Following their 34-20 win over Green Bay in Week 15, Tampa Bay emerged as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. In Week 16, the Buccaneers would continue their winning ways, defeating the Jaguars 30-12 to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games.
“We're piecing it together. Everybody's playing for each other. Everybody's locked in, and we're trying to get in,” Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said. “We're clawing, we're scratching, doing everything we can.”
Not only does the 18-point win push Tampa Bay above the .500 mark for the first time since Week 6, but has vastly improved the Buccaneers' playoff chances. As it stands, the Buccaneers hold a one-game lead over Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South Standings and are the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff picture.
Thanks to the win being coupled with a Saints loss to the Rams last Thursday Night, the Buccaneers can clinch the NFC South with a win in Week 17. It's a truly remarkable turnaround from the start of the season and part of the late-season surge can be attributed to the steady play of star quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was excellent once again.
That's right, star quarterback.
On a cool Christmas Eve night at Raymond James Stadium, Mayfield completed 74.3 percent of his pass attempts for 283 passing yards, with two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 90.4 QBR. During Tampa Bay's four-game win streak, Mayfield has completed 76-121 (62.8%) pass attempts for 1,010 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns, one interception, and 107.4 passer rating, and has thrown multiple touchdowns in ten of 15 games.
“He's been outstanding in December. That's what you want from your quarterback,” Bowles said.
Baker Mayfield is proving he's The Guy after another epic performance
Against Jacksonville's subpar passing defense, Mayfield and the offense would waste no time getting on the board. To start the game, Mayfield went 5-6 for 53 yards and captained a 14-play, 69-yard, and 7:38 drive that ended with a 24-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin.
On Jacksonville's first drive of the game, veteran Lavonte David managed to intercept Trevor Lawrence, setting up Mayfield and the offense at the Buccaneers' 44. From there, Mayfield and Tampa Bay would quickly advance to Jacksonville's 26 off a 19-yard strike to Mike Evans off play action.
Seven plays later, Mayfield hit Evans on a three-yard touchdown pass to capitalize off Lawrence's first interception with a 10-0 lead at the 12:53 mark in the second quarter. The three-yard score marked Evans' league-leading 13th touchdown of the season, and added to his season totals of 73 catches and 1,163 receiving yards.
With 1:34 left in the second quarter, the offense immediately went into the two-minute drill, and Mayfield completed 5-6 passes for 48 yards to get Tampa Bay to the Jaguars' 22-yard line. On the ensuing 1st-and-ten play, Mayfield dropped back and fired a 22-yard touchdown strike to Evans down the left seam to give the Buccaneers a 20-0 lead going into halftime.
With their best field position all game, Mayfield and the Buccaneers would capitalize with their third touchdown drive of the game. After White gained four yards on 1st-and-ten and a six-yard pass to WR Trey Palmer on 3rd-and-six moved the chains, Mayfield threw a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch to TE Payne Durham to set up 1st-and-goal at the two. From there, White powered his way to the endzone to give Tampa Bay a 27-0 lead with 11:30 left in the third.
After Jacksonville turned the football over on downs, Mayfield would drive Tampa Bay down to the Jaguar 33 and set up a 51-yard field goal by McLaughlin that gave the Buccaneers a 30-0 advantage, their largest of the season.
Mayfield's latest performance led the Bucs to another crucial win for their playoff hopes and has been the engine behind one of the NFL's most resurgent teams. It's also making it very hard to argue against giving him a deal that allows this whole thing to be run back next season as Baker settles in as the potential quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay.