Baker Mayfield takes blame for Buccaneers NFC Divisional Round loss to Lions

It's stuff like this that makes it clear why the Bucs bought in on Baker this season.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions
NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions / Nic Antaya/GettyImages
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Well, the season didn't end the way anybody wanted it to, but it's still hard to chalk it up to anything less than a success.

The Buccaneers were picked to tank for a top draft pick and toil away in obscurity after Tom Brady retired, but rather than being left in a lurch the team turned everything around in less than a year. Tampa Bay won a third-straight NFC South title, punched a ticket to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and made improvements over what went wrong last year.

Baker Mayfield was a major part of what went right and why the Bucs were able to have the type of season they turned in. It was a perfect pairing of underdogs with a chip on their shoulder, as Baker had been counted out just as much as the Bucs had which ended up making them a perfect pairing.

From the time he signed in Tampa Bay to the very end of the season, Baker was a target for trolling. Every Twitter comedian had the same lame joke about him replacing Brady and Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson sent Baker into the offseason while pointing and laughing.

Perception isn't always reality, though. For all the outside noise clowning Baker, he displayed unreal leadership in the Bucs locker room that cultivated a culture that has laid a new foundation for the future. That leadership was on display after the NFC Divisional Round loss, with Baker owning his mistakes and deflecting blame away from anyone other than himself.

Baker Mayfield falls on the sword and takes blame for Bucs NFC Divisional Round loss

The loss was bookended by interceptions by Mayfield. He threw one on the first drive of the game -- to C.J. Gardner-Johnson, no less -- and ended the Bucs season with a pick on a potential game-tying drive.

After the game, Baker stepped up and shouldered the blame for how things turned out. Rather than pointing to mistakes that were made elsewhere, he fell on the sword and pointed to his two interceptions -- including the game-ending one on the Bucs final drive -- as reasons the team was let down.

"It sucks, I feel like my heart just got ripped out. Football is a complex game but also simple, it comes down to taking care of the ball," Baker said. "Just a bad mistake by me. And it sucks because I know what kind of group we've had all year. We fought to get to this point, we fought to be in that game ... this one is going to weigh on me for a while."

At every turn, when asked about the team and what happened, Baker redirected criticism to himself while praising guys like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and shouting out the leadership of head coach Todd Bowles.

"It comes down to minimizing mistakes, and I didn't do that today," Baker said.

Stuff like that is why it's not a surprise that the locker room rallied around Baker the way that it did this year. It's also why the Bucs need to get to work bringing Baker back next season. He answered any questions there were about whether he deserved to be the quarterback of the future, as he's a key reason for all of the success and an important piece moving forward.

It was a downer of a press conference, but also oddly hopeful. Baker sounded like a guy who wanted to come back, and if he does it'll be to a locker room and a fanbase that he has completely won over.

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