Baker Mayfield threw three touchdown passes and the Tampa Bay defense kept the New Orleans Saints' Derek Carr-led offense out of the end zone in a rousing 26-9 road win in the Superdome that gave the Buccaneers sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Mayfield connected on scoring passes of four yards to TE Cade Otton and one yard to rookie WR Trey Palmer in the second quarter, the latter after S Antoine Winfield Jr. forced and recovered a fumble by Saints FB Adam Prentice at the New Orleans six.
"I thought it was a complementary football game against a really tough team," said Mayfield. "Good matchup for us – we were physical, we made plays on offense and the defense shut them down. I think it was the most complementary football game we've had to date. That was a good team win."
After the Saints pulled within a score on Blake Grupe's third field goal in the fourth quarter, Mayfield engineered a game-clinching 75-yard touchdown drive ending in a five-yard scrambling pass to WR Deven Thompkins with five minutes left in regulation. The Bucs' defense finished it off with a pair of takeaways on the Saints' final two possessions.
"He's tough, he made some throws," said Head Coach Todd Bowles of Mayfield. "Long ones and short ones. He made some throws, he stayed away from sacks for the most part. He played a heck of ballgame. Bake's tough. He fits in here. He has the offense running well, the guys love to play for him and he works for us."
The Buccaneers improved to 3-1 with the victory, while the Saints fell to 2-2. With Atlanta also losing to Jacksonville in London on Sunday morning, the Bucs opened up a one-game lead in the division heading into their bye week. Tampa Bay's first-quarter record may come as a surprise to analysts outside of team headquarter, but not to Mayfield and those in the building.
"They're not in the locker room with us," said Mayfield. "We know what our expectations are. We believe in each other and that's what matters."
Two of Mayfield's' three touchdown passes came on third down, as the Bucs converted eight of 13 third down attempts overall on the way to 353 net yards of offense. Mayfield was sharp throughout the afternoon, completing 25 of 32 passes for 246 yards, one interception and those three touchdowns for a passer rating of 116.9. He also scrambled for 31 important yards on the ground. The Buccaneers snapped a notable Saints streak of holding 11 straight opponents to 20 points or fewer.
"I didn't even know that, to be honest," said WR Chris Godwin. "I guess it's a cool thing, but more importantly we got the win. It's a big divisional game, especially coming in here into a hostile environment.
Tampa Bay's defense held the Saints' offense to just 197 yards of offense and 3.2 yards per play. Carr was a question mark to play after suffering a right shoulder injury last weekend in Green Bay, but he got the start and was held to just 127 passing yards on 23 completions in 37 attempts. The Saints' offense also got star RB Alvin Kamara back from a suspension, and while Kamara caught 13 passes he was held to 84 yards from scrimmage. Ascending second-year receiver Chris Olave caught just one pass for four yards.
Winfield led that defensive charge. In addition to his key takeaway before halftime, which came one play after Mayfield was intercepted near the Saints' goal line by CB Isaac Yiadom, he racked up a team-high nine tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a pass defensed in the end zone on a deep pass attempt to Olave in the third quarter. DL Vita Vea added two sacks and a forced fumble that ended the Saints' penultimate drive.
The Buccaneers' offense lost top receiver Mike Evans to a hamstring injury in the second quarter but Mayfield kept the offense moving by completing passes to eight different players. Godwin led the way with eight catches for 114 yards, including a 42-yard catch-and-run down to the Saints' five to set up Thompkins' touchdown. Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales kept the Saints guessing with a wide variety of plays, including a Mayfield shovel pass near the goal line and even a pass by Godwin, which fell incomplete. The run game helped out with 114 yards on 33 carries, including 56 by RB Rachaad White on 15 totes.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 4 matchup vs. the New Orleans Saints.
Godwin said that Evans's departure from the game didn't change his role but did require some other players to step up. Thompkins caught four passes and contributed 61 yards from scrimmage.
"I think more than anything else it provides opportunities for the younger guys," he noted. "They did a phenomenal job of stepping up and making the plays that came their way. DT is probably one of the more explosive guys I've ever been around."
After using the bye week to get some injured players closer to returning to action, the Bucs will next play against the 3-1 Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium in Week Six. Bowles is pleased that his team will take some momentum into the break.
"It's great to come back with a win but it's only the fourth quarter of the season," said Bowles. "Three-and-one is good; it's better than 1-3. We've got get some guys nursed up, we've got to scheme some things up here and iron some things out there, but we're kind of morphing into a physical, tough that's hard to beat."
The Saints got the ball first to start the game, opening at their own 25. Kamara, seeing his first action of the season, was targeted on a swing pass on first down but was stopped for no gain by LB Lavonte David. A similar play to the opposite side to Shaheed worked a lot better, as he followed two strong blocks for 12 yards. Hill came in for the next snap and hit Thomas on an out to the right for 13 more yards. Two Kamara runs led toa third-and-one at the Bucs' 41, and Carr's next pass was incomplete. The Saints went for it on fourth down and Hill pounded up the middle to get to the 39. A roughing-the-passer call on DL Mike Greene took the ball down to the 24, but two plays later rookie OLB Yaya Diaby dropped Kamara for a loss of seven to make it third-and-12. Carr completed a short pass to Hill but OLB Shaq Barrett got him down five yards short of the sticks and the Saints settled for Blake Grupe's 37-yard field goal.
Mayfield targeted Evans on the Bucs' first offensive play, and the veteran receiver got 18 yards on a nifty in-and-out route. Two plays later, Mayfield faked a handoff and rolled out to his right before hitting Godwin on the sideline to make it third-and-nine at the Saints' 48. After a New Orleans timeout, the Bucs committed a false start and needed a gritty scramble up the middle by Mayfield for six yards to keep the drive alive. Mayfield then got called for intentional grounding, creating a second-and-22 that the offense wasn't able to overcome. Jake Camarda punted away from the Saints' 43, with the ball going out of bounds at the 19.
Winfield stopped Hill for a gain of just one on a second-down keeper, and Prentice was unable to hold onto a third-down pass after Carr was flushed from the pocket. The ensuing punt was short but a holding call on the Bucs pushed the ball back to their own 37. The Bucs' second drive went nowhere, as Mayfield was nearly intercepted on third down. Camarda's punt was fair caught at the 19.
The Saints faced a third-and-seven after two plays on the next drive but Kamara was able to get around several defenders on a swing pass to the left sideline to get out to the 32 for a first down. After a holding call on the Saints, the Bucs gave five yards back on an offsides flag and Carr found WR Rashid Shaheed on the sideline right over a blitz, hitting him for a first down at the New Orleans 46. A run for no yards by Kamara brought the first quarter to an end. After the teams switched sides, the Bucs killed the drive two plays later and WR Deven Thompkins fair caught the Saints' punt at the Bucs' 14.
Mayfield zipped a pass in to Godwin up the left numbers for a first down at the 25 and an end-around on the next snap by Thompkins added 11 more yards. A five-yard run up the gut by RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn and a rollout strike to Godwin made it first-and-10 at the Bucs' 46, and a play-action shot down the left sideline to Evans picked up 18 more into Saints territory. Three plays later, on third-and-seven, Mayfield scrambled to the left and used a block by White to get past the first-down marker. The Bucs faced another third down at the 23 and Evans drew a pass-interference flag on Marshon Lattimore on a double-move to make it first down at the 15. Facing third down yet again at the 13, the Bucs once again moved the chains when White caught a flare pass short of the line to gain but made two defenders miss to get down to the two. Mayfield had to throw the ball away on first and goal and Vaughn lost two yards on a second-down run. On third-and-goal from the four, Mayfield stepped up to escape pressure and got off a lob over the middle to Otton for the touchdown. Mayfield was hit late on the play, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty that allowed the Bucs to kick off from the midfield stripe.
Jake Camarda tried a short pooch kick from the 50 but Shaheed wisely called a fair catch, leading to a touchback that put the ball on the 25. CB Zyon McCollum sniffed out a tunnel screen to Olave on second down to make it third-and-eight, but Carr found Shaheed on a 10-yard out to extend the possession as the clocked ticked down below five minutes in the half. On the next third down, the Bucs brought a big blitz and great coverage downfield gave Winfield time to get to Carr for a four-yard sack.
After the punts, the Bucs had a little over two minutes to work with, starting from their 20, and an 11-yard run by White brought on the two-minute warning. Shortly after the break, White took a run up the middle to convert a third-and-one and Mayfield hurried the offense up to the line before finding a wide-open Thompkins out to the left. Thompkins sliced by one defender and was able to get down to the Saints' 29 on a 26-yard gain. The Saints then used a timeout with 59 seconds left in the half. A holding call on Palmer erased most of an 18-yard run by White and the drive came up empty when CB Isaac Yiadom intercepted a pass near the goal line intended for Godwin.
The Saints had 41 seconds to work with but had to start at their own one-yard line. They brought in Prentice to try to bull it out from the goal line but it backfired when Winfield stripped the ball out and then fell on it at the six. White bashed up the middle for five yards on the next snap and the Bucs' used their second timeout with 22 seconds left. On second down, Mayfield threw a fade to Palmer on the right sideline and he leaped over the defender make the one-yard touchdown catch.
The Bucs got the ball first in the second half after a touchback but didn't capitalize on the opportunity. A run and a catch by White only added up to two yards and Mayfield was sacked by rookie DT Bryan Bresee for a loss of seven on third down. Camarda's initial punt was a low 50-yarder but there were offsetting penalties that led to a replay of the down. Camarda hit his next punt 63 yards but Shaheed got the ball back to the Saints' 46 on his return.
The Saints cost themselves four yards with a false start before first down but Barrett was then flagged for a facemask personal foul, which took the ball down to the Bucs' 44. Barrett then blew up a shovel pass to Kamara which allowed Winfield to drop him at the midfield stripe. Two plays later, Winfield was all the way down at the other end of the field, breaking up a pass to Olave in the end zone to force a punt.
After Thompkins fair caught the all at his own 12, Mayfield scrambled for four yards on a play-action rollout and White gashed up the middle for seven more and a first down. Vaughn got the next two carries and moved the ball within inches of a first down. Unfortunately, Vaughn couldn't get those inches on third down and the Bucs punted the ball away after a delay-of-game penalty drawn while trying to draw an offsides call.
The Saints' next drive started at their own 29 and Kamara ran right up the middle for nine yards on first down. After another Kamara run moved the chains, the Saints got the ball into Bucs territory on an eight-yard catch by Thomas. Kamara got another handoff and made several sharp cuts to break free for 13 more. Hill came in to take the snap two plays later and had to scramble after dropping back to pass, but he got enough to make it third-and-four at the Bucs' 26. Kamara caught a flare pass short of the line to gain but was able to shake a Winfield tackle and get down to the 19. Vea sacked Hill on the next play and a tunnel screen to Olave got it back to the 18 to make it third-and-nine. Lavonte David and Christian Izien reacted quickly to a short pass to Kamara in the left flat and brought him down well short of the sticks. Blake Grupe came out to hit a 32-yard field goal that reduced the Bucs' lead to eight points with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bucs next drive brought the third quarter to an end on Mayfield's 32-yard crossing route to Godwin, which took the ball down to the Saints' 40. After switching sides, the Bucs fell into a second-and-15 after a throwaway and an ineligible man downfield penalty. Mayfield took off up the middle and dived forward to complete a 10-yard run. A false start made it third-and-10 and Mayfield scrambled again, this time around right end. He didn't make it to the first-down marker but picked up seven yards and put McLaughlin in position to hit a 51-yard field goal. That restored Tampa Bay's 11-point lead with 13:31 left in regulation.
The Saints started fresh at their 25 and appeared to convert a third-and-two on a Kamara run but a holding call made it third-and-long. Carr escaped a collapsing pocket and got off a throw to Thomas on the run for a gain of 20. Another Thomas catch took the drive into the Bucs' half of the field, and an outlet pass to Kamara two snaps later made it third-and-one at the Bucs' 30. Carr's sneak moved the chains and a defensive holding call on Izien created a new first down at the 26. However, the Bucs' defense stood there, with DL Greg Gaines breaking up a third-down pass. The Saints sent Grupe out to hit a 44-yard field goal and cut the Bucs' lead back to eight points.
Tampa Bay's offense answered right back with a 75-yard touchdown drive, kept alive early by Mayfield's eight-yard strike to Thompkins on third-and-five. After a 12-yard catch by Godwin got the ball to midfield, the Bucs faced another third down at the 47. This time Godwin ran a pivot route that got him wide open across the middle of the field. Mayfield threw under pressure and got it to his receiver, who sprinted all the way down to the Saints' five. On third-and-goal, Mayfield danced around in the pocket for a long time, then broke to his right and threw a touchdown pass to a diving Thompkins. Thompkins came down right on the goal line for his first career touchdown.
The Saints got one more shot but Carr threw three incompletions and then was sacked by Vea on force down. That jarred the ball loose and Logan Hall fell on it at the Saints' 19. The Bucs didn't gain a first down from there but still capitalized with McLaughlin's 28-yard field goal.
Jameis Winston relieved Carr on the next drive but was intercepted on his first throw, a deep shot to Olave that Dee Delaney hauled in near midfield.