs allowed Colts tight end Mo-Alie Cox to slip off the line of scrimmage and go uncovered for a 30-yard completion. Three plays later, Taylor scored on a 1-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 27-17.
“That sucks,” outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “That’s just having good eyes and looking at your keys, looking at the right thing. If I’m on this side of the field looking over there, the chances of me making that play aren’t very high. So I’m going to stay and look at my receiver. I don’t know exactly what happened on that play, but you’ve got to look at your keys.”
The Colts were only 2-of-11 on third down but converted 3 of 4 fourth-down tries.
It wasn’t just the usual suspects who took turns screwing up Sunday.
Antoine Winfield Jr. dropped an interception with the Bucs trailing 17-10 and the Colts’ facing third and 10 at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line. Chris Godwin dropped a pass that would have at least resulted in a field-goal try from the Colts’ 34-yard line late in the first half.
And right tackle Tristan Wirfs was beaten by defensive end Samson Ebukam, who stripped Mayfield of the football that was recovered by Colts defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo to essentially end the game.
“That’s extremely tough,” Wirfs said. “I never had one of those before in my career, so that’s frustrating. That’s when you want to come up big and be the guy for your team. I’d been getting speed to power the whole game. He got an outside chop … but as tough as it is, you win some and you lose some on the line.”
As for Mayfield, Bowles said he will continue to start as long as he can withstand the pain. He meant physical pain, but there’s plenty of the other kind after Sunday’s loss.
“I’ve said it multiple times: he’s a dawg,” Wirfs said of Mayfield. “I love Baker to death. He’s a baller. He wants it more than anyone. It’s incredible. To come back out and fight the rest of the game. I know he’s going to be sore tomorrow. But we’ll be with him every step of the way.”
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