TAMPA, Fla. — “Resilient” has been a word used a lot inside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ building this week to describe quarterback Baker Mayfield since his debut with the team in a 20-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
On third-and-3 from the Vikings’ 43-yard line and holding on to a three-point lead with 3 minutes, 39 seconds to go, Mayfield faked the handoff to running back Rachaad White before quickly sprinting to the sideline and lowering his shoulder into linebacker Ivan Pace. He spun halfway around before landing on his stomach, just enough for a first down, with the sideline erupting in approval.
“He’s a quarterback with an offensive lineman’s mentality,” coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday. “He’s willing to go the extra mile to put his face in the fan when the situation calls for it. … It’s a rallying cry for the offense.”
It wasn’t the only time Mayfield showed his mettle. On a third-and-5, he ducked out of a sack, scrambled and threw his shoulder into safety Josh Metellus for a 1-yard gain. Then on fourth-and-1, he put his head down and dove forward on a quarterback sneak from the Tampa Bay 32 to pick up the first down. And in the fourth quarter, he stiff-armed cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. on a 5-yard scramble.
“He turns nothing into something,” wide receiver Chris Godwin said. “That [was] a big third-down play, and he’s stiff-arming DBs and getting in their face, [and] you’re looking for that kind of competitive edge from your quarterback. I think it gets us fired up, but also helps us understand that he is going to go in there and he’s going to fight.”
Mayfield would fire an 11-yard pass to Godwin along the right sideline on third-and-10 to seal the victory. Not bad after starting off 3-of-11 for 12 passing yards before things clicked just before halftime.
“I mean, the motto for us is ‘resilience’ right now,” Mayfield said. “[We] just didn’t start pretty at all. We left so much on the bone. Just being able to adapt, be resilient and not hitting the panic button by any means. … A resilient, tough mentality is what I learned about this group. Hopefully we can continue growing and just be better through four quarters.”
For Mayfield, this is his fourth team in the past year and a half. He has previously acknowledged the toll that changing teams has taken, even saying his seemingly unshakable confidence was rattled.
“For the first time he and I met when he came, it’s been like, ‘This second chance, this breath of fresh air, let’s ride on that, this is going to be a great story,’” offensive coordinator Dave Canales said. “… He just seems like he’s in such a better place in his life, and then I think that part always flows into the football — not the other way around, or shouldn’t, at least.”
Mayfield credits his wife, Emily, for helping keep him going and his spirits lifted.
“Would not have survived without her,” Mayfield said. “She knows that. To have a support piece like that, that’s always in your corner — there’s a lot of ups and downs in this profession, but constant peace. It’s great.”
When asked to describe the past year and a half, Emily said, “A lot of resiliency.”
“It’s not always easy, it’s super fun and I’m lucky to be able to support him,” she said, “but yeah, the last couple of years — I’m just happy when he’s healthy.”
As for this time with the Bucs, she sees a difference in her husband.
“He just seems like he’s having fun again,” Emily said. “So there’s been times in the last five years where I just don’t see that fire in him, and that fire is definitely back this year. … He’s a more fun roommate when he’s winning.”
The Bucs are bearing the brunt of $100 million borrowed from the future to support retired quarterback Tom Brady’s run that spanned three seasons, which includes a $35 million salary cap hit for him alone this year. There are still several key players from their well-assembled 2020 Super Bowl LV roster, but they’ve quickly gone from being one of the oldest and most experienced rosters in the NFL to one of the youngest and least experienced.
Prognosticators had already written them off long before the season began, which is why someone of Mayfield’s demeanor might be just what the Bucs need. They may also be just what he needs — an organization coming off three straight playoff appearances, a strong supporting cast and a newly implemented offensive system built off of bootlegs and rollouts without asking him to do too much — and with the occasional shot downfield.
That mentality also could be a microcosm of Mayfield’s career — as Canales said, “Just be special that many times, be special in those small moments.”
“Just throw it to the open guy,” Canales said. “Just check it down to the [running] back, make those decisions, play good football, and then when they put their gloves down, knock them out.’”
Last week the Bucs showed they can play mistake-free football and pull out the win in one-score games. At times they relied on the defense (they had three takeaways off quarterback Kirk Cousins), and the heroics of kicker Chase McLaughlin, who drilled a 57-yard field goal to pull the Bucs ahead, was the difference.
McLaughlin, his former Cleveland Browns teammate, said he was fired up by Mayfield’s antics and believes the team will continue to feed off it.
“I knew he was going to bring that to this team and that it was just a matter of time before people got to see that side of him,” said McLaughlin, who says Mayfield’s maturity as a leader has been the biggest difference he’s seen so far. “He’s really just kind of settled into his role and realized that there’s times that you can kind of be the leader of the team.”
He and the new offense will most certainly be tested facing two top-five defenses from last year over the next three weeks. They face the Philadelphia Eagles at home on “Monday Night Football” in Week 3 and the New Orleans Saints on the road in Week 4, but before that, the Bucs host the Chicago Bears on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
“You always have a 1-0 mentality — the next game is the most important one — we’re focused on that,” Mayfield said. “But your confidence — your self-confidence and for the group as a whole – continues to grow. … We can’t be satisfied with what we did. We’ll always take wins, but we need to improve if we want to be potentially where we can imagine.”