National Football League
Baker Mayfield, Bucs offense look to get back on track Thursday vs. Bills
National Football League

Baker Mayfield, Bucs offense look to get back on track Thursday vs. Bills

Published Oct. 24, 2023 4:14 p.m. ET

Three weeks ago, the Bucs had put up 26 points — a lot, by recent standards — in a road win over the Saints that put them at 3-1 entering their bye week, an encouraging start for a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield and a first-time playcaller in new offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

In two games since, the Bucs have one touchdown in 19 possessions, and they've scored six and 13 points in back-to-back losses to the Lions and Falcons, Tampa's worst two-game scoring stretch in six years.

"Work in progress," Canales said Tuesday, preparing in a hurry for a Thursday night road game at Buffalo. "No quick fixes for where we're headed. It sounds like a broken record, but fundamental execution. … [We] still would love to just be able to run the ball with consistency, but we definitely have to be better."

Tampa Bay's offense took a huge step back last year in Tom Brady's final season, scoring 14 fewer points per game from 2021 to 2022. The hope entering this season was that the Bucs could improve even after Brady's retirement by playing more efficiently and improving on the worst run game in the league.


They haven't.

Thanks to a 31-yard scramble by Mayfield in Sunday's loss, they are not last in the league in yards per carry, averaging 3.05 yards, just ahead of the Raiders. After a promising, mistake-free start in two wins to open the season, Mayfield has thrown a single interception in each of his past four games, including a costly one late in the fourth quarter Sunday.

"There are a few plays I'd like to have back," Mayfield said Tuesday. "But we're just so close. I'm getting tired of saying that, but it's the truth. When you go back and watch, it's one play here or there that makes the difference."

The Bucs are struggling particularly in the red zone, where close quarters make it harder to find openings in opposing defenses. Tampa Bay is tied for 28th out of 32 teams, converting just 38% of their trips inside the 20 into touchdowns. A year ago, they were 22nd, the year before second, and Sunday's loss saw them go 0-for-2, including missing on a potential go-ahead touchdown in the final minute.

"Obviously, we've got to score," coach Todd Bowles said. "That comes with execution. We've just got to score the ball. It's got to be a focus all the way around. The focus is there. We've just got to execute better."

NFL Power Rankings: Where do the Bucs land?

This is a tough week to make that turnaround, as the Bills rank fifth in the league in opponent scoring (16.9 points per game) and are sixth in red-zone defense, giving up touchdowns at a 40% clip. They're also second in sack percentage and fourth in interceptions, so there's a minefield of potential problems for the Bucs to avoid, with Buffalo coming off a disappointing loss to the struggling Patriots.

The run game could get a boost with the healthy return of backup Chase Edmonds from injured reserve on Thursday. Starter Rachaad White had 99 yards from scrimmage Sunday, but the backups have continued to underperform, with Ke'Shawn Vaughn and rookie Sean Tucker both averaging fewer than two yards per carry in limited work.

Sunday's loss knocked the Bucs out of first place in the NFC South, and the first-place Falcons don't have a single remaining opponent with a winning record on the schedule. Tampa Bay can catch up just by winning in Atlanta in December, but to otherwise keep pace, the Bucs might have to pull off unexpected wins — like Thursday in Buffalo, or two weeks later in San Francisco.

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They won't likely be able to do that averaging 17 points per game as they are on offense. Tampa Bay's defense is playing at a high level, ranking sixth in scoring and setting up the league's best turnover margin at plus-7. In past years, that was good enough to win a lot of games. In three years with Brady at quarterback, the Bucs were 23-4 when holding opponents to 20 points or fewer, but they're 3-2 in such games barely a third of the way into this season.

"You learn how to weather some of these storms and learn how to grow through them, to handle certain situations," Mayfield said. "Right now, it's just getting our stuff fixed, be more detailed and fundamentally sound, and good things will happen. We've played good teams, but we haven't played our best, so for us, it's about playing our best ball and focusing on what we can control."

Greg Auman is FOX Sports' NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


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