The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have life in them after all.
Despite everyone considering the Buccaneers a rebuilding squad following the retirement of Tom Brady and the inclusion of journeyman Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback, Tampa Bay pulled off the biggest upset of the early afternoon games in Week 1, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 20-17, on the road.
It wasn’t a dominant victory — they likely won’t be for this year’s Buccaneers squad — but the defensive unit showed potential in forcing three turnovers of Kirk Cousins in the first half. Most importantly, Tampa Bay’s new franchise quarterback, Mayfield, showed moxie in leading his new squad to victory after a rough start.
Despite starting out the game 3-for-11 for 12 passing yards more than midway through the second quarter, Mayfield arguably ended the day as the player of the game with several game-winning plays.
On a 3rd-and-2 from the Vikings’ 42-yard line with 3:33 remaining in the game, Mayfield pulled off a gutsy first down conversion by rushing for three yards while carrying Minnesota linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.
Mayfield’s second game-winning play — and the final one needed for victory — came on an 11-yard pass to Chris Godwin on a 3rd-and-10 conversion with under two minutes remaining. The conversion led to the Buccaneers being able to run out the clock.
His performance was impressive considering he rebounded from early struggles, including overthrowing a wide open touchdown pass to tight end Ko Kieft in the first quarter.
To top it all off, Mayfield finished the game with zero turnovers — three less than his Pro Bowler counterpart, Cousins — along with going 21-for-34 for 173 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Not bad for a quarterback signed to just a one-year, $4 million deal. Also not bad for a veteran who is considered a stopgap option with top quarterback prospects such as Caleb Williams and Drake Maye entering next year’s draft.
What will likely be overlooked in this upset win for the Buccaneers is the play of the defensive unit. While they struggled to contain star receiver Justin Jefferson — nine receptions for 150 receiving yards — the unit itself turned in a number of big plays.
They held the Vikings to 1-for-3 in the red zone, forced a fumble that directly led to a field goal and picked off a pass at their 2-yard-line with Minnesota on the verge of scoring prior to the end of the first half.
Entering the game, the biggest topic surrounding the Buccaneers was not being able to get a contract extension done with Mike Evans before his self-imposed deadline on Saturday. The decision comes during a season in which Tampa Bay owes an NFL-high $75 million in dead money, tops in the league.
It’s true that this is just one week and Mayfield showed more of what has been expected of him. A lot of up-and-down play, some inaccurate passes and some gutsy plays that end up galvanizing the team.
But what’s also true is that this Buccaneers squad won the division and advanced to the playoffs last season with Brady not playing his best football. If Mayfield can continue taking care of the football and turning in a big play here and there, maybe this team can win an NFC South division that is lacking a bonafide contender.