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Is Todd Bowles’ future tied to outcome of wild-card game vs. Eagles?

TAMPA — Normally, when a Bucs head-coaching change is imminent, there are more than a few signs that discussions are taking place in the second floor offices at Advent Health Training Center.

But it’s been business as usual, and that bodes well for the future of head coach Todd Bowles.

Of course, the Glazer family is always going to want to have as much information as possible before making any decision on staff changes, and it’s possible a poor showing in another playoff game could have consequences.

But Bowles already has checked some boxes. He demonstrated improvement, going from an 8-9 record in 2022 to 9-8 in 2023 while winning a weakened NFC South for the second straight year.

The fact the Bucs went from the oldest team in the NFL to the youngest, unable to sign outside free agents due to salary-cap restraints, and pulled out of a 4-7 start to win five of their last six is a testament to Bowles’ steady hand.

Each year is different in the NFL, but the goal always is to be a team that is relevant and able to compete for a division title.

Whether the Glazers view Bowles as a head coach who can win a Super Bowl eventually will become significant. They fired Tony Dungy after he built a Super Bowl-caliber defense and went to the playoffs four times in six seasons. But at some point, the Bucs owners didn’t see Dungy taking the team to the Super Bowl and winning it, prompting them to make a trade with the Raiders for Jon Gruden, who won Super Bowl 37 in his first year in Tampa Bay.

Another influencing factor is what head-coaching candidates are available. Both Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have been shown the door at New England and Seattle, respectively. Both will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. But they also are 71 and 72 years old, respectively, and not likely to coach the Bucs.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great candidates in this cycle, and the Bucs interviewed many of them before hiring Dave Canales as their offensive coordinator, including Lions play-caller Ben Johnson, 49ers passing game coordinator Klint Kubiak and Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher.

The candidate who may make the most sense for the Bucs is Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who already has interviewed for the Panthers job. Monken did a great job for the Bucs for three seasons on Dirk Koetter’s staff as the receivers coach and offensive coordinator in 2019.

What’s even more intriguing is he coached Baker Mayfield for one season in Cleveland and tried to get him to sign with the Ravens as a backup to Lamar Jackson before the Bucs gave him a chance to compete to be the starter.

It may be short-sighted to suggest the outcome of Monday’s game against the Eagles is the final referendum on Bowles as the Bucs’ head coach. It’s part of the evaluation, for sure.

But just as you can’t hold him totally accountable for a poor offense under Byron Leftwich in Tom Brady’s final season when he wasn’t allowed to choose his coaching staff, you can’t put everything on the outcome of a playoff game against an Eagles team that has lost five of six but has more talent and began the season 10-1.

Winning five of their last six games to host another home playoff game is a remarkable turnaround not many head coaches could make. Chances are very likely that regardless of the outcome of Monday’s game, Bowles and his staff will be rewarded with a third season. Certainly, a win over the Eagles all but guarantees his future in Tampa Bay.

Mayfield takes too many unnecessary hits

Baker Mayfield never likes to quit on a play, but one thing he must stop is putting himself in harm’s way.

That’s the biggest takeaway from quarterbacks coach Thad Lewis, who says Mayfield simply has exposed himself to too many unnecessary hits because his competitive spirit writes checks his body can’t cash.

“If we get him again next year, the No. 1 thing we have to work on is stop taking so many hits,” Lewis said. “Get out of bounds. Shut it down and don’t hold on to it so long. Two, three balls thrown away don’t matter. We need you 17 weeks. He wants to compete to the end, and sometimes he has to learn to fight another day.”

Mayfield is expected to start against the Eagles despite rib and ankle injuries suffered in the past two games.

The worst of it came in a loss to New Orleans two weeks ago when Mayfield suffered a rib injury as the result of a late hit by Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu on a two-point conversion pass attempt.

Although X-rays revealed no ribs were broken, Winfield dropped to a knee before reaching the bench, where he struggled just to catch his breath. He finished the game.

Then last week, Mayfield suffered a severe ankle sprain in the playoff-clinching win at Carolina.

Taken separately, those injuries would be cause for great concern. Collectively, they would knock most off the field.

Not Mayfield.

“To have the injuries he’s had? Nobody would be playing with them,” said Lewis, who was a quarterback at Duke and spent time with eight NFL teams from 2010-17. “Especially the with the ribs. The guy is over there patting the ankle so it won’t stiffen up on him, but most guys are going to sit down. He’s coming in, like, ‘Throw a little dirt on it and I will be fine.’

“He’s tough as nails, he’s smart as they come, but he’s going to bleed no matter what. That’s what you want.”

While Mayfield isn’t a threat to run for a lot of yards, he’s effective at ducking under pressure and using his legs to pick up first downs.

“He’s making a lot of plays with his legs and not as a scrambler,” Lewis said. “If he does that, now the defense has to have somebody account for him, and it takes a defender off a receiver to keep the quarterback from running by him.”

Despite the hits, Mayfield was fortunate to start every game this season. Slowly, he’s realizing he doesn’t have to duck into a phone booth for the Bucs to win. He just has to remain healthy.

“Knowing the pieces we have, knowing that you don’t have to do anything special — do your job at the highest level you can,” Mayfield said. “You don’t have to be Superman. The rest will take care of itself. Luckily, we got bailed out by the defense and special teams, but it’s time for us to carry our weight and improve. What better time than now in the playoffs?”

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