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Long shots are landing for Bucs and Baker Mayfield

Tampa Bay has nine pass plays of 40 or more yards this season, tying Miami and the 49ers for most in the NFL.
 
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to go deep in Sunday's win over Carolina.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to go deep in Sunday's win over Carolina. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2023|Updated Dec. 6, 2023

TAMPA — It’s the most basic play call from the sandlot to the Super Bowl: Go deep.

The quick strike. The long ball. The shot play. The home run. The bomb. It has a lot of different names but the result is devastating to a defense if you land it.

The biggest play in the Bucs’ 21-18 win over Carolina on Sunday was Baker Mayfield’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans. It came one play after the Panthers had taken a 10-7 lead with five minutes to play in the third quarter.

On this particular play, the pass traveled only 19 yards in the air and Evans did the rest with his legs. In the first quarter, Evans and Mayfield also connected on a 40-yard pass play to set up the Bucs’ first touchdown.

For all the things that Mayfield has done well, almost no one has connected on more long pass plays than the Bucs quarterback. And when we say long, we’re talking about 40 yards or more.

Mayfield has nine such pass plays this season. That ties him with the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and the 49ers’ Brock Purdy.

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) looks to get around Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn (8) after catching a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in the first quarter.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) looks to get around Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn (8) after catching a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in the first quarter. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

How have the Bucs developed such long-range capabilities under first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales?

“It’s Baker seeing it,” coach Todd Bowles said. “You know, Baker seeing it and Mike running the route routinely and understanding something they’re doing and Dave (Canales) making the right play call.”

At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Evans doesn’t look like a burner in the traditional sense. But his long, quick strides deceptively allow him to get up on an unsuspecting defensive backs. Even at 30, Evans’ improved nutrition has helped his endurance and playmaking ability, especially when it comes to yards after the catch.

Evans’ route running also has created opportunities and separation from defenders, according to Mayfield.

“Guys being in the right spot,” Mayfield said when asked about the deep ball success. “You have certain shot calls throughout the year that you want to hit. But obviously, like the last game, you have a play called where the coverage can dictate it being an explosive play. You have your standard shot plays that you want to get explosives on and then the difference for us has been just key one-on-ones — guys winning and just making those plays.

“It just comes down to guys doing their jobs consistently. Those big plays will happen if you just consistently do that and just keep moving the chains.”

While Evans has been the primary target for Mayfield this season, he’s also gotten shot plays from Chris Godwin (42 yards), Rakim Jarret (41 yards) and Rachaad White (43 yards).

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Falcons safety Jessie Bates celebrates his interception against the Saints during their Nov. 26 game.
Falcons safety Jessie Bates celebrates his interception against the Saints during their Nov. 26 game. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

The task won’t get easier this Sunday at Atlanta. The Falcons have one of the best safeties in the game, former Bengals free agent Jessie Bates, who has five interceptions this season.

“I played him a bunch of times when he was with Cincinnati,” Mayfield said. “Extremely smart player. Obviously, athletic. But extremely smart, knows how to pattern read, knows how to get everybody lined up and just always seems to be around the ball making plays on it. So he’s one of those you got to know where he’s at all times. When you go through your progression, he’s going to look in your eyes.”

Consider the vast weapons at the disposal of quarterbacks such as Tagovailoa and Purdy. Miami is built on speed with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The same is true with the 49ers and Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

Evans naturally commands a lot of attention from defenders. But on those rare times he isn’t double teamed, Mayfield doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Is he surprised when Evans is not doubled?

“Yes and no, because if you’re going to sit there and double team him all game, the ball is going to go everywhere else,” Mayfield said. “Teams are going to roll the dice and take a chance, especially a team like (Atlanta). They have good corners, so they trust those guys. They want to have them in man-match coverages and trust those guys to carry them down the field. When it’s one-on-one with Mike, you’re going to take your chances. As a quarterback, you’re going to want to put the ball in his hands.”

And go deep.

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