For the first time since their 26-9 win over New Orleans in Week 4, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got back into the winning column in dominant fashion. Led by a phenomenal defensive effort the Bucs stifled the visiting Tennessee Titans 20-6, holding them to just 209 offensive yards and dominating both DeAndre Hopkins and Derrick Henry.
One of the most encouraging signs was how the Bucs defense held Tennessee to just 6-for-15 on third-down conversions, an area the team has struggled mightily this season.
In addition to ending their four-game losing streak, Sunday's victory over Tennessee holds major playoff implications in the NFC South Division. Coupled with losses by Atlanta and New Orleans, the Bucs jumped into second place and now sit just a half-game out of first place in the NFC South.
It was one of the best defensive efforts of the season, but major props need to once again be given to Baker Mayfield. Against the Titans' defense, Mayfield completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 278 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. He did throw an interception, which came on the first drive of the game but finished the game with a 102.4 passer rating.
To start the game, Mayfield connected with star receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, which helped get the Bucs down to Tennessee's 37-yard line. After watching neither guy get much action last week, it was a breath of fresh air right out of the gate.
While the Titans were unable to capitalize off the turnover, the Buccaneers' offense begin to stall, recording consecutive three-and-outs with Mayfield going 2-5 for four passing yards. In their fourth drive, however, Tampa Bay's offense began to ignite under the guidance of Mayfield.
Perhaps his best play of the game came a bit later in the game, and it was an absolute doozy.
With three receivers to the left and one to the right, Mayfield faked the handoff to White only to hit him on a screen pass with Jeffery Simmons in his face. Before being hit hard by Simmons, Baker led White to the left sideline, where he took it 43-yards to pay dirt.
It was a gorgeous play and doesn’t happen without Baker.
After halftime, coursey of a 11-play, 68-yard, and 4:18 minute drive to start the second half, the Buccaneers would expand their lead to 10-3 after kicker Chase McLaughlin nailed a 25-yard field goal kick.
After Tampa Bay forced Tennessee to commit their third straight punt, Mayfield and the offense began their seventh drive in prime position to take a two-possession lead. Following successive two-and three-yard gains by White on the ground, Mayfield's pass to Evans on 3rd-and-five was tipped by MLB Monty Rice, only for the four-time pro bowler to still come down with the football for a 27-yard catch and run across midfield.
Mayfield then hit Godwin for 17-yards on a play action rollout pass and two plays later threw a 15-yard curl route to Evans and watched him muscled his way into the endzone. That made it a 17-3 lead and the Bucs cruised from there on out.
An interception by Antoine Winfield off Will Levis on the Titans' final offensive drive would seal what ended up being 14-point win for Tampa Bay, and it may be the start of the of a midseason surge. Over their next four games, Tampa Bay will play San Fransisco, Indianapolis, Carolina, and Atlanta, with their Week 13 bout against the Panthers serving as their only home game for the next five weeks.
Tampa Bay is just a half-game out of first place, and Baker is starting to play some of his best football of the season. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for him to fully realize the potential he came to the Bucs with.
“It’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality for us from here on out. Control our destiny and see where it takes us,” Mayfield said. “We have a group that’s really focused. We know what we need to do. Now it’s just about continuing to correct (mistakes) and show up on Sundays.”
The defense might have ended the game, but it was Baker leading the offense that truly helped make a difference.