Baker Mayfield says Bucs are prepared for finality of NFL playoffs

TAMPA — If you’re on pins and needles waiting to see how Baker Mayfield recovers from a rib injury and ankle sprain, it’s possible the Bucs quarterback soon will be, too.

At least, Mayfield said Wednesday, acupuncture could be part of the treatment to get him ready for Monday night’s wild-card game against the Eagles.

“I’ve had the same bodywork guy for six years now,” Mayfield said. “He comes in every week. Does what we need. Knows my body better than I do. He’s a stud, so I call him my wizard, and he knows what to do. He gets me ready each week, and I wouldn’t be able to survive without him. That’s the big routine things I do, and he’s on the same page with Bobby (Slater), our head trainer here. So, we’ve got a good plan going into it.”

The Eagles would like to stick it to the Bucs the way they did in their 25-11 win in Week 3 in in Tampa. Mayfield’s team was never really in that game as Philadelphia built a 25-3 lead while rushing 40 times for 201 yards.

But Mayfield noted much has changed for both teams since September. While the Eagles lost five of their final six regular-season games, the Bucs have won five of their past six.

“We were really trying to find ourselves at that point in the season,” Mayfield said. “We were trying to figure out who we were going to be, especially the offense. I think we’ve realized what we’re good at, what the bread and butter is for us.”

Mayfield said the Bucs have become “foundationally better” in the run game, scheme-wise. Now, they’ve got to get the passing game going again.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have taken play-calling duties away from defensive coordinator Sean Desai.

“They’ve had some injuries, a different play-caller as well. Matt Patricia is calling it now,” Mayfield said. “A little different variability, but you’ve got to handle it, got to prepare. Luckily, we’ve had four games where he’s been calling the games, so key into that and what’s his go-to?”

Mayfield is coming off his best regular season as a pro. He set career marks for passing yards (4,044), touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (64.3). But while not dismissing the achievement, he said his purpose was not just to put up good passing numbers.

“Those are all great things. I’m not going to not acknowledge it, at least,” Mayfield said. “But our goal is much bigger than just winning the division and for me to have a great year. We expected that within this building. We’re in the playoffs now, so it’s singular focus on the Eagles.”

The urgency of the postseason was not lost Wednesday on linebacker Lavonte David, who returned this season at age 33 on a one-year, $4.5 million contract. He led the team in tackles with 133 and added 4½ sacks and a forced fumble.

David went his first eight seasons without a playoff appearance before becoming part of the only current team in the NFC to make the postseason each of the past four years.

“I love it. The past four years have been amazing,” David said. “Just a changing of the guard with the talent that we have and the urgency that we’ve got to be in these situations. There was one point during the season we were doubted by a lot of people, so we just had to dig deep to get to this position. Now we’re here, so we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

How will David impart the immediacy of the postseason to young players making their first appearance?

“My story,” David said. “Hopefully, that scares them. You don’t want to be in the position I was in. When you get these opportunities, you want to be able to take advantage of them. ... Don’t take it for granted. A lot of people would love to be in our shoes today.”

The Bucs defense is coming off a 9-0 shutout of the Panthers, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was named NFC defensive player of the week for his five tackles, sack and touchdown-saving forced fumble at the goal line.

Though only 25, Winfield has been a part of all four of the Bucs’ playoff teams since 2020. He said his role is to impart the urgency of the moment to his younger teammates.

“It’s crazy,” Winfield said. “I’m like, ‘man, year four already.’ First year, we went to the Super Bowl and all that. It flies by. Just based off of previous years, yeah, I have to make sure the guys know that now it’s win or go home. Everything is heightened. We have to do more. Whatever it is we have to do to win this game. We have to do extra, because that’s what it comes down to. Focus, and just basic fundamentals is really what it comes down to these last games.”

Because the Bucs had little margin for error the last six weeks of the season, Mayfield said, they should be prepared for the finality of the postseason.

“We started fast, had that midseason lull and then, backs against the wall, got back to the same form we were in preseason,” Mayfield said. “Everybody counting us out and just leaning on each other and counting on each other. That’s the way it’s been to end the year. Right now, there’s no reason to change your mindset. We’ve been in this one-game-at-a-time mentality for a while now, and now it’s real. It’s win or go home.”

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