Tom who? Baker Mayfield gets first win in Buccaneers' opener
Baker Mayfield recovered from a rough start to throw two touchdown passes without a turnover in his Tampa Bay debut, and the Buccaneers opened the season by beating Minnesota 20-17 after three first-half turnovers by the Vikings on Sunday.
Chase McLaughlin matched his career long with a 57-yard field goal for the lead with 5:10 left, and the Buccaneers forced a three-and-out on each of Minnesota’s last two possessions.
Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft who landed with his fourth team in three years to take over for the retired Tom Brady, completed 21 of 34 passes after a 3-for-11 start.
He hit Mike Evans for a score right before halftime and was at his best down the stretch, hustling around right end to convert a third-and-2 around the three-minute mark at the Minnesota 39. Then, Chris Godwin made a stretched-out 11-yard catch on third-and-10 right after the 2-minute warning to clinch it.
Kirk Cousins went 33 for 44 for 344 yards and touchdowns to rookie Jordan Addison and running back Alexander Mattison, and Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 150 yards. But after going an NFL-record 11-0 in one-score games during the 2022 regular season, the Vikings ran out of that late-game mojo.
Rookie Jay Ward was penalized for lining up in the neutral zone on a field goal try by McLaughlin that gave the Buccaneers a fresh set of downs to finish a drive that took almost nine minutes with a touchdown pass to rookie Trey Palmer.
More than half of Cousins’ 273 yards passing in the first half went Jefferson, but the Vikings had to settle for a 10-all tie despite three times as much yardage as the Buccaneers.
Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father played nine seasons in Minnesota’s secondary, hit Cousins on a front-side blitz and fell on his strip sack at the Vikings 30 to set up an early field goal for the Buccaneers despite a drive that netted zero yards.
The Buccaneers, with seven starters remaining from the 2020 Super Bowl champions and four first-round draft picks and four second-rounders in the lineup, have another stout defense. They sent just enough timely blitzes to keep the potent Minnesota offense from finding a groove.
Cousins has often said each turnover has its own story, and those first-half mistakes were complicated. His interception was thrown a bit behind K.J. Osborn, but rookie Christian Izien ripped the ball out of the receiver’s hands at the goal line late in the second quarter. The first fumble in the first quarter at the Tampa Bay 25 was caused by friendly fire from right guard Ed Ingram, whose arm knocked the ball out as he blocked to his left.
Evans and Jefferson have been eyeing contract extensions that didn’t come together with their respective teams in time for the regular season.
Evans went public with his demand for a new deal entering his 10th year, all with the Buccaneers, but appears headed for free agency next spring. The Vikings have less urgency around Jefferson with two seasons left on his rookie contract, but the NFL’s reigning receiving leader made clear this week his camp has been driving a hard bargain for what is likely to be the richest deal for a player at his position.