The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew a golden opportunity to snap a three-game losing streak on Sunday. For once, it wasn't the offense's fault as the defense has drawn the ire of fans after a crushing 37-39 loss to the Houston Texans.
Although Tampa Bay is now 3-5 and two games back of New Orleans for first place in the NFC South, not everything is as bad as it may seem in the wake of such a brutal loss. The Buccaneers offense scored a season-high 37 points in the loss, in large part to a well-rounded offensive outing from Baker Mayfield.
Baker continued his resurgent play on Sunday, going 21-for-30 for 265 yards, and two touchdowns. That was good for a 119.4 passer rating, but one of the most impressive things he did was not turn the ball over once.
As a result, Mayfield has now thrown for 235 or more passing yards in five of eight starts and has tossed 2 or more touchdown passes in four games. Against Houston, Mayfield was a key reason why Tampa Bay was able to keep up with 2023 NFL Rookie of the Year frontrunner CJ Stroud amid his record-setting performance.
Don't lose sight of another gutsy Baker Mayfield performance in Week 9
On the first play for the Bucs offense, Mayfield threw a 24-yard strike to second-year tight end Cade Otton down to Houston's 18-yard line. It was a breath of fresh air after how much Dave Canales tries to get the run game going to start off drives.
That drive ended in a field goal, but the next one gave further proof of why the Bucs need to rely more on Mayfield and the passing game and less on the run game.
After a Texans touchdown, Mayfield answered back with a 33-yard catch and run pass to Rachaad White on his way to orchestrating a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a three-yard release route touchdown to Otton.
Mayfield also led Tampa Bay on a six-play, 40-yard touchdown drive, their third scoring drive in the first half. Mayfield started off the drive with a beautiful 16-yard pass to superstar wide receiver Mike Evans on a first-down play action pass.
After scoring only 37 points over the last three games, the Bucs had 17 before halftime.
Baker hit Evans again later in the game, launching a picture-perfect deep ball to Evans in the fourth quarter. The pass set up White's second touchdown run of the game brought the Bucs back into the game and breathed new life into the team.
On what should have been the last drive of the game, Baker led a 10-play, 61-yard drive that ended with another touchdown to Otton that gave the Bucs a 37-33 lead with just 0:40 left. Had the defense not imploded, it would have gone down as a game-winning drive by Baker, and one that we'd be looking at as a reason why he might be the quarterback of the future rather than letting it get lost in the awfulness of everything else.
And that's the point. So much went wrong on Sunday for the Buccaneers but Baker's performance isn't anywhere near that conversation. If anything, he's the only reason the Bucs were in the game as much as they were.
Ultimately the defense let the Bucs down, and the play-calling of Bowles and Canales was questionable at best. If anything, Sunday served as the latest reminder that Mayfield isn't the problem in Tampa Bay's offense.