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Baker Mayfield Continues to Shine on Third Down

Data Crunch: Bucs QB Baker Mayfield has been the NFL's most effective passer on third downs this season and he had his best outing yet in that category on Sunday against the Saints


Baker Mayfield came into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday as the NFL's leader in passer rating and completion percentage on third-down plays. Somehow, in the midst of the Buccaneers' runaway 26-9 victory over their division rivals in the Superdome, Mayfield's third-down numbers got even better.

Mayfield threw seven passes on third-down snaps against the Saints and completed six of them for 80 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That produced a near-perfect passer rating of 153.9. (The highest possible mark is, a little strangely, 158.3). it was also the third-best passer rating any quarterback has produced on third downs in a game this season. The first two were both by Miami quarterbacks in Week Three against Denver; as you may have heard, the Dolphins dropped 70 points on the Broncos in that game.

Best Passer Rating on Third Downs, Single Game, NFL, 2023

Table inside Article
Quarterback Team Opponent Cmp Att Yards TD INT Rtg.
Mike White Miami Denver 2 2 67 1 0 158.3
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Denver 4 5 61 1 0 157.1
Baker Mayfield Tampa Bay New Orleans 6 7 80 2 0 153.9
Jordan Love Green Bay Chicago 7 9 106 1 0 152.8
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Philadelphia 6 9 141 1 0 146.8

Of all players in the NFL with at least five pass attempts on third down this season, Mayfield has the best overall passer rating, and it's not particularly close.

Best Passer Rating on Third Downs, NFL, 2023

  1. Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers…140.7
  2. C.J. Stroud, Texans…126.1
  3. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs…120.8
  4. Desmond Ridder, Falcons…118.2
  5. Lamar Jackson, Ravens…117.8

Overall, Mayfield ranks eighth in the NFL with a 101.5 passer rating so far this season. Against the Saints, he recorded his first game with three or more touchdown passes as a Buccaneer and the ninth of his career (he also has one three-TD game in the postseason). Mayfield now has seven touchdown passes through the first four weeks of the season, which is tied for the seventh most in the NFL.

Mayfield's most frequent target on Sunday was wide receiver Chris Godwin, who caught eight of the 11 passes thrown his way for 114 yards and 42 touchdowns. It was Godwin's first 100-yard game of the season and the 20th of his career, including the postseason. Only his current teammate, Mike Evans, has more 100-yard receiving games in Buccaneers annals.

Most 100-Yard Receiving Games, Buccaneers History

  1. Mike Evans…37
  2. Chris Godwin…20
  3. Mark Carrier…15
  4. Kevin House…14
  5. Vincent Jackson…13

Mayfield's three touchdown passes went to a very youthful trio of tight end Cade Otton (24) and wide receivers Trey Palmer (22) and Deven Thompkins (23). Thompkins' diving five-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was the first score of his NFL career. Palmer, a sixth-round pick in this year's draft, found the end zone for a second time, having also caught a touchdown pass in the team's season-opening win at Minnesota. Palmer is just the third rookie in franchise history (not counting 1987 replacement games) to record two or more touchdown catches in the first four games of the season. Wide receiver Mike Williams had three TD grabs in his first four games in 2010 and tight end Alex Smith had two in 2005. Both of Smith's touchdown receptions occurred in the first game of that season.

Kicker Chase McLaughlin contributed the Buccaneers' other eight points in Sunday's game, going two-for-two on field goal tries and two-for-two on extra point attempts. (The Bucs unsuccessfully went for two on their final touchdown.) McLaughlin's first field goal was a 51-yarder early in the fourth quarter that gave the Bucs' an 11-point lead. He is now seven-for-eight on field goal attempts this season, with his only miss being a blocked kick against the Chicago Bears in Week Two. He has made both of his tries from beyond 50 yards, having also nailed a 57-yarder in the Bucs' season-opening win at Minnesota.

McLaughlin has now hit on 19 of 23 field goal tries from 50 yards or farther in his NFL career, which began with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Since then, he ranks second in the league in success rate on kicks from that range among kickers with at least 10 attempts.

Best Field Goal Percentage from 50-Plus Yards, NFL, 2019-23 (min. 10 attempts)

Table inside Article
Kicker Team(s) M A Pct.
Chris Boswell PIT 20 24 83.3
Chase McLaughlin 7 teams* 19 23 82.6
Daniel Carlson MIN/LV 21 26 80.8
Graham Gano WAS/CAR/NYG 21 26 80.8
Younghoe Koo ATL 20 25 80.0
Evan McPherson CIN 20 25 80.0

(* McLaughlin has played for the Buccaneers, Colts, Browns, Jets, Jaguars, 49ers and Chargers.)

The Bucs' final tally of 26 points marked the first time that the Saints had allowed more than 20 points in a game since November of 2022. New Orleans had put together 11 straight contests without giving up 21 or more points, the second-longest streak in NFL history. The Buccaneers' 17-point margin of victory was their third-largest winning edge ever against the Saints. Tampa Bay also recorded its longest winning streak ever in the head-to-head regular season series with the Saints, running it to three after last season's two-game sweep.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense held the Saints out of the end zone and allowed only 197 yards of offense. That's the lowest offensive output the Buccaneers have allowed New Orleans in 63 all-time meetings.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. spearheaded that defensive effort. He led the team with nine tackles, including two tackles for loss, and added a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in the end zone. His forced fumble against fullback Adam Prentice and subsequent recovery at the Saints' six-yard line just before halftime set up Mayfield's one-yard touchdown pass to Palmer. Those were the second forced fumbles and fumble recoveries of the season for Winfield, who joins Pittsburgh edge rusher T.J. Watt as the only players in the NFL to have multiple notches in both categories so far this season.

Winfield's four-yard sack of Saints quarterback Derek Carr in the second quarter came on third down with the ball near midfield, leading to a punt. It was Winfield's second sack of this season and the 11th of his career. He is already the Buccaneers' all-time leader in sacks among safeties and he has the most sacks among all NFL defensive backs since he entered the NFL in 2020.

Most Sacks, NFL Defensive Backs, 2020-23

  1. Antoine Winfield Jr., Buccaneers…11.0
  2. Jamal Adams, Seahawks…9.5
  3. Donovan Wilson, Cowboys…8.5
  4. Brandon Jones, Dolphins…8.0
  5. Harrison Smith, Vikings…6.5
  6. L'Jarius Sneed, Chiefs…6.5

Defensive lineman Vita Vea recorded the Buccaneers' other two sacks of Carr on Sunday, giving him a team-leading 3.5 on the season. It marked the third two-sack game of Vea's career. His second sack forced a fumble by Carr late in the fourth quarter that was recovered by defensive lineman Logan Hall. With Winfield's fumble recovery in the second quarter and a fourth-quarter interception by Dee Delaney, the Buccaneers won the turnover battle, 3-1, and increased their takeaway total on the season to 10. That is tied with Buffalo for the second-most takeaways so far this season, one behind the league-leading Bills, and the Bucs' plus-seven turnover ratio is second only to Dallas' plus-nine.

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