TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Baker Mayfield is off to a winning start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, impressing his new team with what he hasn’t done on the field rather than dazzling statistics.
Turnovers and poor decisions in the pocket have hampered the No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft throughout his pro career, however Mayfield has done a nice job of taking care of the football since joining the Bucs on a one-year contract that could be worth up to $8.5 million.
That includes a turnover-free preseason, followed by a solid regular-season debut in which he also avoided costly mistakes to help Tampa Bay (1-0) launch the post-Tom Brady era with a 20-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Next up is a test against Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears (0-1), who visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
While Mayfield didn’t post big numbers in Tampa Bay’s opener, the sixth-year pro who spent four seasons with the Cleveland Browns before splitting 2022 between the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams does have the attention of the Bears.
“He was the first overall pick. Can’t take that away from him,” Chicago defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “He has a bit of edge and confidence to him. We’re gonna treat him like anybody — a starter, it’s the NFL. Gotta rattle him and get this W.”
Mayfield shrugged off an ugly first half to finish 21 of 34 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns without an interception against Minnesota. He also used his legs, putting his body at risk to help set up a fourth-quarter field goal giving Tampa Bay the lead for good.
“We got off to a shaky start, but we settled in. Nobody flinched. Baker’s toughness, obviously by the way he played, the throws that he threw away and didn’t turn over were just as impressive as the one’s he completed,” coach Todd Bowles said.
“He’s a quarterback with an offensive lineman’s mentality. You don’t want your quarterback doing it too much, but he’ll make the yards when he has to make the yards, when the game is on the line,” Bowles added. “He plays very smart. ... Hopefully he doesn’t have to do that too much where he can get banged up. But offensive linemen feed off of that. ... It’s a rallying cry for the offense.”
Mayfield said he’s learning a lot about his new teammates, too.
“Just being able to adapt, be resilient and not hitting the panic button by any means,” Mayfield said. “Hopefully we can continuing growing and just be better through four quarters.”
Fields, meanwhile, looks to rebound from a 38-20 loss to Green Bay. The young quarterback felt he played “a little bit too conservative” against the Packers, settling for screens and swing passes rather than trying to make plays downfield.
Considering the Bears are counting on him to grow as a passer, it was an ominous start to his third season.
Fields was 24 of 37 for 216 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked four times, lost a fumble and had an interception returned for a TD.
The Bucs are mindful the Bears quarterback is an elusive runner who’s creates problems for opposing defenses when he escapes the pocket.
Bowles said containing Fields will take a disciplined defensive effort.
“You say you want to keep him in the pocket and contain him. But if your D-Line runs a 4.9 (40-yard dash) and he runs a 4.4, there’s going to be a problem at some point,” Bowles said. “We’ve just got to make sure we have enough eyes on him that we can go get him.”
The Bears made a huge trade for a No. 1 receiver when they acquired DJ Moore from Carolina for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The opener sure was not what they envisioned.
Moore was targeted just two times and had two catches for 25 yards. The Bears figure to get him more involved whether it’s on short passes or throws downfield.
“Rhythm and timing of the passing game is what we’re searching for,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s the receivers, the quarterback, the line and protection to be able to have that rhythm and timing in the passing game. So it’s all involved.”
The Bucs have 13 rookies on the roster, six of them undrafted free agents. Sixth-round draft pick Trey Palmer had a TD reception and safety Christian Izien had the team’s lone interception against the Vikings.
“They’re good football players,” Bowles said. “You just didn’t know their names.”
THIRD TIME NOT A CHARM
Third downs were a big issue for the Bears last week — on offense and defense. Chicago converted just 3 of 13 opportunities, while Green Bay was 9 for 16.
"I would just say, it could be mentally,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “Focus. Kind of just being more disciplined in your job. Having that mindset. But it’s not like we can take the same scheme and apply it. It’s not the same team. It’s not too much physically we can do. I think just being more locked in and making a conscious effort of being intentional about the details on the third down, about where our drops are, about getting pass rusher running the patterns, being on one chord as a whole defense. That will do us good going into next week.”
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Fred Goodall, The Associated Press