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Baker Mayfield: Road Games Fit Our Identity

QB Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers have thrived on defying expectations in 2023, and a playoff game against a favored Lions team in a raucous environment gives them another shot at doing just that

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hitting the road in the postseason for the first time in three years. After a dominant home win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round of the 2023 playoffs, the Buccaneers are headed to Detroit to face a Lions team that is flying high after its first playoff win in three decades. And as much as the Buccaneers enjoyed the energetic atmosphere of a home crowd against the Eagles, they're not exactly terrified of playing in hostile territory in the Divisional Round.

"I think road games kind of fit the mold and our identity of this team – backs against the wall in a different environment and only counting on each other," said quarterback Baker Mayfield. "I think it just fits who we are."

Indeed, the Buccaneers are only in position to take another plane flight because they turned into road warriors down the stretch. After Mayfield urged the team, then 4-7 after a 1-6 slide, to adopt a "playoff mode mentality" in Week 13 – which ended in a home win over Carolina – the Buccaneers won five of their last six regular season games. That included three critical victories away from home. First, a 29-25 comeback thriller in Atlanta kept the Falcons from taking control of the NFC South. The following weekend, the Bucs constructed perhaps their most encouraging win of the season at Lambeau Field, a 30-12 runaway against the Packers, a team that is also moving on to the Divisional Round. Finally, a hard-fought 9-0 win at Carolina in Week 18 locked up the division title.

Now the Bucs head to Ford Field, which greeted the Rams with a riotous cacophony in Detroit's 24-23 Wild Card win and are sure to be full-throated against the Buccaneers as well. Fifty-three against 65,000 suits the Buccaneers just fine.

"We've had that all year long," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "This is nothing new. Every time we go on the road, we feel like we're by ourselves and we've got nothing to prove but to ourselves. Our narrative is the one we write. We've been going by that mantra since we started the season – this is no different. Although it's a big game, the minute you stop doing the little things, you're going to make the mistakes and you're going to end up losing the ballgame."

The Buccaneers also beat the Vikings in a very noisy environment in Week One at U.S. Bank Stadium, followed by a 26-9 thrashing of the Saints in the Superdome in Week Four, and even road losses in such rocking venues as Buffalo, Indianapolis and Houston went down to the wire. Overall, the Bucs are 5-4 on the road so far this season, with a scoring differential of +19.

"Just talking to some of those Rams guys, they said it was the loudest thing they've ever heard," said Mayfield after he checked in with some of his former L.A. teammates from late last season. "We've got to be completely ready for that. It just comes down to everybody knowing exactly what our gameplan is – all the calls to and from, because there could be certain times where they can't hear certain things. They might have to plug and play some of the words. Just everybody doing the mental work to get prepped for that, but it shouldn't be a surprise for us. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

Unsurprisingly, given the Lions' superior overall record (13-5 to 10-8) and their status as the home team, the Buccaneers head to Detroit as six-point underdogs. Fortunately, Mayfield and his teammates thrive on defying expectations.

"I think our mindset as a team is an underdog mindset, so it wouldn't really matter what people are saying on the outside," he said. "It's more of just the mentality that we have and that we carry."

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