On Thursday Night at Orchard Park, the Buccaneers lost to the Bills 24-18 in a game filled with sluggish offenses, poor field position, and self-imposed errors on both sides.
Regardless, Tampa Bay was still in a position to upset a Super Bowl contender on the road on Thursday Night Football. A controversial no-call on what appeared to be a pass interference during the Bucs Hail Mary sealed the Bills' six-point triumph.
As much as he was criticized by fans, Baker Mayfield was a big reason why the Bucs were in that position.
Despite failing to score more than 20 points in their third straight game, veteran quarterback Baker Mayfield still produced another solid outing against Buffalo, completing 25-42 pass attempts for 237 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and zero interceptions for a 91.1 passer rating. Thursday marked Mayfield's third game with multiple passing touchdowns, and his first game since Tampa Bay's week two 27-17 win over Chicago that the sixth-year quarterback didn't throw an interception.
Not too shabby.
Baker Mayfield continued solid play in TNF loss to Buffalo
After Tampa Bay's first three drives resulted in a punt, a missed field goal, and another punt, Mayfield and the offense found a new groove on their fourth drive. Following two straight runs by dual-threat running back Rachaad White, Mayfield hit Chris Godwin in stride on a crossing route down the right sideline on third-and-six, picking up 31 yards to Buffalo's 40-yard line.
Two plays later, Mayfield connected with Godwin again, this time for nine yards on second and 18 to the Bills' 39-yard line to set up veteran kicker Chase McLaughlin with a 57-yard field goal, which gave the Buccaneers their first points of the night.
After William Gholston's interception off strong safety Antoine Winfield's tip on Josh Allen's pass, Mayfield and the Buccaneers were set up on the Bills' 23-yard line. Mayfield began the drive with a delayed screen pass to White, who evaded multiple Bills to Buffalo's three-yard line. On first-and-goal, Mayfield hit Godwin on a slant route for a three-yard touchdown pass to tie Buffalo at 10-10 with 6:46 left in the first half.
“We showed fight tonight,” Mayfield said in a postgame interview. “That’s the one thing that we can hang our hats on. We gave it everything we had there at the end. But we have to play better early on. We can’t hurt ourselves in too many situations where we’re trying to move the ball. Those momentum killers were critical tonight.”
With two straight touchdown drives from Josh Allen and the Bills and four straight drives ending in punts, the Buccaneers were down 10-24 with 10:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Starting at their own eight-yard line, Mayfield led the Buccaneers on a 17-play, 92-yard drive, capped off with a 24-yard touchdown pass to superstar wide receiver Mike Evans on fourth and ten to cut the deficit to eight points.
Although Mayfield's two-point pass attempt was tipped in the air by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips -- an annoying problem to keep an eye on as the season progresses -- the ball wound up in the hands of second-year tight end Cade Otten.
What doesn't show up in the box score is how Baker extended the drive by drawing a crucial facemask penalty on fourth down. The flag doesn't get thrown -- and his facemask doesn't get grabbed -- if Baker doesn't fight to extend a play that could have ended a few seconds before in a simple sack.
Because he fought to keep the play alive and didn't simply give up, the Bucs got a fresh set of downs on a Bills mistake.
Poor clock management put the Bucs behind the eight-ball on their final drive. Dave Canales and Todd Bowles essentially chewed the clock on themselves during the scoring drive, which meant Tampa Bay got the football back at their 20-yard line with just 21 seconds left. While a debatable no-call pass interference on linebacker Terrell Bernard, the Buccaneers suffered their fourth loss of the 2023-2024 season, but the play of Mayfield has been encouraging nonetheless.
"We gave ourselves a chance,” Mayfield said. “We were that close. It just shows we are a few plays away. We have the fight. Now we just have the execution.”
Baker hasn't been perfect this season, but his performance on Thursday night is a reminder that he's not the problem with the Bucs offense. His play has continued to become more and more solid as her settles in, and all the right things seem to be in place for him to keep making a case to be the team's long-term starter.