TAMPA — Baker Mayfield is keeping his cool during the Bucs’ cold streak. After a 3-1 start, the charismatic quarterback has lost three games in a row but not the confidence of his head coach or teammates.
“He’s doing his part,” Todd Bowles said. “He’s doing everything he can to try and make plays. Sometimes it’s him; sometimes it’s not. It’s an offense as a whole. … It’s a whole entire offensive thing. It’s not just laid on Baker. Everybody has got to execute, and everybody has got to do their job.”
But how much longer will the Bucs let Mayfield do his?
After Thursday night’s 24-18 loss to the Bills, which ended with Mayfield throwing a failed Hail Mary pass, it’s fair to take a deeper dive into Mayfield’s role in the tailspin.
He has passed for at least 300 yards only once this season. Thursday’s game broke a streak of four straight games with an interception.
Until a late 17-play, 92-yard scoring drive, in which he was 9-for-15, Mayfield had completed only 16 passes. He went 9-for-10 for 86 yards when targeting the running back in the flat. That means he was 16-for-32 for 151 yards when targeting everyone else.
Mayfield and the offense can disappear for long stretches. The Bucs completed only one pass for 6 yards in the third quarter, when they totaled just 27 yards.
“You should always be frustrated when you don’t play your best,” Mayfield said. “Win or lose. It should be frustrating. For us, it’s got to be the same mentality. Now we’ve just got to put it all together. We have the fight. We have the preparation. I don’t doubt what we do during the week. I don’t doubt what we’re doing scheme-wise.
“Now we’ve just got to execute. It’s just flat-out execution. Being on the same page and doing it. You get sick of that more than anything. You do your job, and accountability breeds responsibility. That’s one of our mottoes we have in the building, so we need to continue to have that in the building.”
First-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales has come to the realization that the Bucs aren’t very good at running the ball. But the more Mayfield has had to toss it around, the worse things have gotten.
During the 3-1 start, Mayfield averaged 31.25 passes per game. In the last three games, all losses, he averaged 40.3 attempts.
Even with Bowles wanting a better run game, the Bucs called only 17 rushing plays Oct. 22 against the Falcons (not counting Mayfield scrambles) and 14 on Thursday.
Mayfield needs more help, and he’s not getting it from teammates who make mistakes. The Bucs are the second-most-penalized team in the league with 50 accepted for 357 yards, which ranks third. That includes 15 false start penalties, second most in the league. Right tackle Luke Goedeke had three against the Bills as part of an 11-flag night for the Bucs (for 74 yards).
“If it’s not missing a block here and there, then it’s a penalty here or there,” Bowles said. “We’ve got to clean it up together. It’s got to be clicking on all cylinders. When we get all our blocks, we get penalties. When we don’t get penalties, we don’t get all of our blocks here and there.
“Last week it was one thing; this week it’s another thing. We’ve just got to keep chopping at it and get better at it. That’s as best as those can be — if everything clicks at the same time.”
At 3-4, the Bucs are not out of the NFC South race. On the contrary. The Falcons (4-3) are the only team in the division with a winning record.
Because of that, the Bucs are not contemplating a change at quarterback. Former Florida standout Kyle Trask may have pushed Mayfield in training camp, but he’s not yet ready to push him to the bench.
If the Bucs turned to Trask now, it would signal to the rest of the team that they are looking ahead to 2024 and beyond.
Mayfield may be lacking in some skills, but he is a team captain who has won over the locker room and coaching staff for a reason. You can’t preach patience and then be petulant.
Mayfield also gives the Bucs the best chance to win. But he needs a lot more help — from his offensive line, from his receivers, from the running game.
At the least, he has begun to rely on running back Rachaad White as a receiver, hitting him with all seven targets Thursday for 70 yards. White ran well, too, gaining 39 yards on nine attempts. Those are good signs.
Does Mayfield need to play better? Absolutely. He’s not in the class of a Josh Allen or a Patrick Mahomes. He’s a good — maybe very good — NFL quarterback with one last chance to prove he’s a starter in the league.
But the longer this losing streak goes, the faster the Bucs may decide to see what they have in Trask. We’re not there yet.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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