MINNEAPOLIS — Baker Mayfield’s resilience in his debut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved pivotal, outweighing a rocky start. Supported by a highly capable defense, Mayfield rebounded from early struggles, ultimately throwing two touchdown passes without any turnovers. The Buccaneers secured a hard-fought victory over the Minnesota Vikings, edging them 20-17 in the season opener marred by three first-half turnovers by the Vikings on Sunday.
Mayfield reflected on the performance, saying, “It wasn’t our prettiest effort by any means, but we finished the right way.”
Chase McLaughlin, a significant offseason addition to Tampa Bay, delivered a career-long 57-yard field goal with 5:10 remaining, providing the Buccaneers with the crucial lead. Their defense also stepped up, forcing three-and-outs on each of Minnesota’s last two possessions.
Coach Todd Bowles praised Mayfield’s toughness, stating, “Baker’s gutsy. He’s tough. The guys stayed behind him.”
Mayfield, the top overall pick in the 2018 draft, now with his fourth team in three years, took the reins from the retired Tom Brady. After a challenging 3-for-11 start, Mayfield completed 21 of 34 passes, including a touchdown pass to Mike Evans just before halftime, leveling the score at 10-all.
“I knew they were going to get it going,” commented Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett. “Once you get it going and start clicking and get some points on the board, the game is going to change.”
Mayfield’s clutch performance included converting a third-and-2 around the three-minute mark at the Minnesota 39 and Chris Godwin’s acrobatic catch on third-and-10 after the 2-minute warning to seal the victory.
Kirk Cousins had a productive day for the Vikings, going 33 for 44 with 344 yards and touchdowns to Jordan Addison and Alexander Mattison, while Justin Jefferson made nine catches for 150 yards. However, after going 11-0 in one-score games during the 2022 regular season, the Vikings couldn’t replicate their late-game magic.
Coach Kevin O’Connell acknowledged the self-inflicted mistakes, stating, “There were quite a few self-inflicted mistakes.”
A penalty by rookie Jay Ward for lining up in the neutral zone during a field goal attempt by McLaughlin provided the Buccaneers with a fresh set of downs, leading to a touchdown pass to rookie Trey Palmer and extending their lead to 17-10.
The Buccaneers, boasting seven starters from the 2020 Super Bowl champions and four first-round draft picks on defense, applied pressure early with safety blitzes by Antoine Winfield Jr. and consistently stifled the Vikings’ ground game, led by Vita Vea and their formidable defensive front.
Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father had a nine-season career in Minnesota’s secondary, recovered a fumble from his strip sack of Cousins, setting up an early field goal despite a drive that netted zero yards. Rookie Christian Izien intercepted Cousins near the goal line late in the first half.
In the aftermath of the game, both Mike Evans and Justin Jefferson, who had sought contract extensions, remained in negotiations with their respective teams as the regular season began.
The Minnesota Vikings paid tribute to former coach Bud Grant, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 95, with various pre-game and halftime ceremonies, featuring about 30 of his former players. The team also adopted their classic uniforms from the 1970s heydays under Grant, complete with a jersey patch bearing his signature.
In the injury report:
– Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David collided with teammate Vita Vea in the fourth quarter and left for concussion evaluation.
– First-round draft pick DL Calijah Kancey aggravated a calf injury that had him listed as questionable and did not play after halftime.
On the Vikings’ side:
– Center Garrett Bradbury sustained a back injury during the second drive and did not return.
– Left tackle Christian Darrisaw briefly missed snaps in the second quarter due to an ankle injury but returned after halftime.
– Outside linebacker Marcus Davenport was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in practice during the week.
– The Buccaneers will host the Chicago Bears next Sunday.
– The Vikings will travel to Philadelphia for a Thursday night matchup.