After back-to-back divisional wins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered their Week 15 meeting against Green Bay with a chance to continue their late-season surge in ways we hadn't seen before. The Bucs did exactly that, defeating the Packers 34-20 and making a little history in the process.
Tampa Bay has completely recovered from losing six of their past seven games and have kept their playoff hopes alive. Now 7-7 and firmly in first place in the NFC South, the Bucs also opened up a Wild Card path to the playoffs if things skid off the tracks with winning the division.
Despite facing the NFL's No. 12 scoring defense, Tampa Bay's offense managed to record 452 yards and 34 points. The excellent offensive showing started with the sensational play of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who absolutely dominated Green Bay's defense.
Mayfield completed nearly 80 percent of his pass attempts for 381 passing yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions -- all season-highs. With that, Mayfield became the first visiting quarterback in NFL history to post a perfect 158.3 QBR rating at Lambeau Field.
Over Tampa Bay's last three games, Mayfield has looked as sharp as ever in his six-year NFL career, having completed 50-86 (58.1%) of his passes for 727 passing yards, seven touchdowns, one interception, and a 104.3 passer rating. Sunday's 14-point win also marked Mayfield's first time averaging over 10 or more yards per pass, as the former No. 1 pick posted a career-best 13.6 YPP mark.
"He's meant everything, from a mental standpoint to a quarterback standpoint making plays, from a toughness standpoint, from a leadership standpoint,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said after the win. “He's done everything. He's checked all the boxes. He's doing all the right things now. I can't say enough about him.”
Mayfield wasted no time getting to work against Green Bay, using two quick completions to Chris Godwin and Rachaad White of 11 and 24 yards to advance to the Packers' 37. The Buccaneers would eventually get as far as the 15-yard line, but Mayfield would take a six-yard sack by Kenny Clark on 3rd-and-6 to force a 39-yard field goal.
Although Jordan Love and the Packers would use an 11-play, 71-yard drive to get to the Buccaneers' four-yard line, Tampa Bay managed to force a turnover on downs and hold Green Bay out of the endzone. After a five-yard run by White, Mayfield took a deep drop back and was strip-sacked by Kingsley Enagbare to give Green Bay the ball back deep in Tampa Bay territory.
Just two plays later, Love found Tucker Craft for a five-yard touchdown to take advantage of the turnover and take the lead. Amid the rowdy fans and the cold wind gusts, Mayfield remained unfazed and led Tampa Bay on their own scoring drive. Mayfield completed all four pass attempts for 61 yards including a 19-yard strike to superstar Mike Evans down the seam to give the Buccaneers a 10-7 lead with 12:21 remaining in the second quarter.
Following their first three-and-out of the half, Tampa Bay's offense returned to form in their final possession of the half. For reference, Mayfield started the drive 4-4 and unloaded a dart to Godwin for a 25-yard gain to the Packers' 33.
A holding penalty by Luke Goedeke would move the Buccaneers back to their 48 before Mayfield found Godwin on a corner route to Green Bay's 28. That set up another field goal for McLaughlin, this one from 46 with ten seconds left, to give Tampa Bay a 13-10 lead at the half.
As it turned out, Mayfield and the Bucs' offense was even better in the second half, scoring on all three of their drives to seal the 14-point victory. Although Tampa Bay faced third downs of six and 12 to start the half, Mayfield managed to find Evans and Godwins for pickups of 18 and 15 yards to keep the drive alive. That would ultimately cultivate in a 26-yard touchdown catch and run by White to extend the lead to ten.
Love would go on to lead the Packers to their own 75-yard scoring drive on 11 plays, but Mayfield continued to captain the Buccaneers' offense. Two separate completions of 22 yards each would move Tampa Bay to the Green Bay two, and Mayfield would fake the power handoff to White and hit Ko Kieft in the right flat, who reached the ball over the pylon to score his second career touchdown.
In their final drive of the game, Mayfield would advance Tampa Bay to their 48, and hit veteran WR David Moore on a curl route in between LB De'Vondre Campbell and FS Darnell Savage. From there, Moore made a shifty juke on Carrington Valentine and outran Green Bay's secondary to seal the crucial wins between playoff hopefuls.
“Just like we talked about, that playoff mentality, to come in here with one job in mind and find a way to win,” Mayfield said. “We did that.”