Baker Mayfield and the Bucs are banged up but not broken

The quarterback got good news after an MRI on his ankle, but Tampa Bay continues to search for answers after its sixth loss in seven games.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield lays on the ground after being injured during the first quarter of Sunday's game against the  Colts in Indianapolis.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield lays on the ground after being injured during the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Colts in Indianapolis. [ MICHAEL CONROY | AP ]
Published Nov. 27, 2023|Updated Nov. 28, 2023

TAMPA — There was some good news at the Bucs training center on Monday.

Baker Mayfield’s ankle is sore, but an MRI on the quarterback’s ankle came back negative. That was about the only positive the team took away from Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis.

The Bucs will have to wait to see how Mayfield responds this week as they prepare for a crucial game at Carolina.

“He has a sore ankle,” head coach Todd Bowles said Monday. “We’ll see how he’s feeling during the week, but (the MRI) came out negative, so that’s a good thing.”

Mayfield missed only two plays after being injured while being stopped for no gain on a quarterback sneak from the Indianapolis 1-yard line on the first drive of the game. He returned to finish the game, admitting afterward it was largely thanks to adrenaline.

Mayfield was sent for tests on Monday morning to make sure there was no damage to the structure of the ankle. The Bucs are uncertain how he will respond this week.

“I know he’s pretty sore right now,” Bowles said. “We’ll try to give him a break when he needs one during the week and see how he feels. I’ve got to see how he’s moving.”

Mayfield wasn’t the only player banged up during the game. And that doesn’t include linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Jamel Dean, who did not play due to injuries.

“I don’t know where Lavonte and Dean are right now, but we’re a little nicked up from (Sunday),” Bowles said. “I’ll see who practices Wednesday.”

But injuries are not to blame for the loss, Bowles said.

The Bucs have to cut down on their mistakes and do it quickly to stay in the hunt for the NFC South championship and automatic playoff spot. As they head into Sunday’s game against the Panthers, who fired head coach Frank Reich on Monday, the only consistency they have shown has been with breakdowns and untimely mistakes.

The Bucs have lost six of their last seven games, but Bowles is not concerned about streaks. He’s more focused on the trends he sees with his team.

“I don’t think it’s snowballed, I think we’re making mistakes at the wrong time,” Bowles said. ‘Whether we get down to the 1-yard line in the first quarter or whether we blow something on defense in the second half, it’s a different guy every time.

“The effort is there, the work is there. … You want to win a ballgame — we’re desperate to win a ballgame, just one ballgame — but small things happen against different teams at different times. We can’t play the Bucs plus the opposition.”

The Bucs made a concentrated effort to get younger this season after losing quarterback Tom Brady to retirement. They went from the oldest roster by average age a year ago to the youngest with 12 rookies currently on the active roster.

Bowles, however, will not chalk up his team’s struggles to growing pains.

“I think we’ve done these things hundreds of times,” he said. “At certain times, they happen at the wrong time. We’re young, yes, but that’s not an excuse because we’re in every ballgame. We have a chance to win every ballgame. We don’t make the plays at the end, and we make some critical errors in between.”

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In Bowles’ mind, it comes down to mental mistakes.

“I don’t think it’s a disconnect, I think it’s a concentration thing,” he said. “They’ve done these things millions of times. It’s not like they don’t know how to do them. We’ve got to coach it better, and we’ve definitely got to play it better.”

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