TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After some uncertainty in the offseason and preseason, it’s evident the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew what they were doing when they made Baker Mayfield their starting quarterback.
Heading into their early bye week, the Bucs are NFC South leaders with a 3-1 record under their belt, a feat sports analysts and fans didn’t think would be possible with Mayfield at the helm given Tom Brady’s absence, but his team never doubted Mayfield’s ability – in fact, the offseason chirp fueled them.
“It’s kind of been the motto for us the whole offseason through training camp. I mean, I think you guys see the narrative on the outside of what everybody’s picking against us,” Mayfield told Pro Football Talk over the phone regarding the team’s mindset in response to low external expectations. “We know the talent and the group that we have within the locker room. That’s the most important part. So, we’ll take a road win to open the season no matter what, especially in an environment like that.”
The Bucs traveled up north to open their regular season against the Minnesota Vikings in one of the loudest atmospheres in the NFL. Tampa Bay walked away from the game with a 20-17 victory – a win that not many people believed the Bucs could pull off.
Mayfield and the Buccaneers went on to defeat the Bears in Week 2 at home, fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in a close Monday Night Football matchup, and held the New Orleans Saints to only field goals to defeat them 26-9.
After last Sunday’s impressive win over the Saints, where Mayfield completed 25 out of 32 for 246 yards, including three touchdown passes to young receivers Cade Otten, Trey Palmer and Deven Thompkins, people started to take notice of the former first-round draft pick’s game.
“Baker Mayfield has been a reborn quarterback down there in that Bay of Tampa,” Pat McAfee said on his show Monday. “Honestly, this team is seemingly going to be the NFC South representatives, and Baker Mayfield is about to have a 10-year career as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. All the stuff that happened before Tampa, there’s a chance that we’re never even going to talk about it because of what Baker is potentially going to be able to do down here in Tampa.”
So not only has Mayfield won over the national media, but it appears he’s also won over the Bucs locker room.
“Baker’s a dog. He’s always gonna do everything he can to keep the play alive and fight for yards. …It’s great having him back there. He’s an incredible teammate. I love him. He balled out today,” left tackle Tristan Wirfs said after Sunday’s win over the Saints.
However, the grass hasn’t always been green for Mayfield in Tampa. Ahead of the Bucs season opener, head coach Todd Bowles hadn’t announced who their starting quarterback would be as both Mayfield and backup QB Kyle Trask were fighting for the role.
This uncertainty, and Mayfield’s previous performances with the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and his short stint with the Los Angeles Rams led analysts and Bucs’ Insiders to believe that if a quarterback change was going to be made, it would be in Week 5.
Bucs’ Insiders Dan Lucas claimed that having an early bye week is the perfect time for the team to switch quarterbacks if need be. But given Mayfield’s near-perfect record as a starter, it doesn’t look like the Bucs will switch to Kyle Trask anytime soon.
“Four weeks, in my opinion,” Lucas said during a preseason Bucs Bonus episode. “Four weeks, I don’t know if records matter, but that is Mayfield’s resume. That is him on the clock for four weeks and then Week 5 bye week. If it’s not working, then that’s when we could see Kyle Trask.”
Host J.B. Biunno and Bucs’ Insider Karen Loftus both chimed in, agreeing it was an interesting take but didn’t oppose the scenario.
So what’s different about Mayfield’s playing game? The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner credited his success to the coaching staff letting him play to his “full potential.”
“This is only the second time in my pro career that I’ve had a coaching staff that lets me play to my full potential. [Sean] McVay understood what I’m capable of, but no one else before that did,” Mayfield said.
Star wide receiver Mike Evans injured his hamstring in the second quarter of the Saints game and did not return. Safety Ryan Neal was also injured during the game.
Defensive lineman Vita Vea and cornerback Jamel Dean are also nursing injuries.
The Bucs will return to action in Week 6, donning their throwback “Creamsicle” jerseys against the Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium. The NFL moved the Oct. 15 game, which was originally scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff, to 4:25 p.m.