What does Baker Mayfield expect Sunday from the desperate Bucs?

With no room for mistakes, the quarterback says the Bucs need to clean up their game.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield's mobility was impacted Sunday after he hurt his ankle on the first drive of the game against the Colts.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield's mobility was impacted Sunday after he hurt his ankle on the first drive of the game against the Colts. [ ZACH BOLINGER | AP ]
Published Nov. 29, 2023

TAMPA — Baker Mayfield’s ankle is fixed, or at least healthy enough for the Bucs to expect him to start Sunday. Now the quarterback and Tampa Bay have to fix the mistakes that have cost them so dearly in dropping six out of their last seven games.

And they have to do it in a hurry.

Despite being right behind the first-place Saints (5-6) and Falcons (5-6) in the NFC South, Mayfield knows the window for a playoff spot is closing.

“My mindset right now, and it should be for the whole team, is we’re in a playoff mode mentality. We have to take care of business each week to move on and to get to where we want to go. So it’s a matter of we don’t really have any more room, there’s no more slack,” he said after practice Wednesday.

“And so it’s a sense of urgency,” added Mayfield, expounding on his postgame comments after Sunday’s loss to the Colts. “It’s a matter of guys, doing all the treatment, getting everything we need to get done, and young guys stepping up and realizing that they’re going to play a pivotal role in this final push that we have. And everybody just has to be onboard.”

Mayfield is onboard to start against the Panthers. After injuring his right ankle on the first drive of the 27-20 loss in Indianapolis — and despite the fact he only missed two plays — there was concern about his ability to rebound for this week.

“Good, my other ankle is good, too,” Mayfield joked Wednesday.

While there were some obvious mobility limitations after the injury, Mayfield would not use that as an excuse for his — or his teammates’ — mistakes.

Mayfield completed 20 of 30 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an interception that was converted into a Colts’ touchdown and a sack/fumble that ended the Bucs’ final possession of the game. He was sacked six times Sunday, with at least two that could be attributed to him holding the ball too long.

“There were a couple that I definitely should be getting the ball out quicker,” Mayfield admitted. “The empty one, where I took a sack just across midfield, I definitely just need to find an outlet and make it easier on (the offensive line). It’s a little bit of both, about finding outlets, checking the ball down or throwing it away and just knowing when (the defense) might have a better call than us.”

Mistakes like those sacks, penalties that force them to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, and coverage breakdowns have been deadly for the Bucs this season. Though not totally unexpected. Tampa Bay made a conscious effort to get younger — and more athletic — in the offseason. While last year they had the oldest, on average, roster in the NFL, they now have the youngest. A dozen rookies are on the roster with several taking important reps.

But at this point in the season, youth cannot be an excuse. Mayfield said it’s time to get these things fixed and move forward.

“We’re facing a lot of struggles and adversity right now,” he said. “A lot of self-inflicted things, but it’s a lot of lessons that these young guys can learn from and say, ‘Alright, these are why we’re not winning these games.’ Small, small things can really turn a game around. So those are the things you really have to focus on and get corrected for this playoff push.”

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