TAMPA, Fla. (AP)Like Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield is discovering how a change of scenery can make a big difference in a quarterback’s career.
Goff’s stellar play is one of the reasons the Detroit Lions are aiming for their best start in more than a decade.
Mayfield’s improved performance with his fourth team in just over two years has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off to a promising start, too.
The first-place teams meet Sunday, with the Lions (4-1) looking for a fourth straight win and the Bucs (3-1) trying to take four of five to begin a season for just the sixth time in franchise history.
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft with the Los Angeles Rams. He’s in his third year with the Lions, who’ve six of their last seven road games dating to last fall and are eyeing Detroit’s first 5-1 start since 2011.
The Lions are one of the league’s highest scoring teams, averaging 29.6 through Week 5 and riding a team-record stretch of 14 consecutive games with 20-plus points.
“He is the engine that makes it go over there … not turning the ball over, throwing touchdowns, commanding the offense,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said of Goff’s growth over the course of the quarterback’s career. “He was always very accurate. He is a competitor. He is playing great for them.”
Sounds a lot like way the Bucs have been describing Mayfield since the first pick of the 2018 draft landed with Tampa Bay, the latest stop in a journey that also includes stints with Cleveland, Carolina and the Rams.
With support from a defense that’s reverted to its old stingy ways, as well as Bowles’ commitment to an improved rushing attack, Mayfield has minimized costly mistakes and been extremely efficient running the offense.
“I think what they’re asking him to do, and the scheme really suits him well. They’re making a true commitment to the run. There’s a lot of boots that are involved, play-action pass, and when you’re playing good defense, too, man that’s right in his wheelhouse,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s very competitive, like he’s always been, and he’s finding ways to make plays if it’s not there.”
Detroit has won three straight since losing to Seattle in overtime last month. Goff leads the NFL with 23 completions of 20-plus yards.
“Coming from somebody that needed a fresh start, as well, Jared is a stud. I think he’s playing really well,” Mayfield said.
“I think you can tell his leadership and all of the (reasons) why he got chosen that high. He’s truly showing that now,” the Bucs quarterback added. “Not every fit is perfect. For him, I think his confidence continued to grow, and he’s got all the tools you want – tall guy, he’s got a good arm, really, really smart. … I love his game. He’s a good guy, too.”
The Bucs will wear throwback creamsicle jerseys for the first time since 2012. They wore the Florida orange jerseys, along with white pants, from 1976 to 1996 before adopting red and pewter as the team’s primary colors. The team wore creamsicle throwbacks once a season with 2009 to 2012.
Detroit has won four of its first five games despite losing key players every week due to depth developed by general manager Brad Holmes in the draft, free agency and via trades.
When standout receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was inactive last week with an abdominal injury, the Lions were able to lean on Josh Reynolds. He had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in a 42-24 win over Carolina.
The 28-year-old Reynolds said he has been a “back-burner guy” for much of his career, and is thankful to have more chances to show what he can do. Reynolds has 16 catches – all for first downs – and is averaging 18.2 yards per reception, ranking fifth in the NFL.
“I know what it feels like to be the guy, so it’s nice to be here again,” he said.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is keeping defenses off balance through the air, on the ground and with trick plays.
“Obviously, 99% of our offense is very focused and detailed,” Goff said. “But here and there, he’ll throw in something that’s just fun and doesn’t really have a complete rhyme or reason necessarily.”
Detroit ran a reverse flea-flicker for a touchdown in last week’s win over Carolina. The Lions also picked up a first down when center Frank Ragnow sent a shotgun snap between Goff’s legs to running back David Montgomery.
MOUNTAIN OF A MAN
Tampa Bay’s Vita Vea, a 6-foot-4, 347-pound nose tackle, has the full attention of Detroit’s offensive line.
“He’s just a massive human being and is making a lot of offensive linemen look like kids,” Ragnow said.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.
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