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Baker Mayfield: Bucs Getting Monday Game Is a "Blessing"

QB Baker Mayfield now has a little extra time to recover from ribs and ankle injuries, but he says the main key to getting the offense back into its December groove is taking the "easy" completions


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew the Monday night slot in Super Wild Card Weekend, taking on the Philadelphia Eagles, which means whichever team wins will have a shorter week to prepare for the Divisional Round than its eventual opponent. The Buccaneers or Eagles will cross that bridge when they come to it, but for now they can enjoy the benefits of a longer week before their game. One Buccaneer in particular is happy about that.

Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a painful injury to his ribs at the end of the Week 17 game against New Orleans, then hurt his ankle while being sacked by the Panthers in Week 18. Both are issues Mayfield has to overcome before the next game, and every day helps.

"Yeah, I got a little ankle injury pretty early in the game. It's one of those things [where] as the week goes on, it'll feel better and better. I'll get some good rehab and work done on it and see how it goes. Luckily, the blessing is we play on Monday night, so an extra day of rest and recovery for me."

Mayfield played all the remaining offensive snap after hurting his ankle on Sunday in Charlotte, but he did not take part in the portion of the Bucs' "bonus" practice on Wednesday that was open to the media. The Bucs will hold a walk-through on Thursday and full-speed practices on Friday and Saturday and Mayfield will try to make steady progress throughout the week as he did before the Panthers game. That week, he was deemed a non-participant on Wednesday, took part in Thursday's practice in a limited fashion and was full-go on Friday.

Mayfield said that his ribs are continuing to recover, though he used the word "slowly." He noted that he didn't take any "impactful" shots on the area in Charlotte, even though he was sacked three times and converted one third-and-one with a plunge directly into the enormous Derrick Brown. He and the Bucs know that the Eagles have a loaded defensive front that has produced 113 sacks over the last two seasons, and that keeping those defenders away from the quarterback will be critical.

"The best thing about their defense is their front," said Mayfield. "They've had a lot of studs there for a long time and they just keep reloading them. It's something that we have to be aware of – and we definitely are. For me, it's doing everything I need to do physically to get ready for the game and going from there. Making sure we're all on the same page, gameplanning-wise to where when we get those live reps, we're ready to roll."

The Bucs had one of their lowest offensive outputs in the 9-0 win over Carolina, and it's fair to credit the Panthers' fourth-ranked defense. It's also fair to wonder if Mayfield's injuries limited his effectiveness to some extent. However, Mayfield said the main issue in regards to getting back to the type of offense that had two very productive outings in wins over Green Bay and Jacksonville is doing better on the plays that should create better down-and-distance situations. For instance, on a third-down deep shot to Mike Evans in the first quarter, which was broken up when the wind caused it to falter at the end, running back Chase Edmonds was wide open running down the right seam for what could have been an easy first down.

"For me, it goes back to how can we just move the chains?" said Mayfield. "When we have our shots, take them, but stay ahead of the chains – especially against a team like this that has a great front. They're aggressive and it allows the secondary to play aggressively, as well. Staying ahead of the chains, for me, which is taking the easy completions – which I definitely need to improve on from the past couple of weeks. We'll go from there."

Those missed opportunities led to a slow start on offense for the second week in a row. Eventually, the Buccaneers did enough to complement a dominant defensive performance and get the win, most notably on a clock-killing drive at the end in which Rachaad White ran eight times and produced a pair of first downs. The Bucs will need that kind of production on Monday night against the Eagles.

"Like I said earlier, I've got to take the easy completions early on, keep us ahead of the chains, get us going," said Mayfield. "Between the Saints game and the Carolina game, their fronts are really good against the rush. We ran the ball when we needed to with six minutes left in the game. That's big-time. We've just got to get going early and start fast, where we can mix up our different plays."


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