Bucs win big despite easing off Jags

by Gary Shelton on December 25, 2023

in general

mayfield threw two more touchdowns./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

Maybe it’s time to stop laughing at the NFC South.

The Tampa Bay Bucs, suddenly a team worth post-season consideration, played perhaps their most complete game of the season Sunday, It was so good, in fact, the Bucs seem4ed to get bored with the action and let off the gas pedal. Still, it was a 30-12 victory, and no one sneezes at an 18-point victory.

The Bucs are now 8-7 and can win the division title with a win over either New Orleans, which they play in Tampa next week, or at Carolina, which has won just twice this season.

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Devin White had a strong game./TIM WIRT

“Huge complementary football," said coach Todd Bowles. "It’s the kind of football you want to play in December. Defense got turnovers [and] the offense cashed in. [We] kept the ball most of the first half, gave the defense a rest, and they played good football.”

It was an easy win for the Bucs, who led 30-0 at one point. They eased off a bit in the late third and fourth quarters, but still won comfortably. The Bucs had just 45 yards passing and just 32 yards rushing in the final period.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield wasn’t perfect, the way he was last week against Green Bay. But he threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He played his third straight game without an interception. This week, his quarterback rating was 116.8, the sixth time he’s been above 100 this year.

“He’s been outstanding," Bowles said. "He’s been outstanding in December – that’s what you want from your quarterback in December. Everybody knows each other’s plays right about now, but when you’re trying to make a push and your quarterback is playing great, it gives you a chance.”

Said Mayfield:  "Obviously, we’ve been taking the single-game mindset – one game at a time. That was a big one. We started fast. Coach talked about that. That was the message. And obviously, offensively, we’d like to finish better. We’d like to put them away a little bit more. A few too many negative plays in the second half. But overall, complementary football there in the first half, which allowed us to jump out to a huge lead so. Can’t say enough about how the defense played and the way we played in the first half.”

In the Bucs’ four-game winning streak, Mayfield has thrown for nine touchdowns and has one interception.

"There’s definitely some things that I want back," Mayfield said. "There’s a play on third and long, threw a ball to Trey Palmer in the slot. I should’ve come back and thrown the screen – it’s probably  going to be a touchdown. That’s  going to be one that’s going to haunt me tonight. There’s a few others. Got to trust Cade [Otton] in the flat just to break a tackle on fourth and two. There’s just some critical things that still could improve. But, like I’ve said in the past, it’s good to learn from a win instead of a loss. So, we can continue to improve though.”

Mayfield hit Mike Evans on touchdown passes of 1 and 22 yards. Rachaad White ran for a two-yard score. The game ended with the Bucs at the Jags’ 11, kneeling in victory formation.

"Mike is a stud," Mayfield said. "If he’s not double-teamed, then the ball’s going to find him. He’s going to find a way to win. So, yeah, he played great today. The first touchdown, they decided to keep somebody in the middle for Chris [Godwin] and Mike had a one-on-one. Then, same thing on the second one. So, he continues to find ways to win. Then, can’t say enough about Chris being clutch on third downs converting. He’s that consistent guy for us.”

Trevor Lawrence, who cleared the concussion protocol late, had a miserable game. He fumbled twice, threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.

White had 39 yards rushing.

It was the fourth straight win for the Bucs, who were 4-7 at one point.

Devin White intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in his return to the lineup a week after it was suggested he didn't play because of demotion.

“I can’t speak for him, but it wasn’t (extra motivation) from me," Bowles said. "Me and Devin are very close - we talk about everything. His practice was normal – he looked ready to go. He looked fresh in practice, he was running around. He made the play in the game that he made in practice.”

No, the Bucs still aren't among the league's elite teams. But they're better than they have been all season.

“Well, we’re piecing it together," Bowles said. "We’re piecing it together – everybody’s playing for each other. Everybody is locked in and we’re trying to get in [to the playoffs]. We’re clawing, we’re scrapping, we’re doing everything we can. Those guys have great attitudes – the leaders have been great for us getting us through tough times, coming out on the other side, and we know it’s not over.”

The Bucs are home at Raymond James Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. against New Orleans.

Evans has 13 touchdowns./TIM WIRT

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