TAMPA, Fla. (AP)The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are building a new identity without Tom Brady.
Brady’s three-year run as the face of the franchise ended when the seven-time Super Bowl champion retired last winter, leaving the Bucs searching for a quarterback capable of helping them remain competitive.
Four games into the season, Baker Mayfield looks like a good choice after he beat out third-year pro Kyle Trask for the starting job in training camp.
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 NFL draft has completed nearly 70% of his passes for 882 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, helping the Bucs to a surprising 3-1 start heading into this week’s bye.
“He’s a fighter, (has) a ton of resilience. I think he has been a great fit for us,” receiver Chris Godwin said of Mayfield, who’s with his fourth team in a little over two years.
“You see him making plays scrambling. He takes some big shots and pops back up,” Godwin added. “I think he is a leader, and I think he loves ball. I think that that permeates through him. It’s infectious for guys on the team.”
While it may be premature to label Tampa Bay as Mayfield’s team, the 28-year-old quarterback clearly is a big part of what coach Todd Bowles describes as the Bucs “morphing into kind of a physical, tough team that’s hard to beat.”
Bowles stressed the Bucs, who’ve beaten Minnesota, Chicago and NFC South rival New Orleans while losing to unbeaten Philadelphia, are still trying to establish their identity.
“We’re close. We’re not there yet. I figure one or two more games, hopefully,” Bowles said. “With the bye week – once we get everybody back (from injuries) – we’ll have a chance to blend everybody in and get a chance to see that.”
With Brady, Tampa Bay had one of the top passing attacks in the league. The Bucs are striving for more balance with Mayfield running a system installed by first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales and trusting a stingy defense to do its part to help the team be successful.
“It’s a great team,” said Mayfield, who spent four seasons with the Cleveland Browns before splitting time between the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams in 2022. “Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is doing their job.”
Teammates have been impressed with Mayfield’s leadership and toughness, including his ability to extend plays with his legs and willingness to put his body at risk when he escapes the pocket and turns into a runner fighting for extra yardage.
“You don’t want him taking too many of those, but he’s tough, he’s gritty. He’s a very smart football player, a competitor. He’s been like that his whole life, it hasn’t changed. He has a lot to prove, and he’s having fun out there,” Bowles said.
“It makes the offensive line want to block more. It makes us want to run our routes a little bit harder and give him a chance because we know that he is going to extend the play as much as he can to give us a chance,” Godwin said. “I am happy to have him.”
And Mayfield is excited to be off to a 3-1 start few people outside the locker room saw coming. He said the Bucs didn’t pay much attention to outside talk entering the season and there’s no reason to alter that mindset now.
“We can’t change whether people are patting you on the back or talking trash about you,” the quarterback said.
“It doesn’t make us any difference whether they say we are good or bad. We write our own narrative, we create our own narrative,” Bowles said. “Everybody loves each other in this building. We play for each other, we coach for each other, and we’re having fun with it.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl