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Bucs Fight to End in Season-Ending Loss to Lions

The Buccaneers saw their 2023 season come to an end in a 31-23 Divisional Round loss in Detroit on Sunday, but not before they rallied three times behind another strong Baker Mayfield performance


The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a third straight division title and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, but their season was brought to a close on Sunday in a 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Detroit will head to San Francisco next Sunday to play San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship while the Bucs will head home and begin planning how to build on their success in 2024.

"Anything short of a Super Bowl is a disappointment," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We're trying to get to the Super Bowl, so from that standpoint it's a disappointment. I'm very proud of the guys, the way they fought all year long. Young guys stepping up, the older guys playing above anything they've been asked to do. We've got to reload and come back next year. Too many mistakes to overcome in the second half."

Baker Mayfield had another impressive postseason performance, completing 26 of 41 passes for 349 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. It was his second straight game with 300-plus yards and three touchdown passes, and he is the only quarterback in team history to do that even once in the postseason. Mayfield's two interceptions came on a tipped ball in the first quarter and on a desperation drive in the game's final two minutes. The second turnover weighed heavily on Mayfield after the game.

"It sucks," said Mayfield. "I feel like my heart just got ripped out. It's a complex game but it's also simple – it comes down to taking care of the football. Two-minute drives like that, when you know you have four downs to use…just a bad mistake by me. It sucks because I know what type of group we have here. We fought to get to this point, we fought to be in this game. We weren't supposed to be here, but we believed in each other and we fought for it. This one's going to weigh on me for a while."

Mayfield tied the game at 10-10 in the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown pass to TE Cade Otton, then again at 17-17 with a 12-yard scoring strike to RB Rachaad White. After the Lions surged for two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, Mayfield brought the Bucs back to within one score with a quick drive ending in a 16-yard touchdown pass to WR Mike Evans. In his first two postseason games as a Buccaneer, including last week's 32-9 win over Philadelphia, Mayfield has thrown for 686 yards and six touchdowns and has a passer rating of 106.3.

After unsuccessfully going for two following Evans' touchdown, the Buccaneers got one last shot when the defense forced a punt down to Tampa Bay's 10-yard line. However, linebacker Derrick Barnes made a diving interception of a pass intended for Otton at the Bucs' 28-yard line. Jared Goff kneeled three times to kill the rest of the clock.

"We felt like we were in the ballgame all the way to the end," said Bowles. "We fought, we fought back, we went down 17-10 and we came back to make it 17-17. They got two scores but we came back and scored and all we had to do was get a stop and try to win the ballgame. Obviously, they won the turnover battle and it was too much to overcome against a good football team."

The Buccaneers' offense generated 408 yards, the third-highest total in franchise postseason history. Evans hauled in eight passes for 147 yards, setting a new Buccaneers' single-season record for receiving yards in the playoffs. He now owns the top four totals on that list and has four career 100-yard playoff games. Otton hauled in five passes for 65 yards and White had 91 yards from scrimmage.

Tampa Bay's defense allowed just 210 yards through the first three quarters, after which the game was tied heading into the final period. But Goff then led consecutive touchdown drives of 75 and 89 yards to put the Lions up by what proved to be an insurmountable margin. Goff completed 30 of 43 passes for 287 yards and two touchdown, for a passer rating of 103.5. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was contained early but scored the Lions' last touchdown and finished with 77 yards on eight catches. The Bucs' defense had difficulty finding answers for star rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught nine passes for 65 yards and consistently helped Goff move the chains. Rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs had 114 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.

"Too many mistakes [by us], and they made some plays," said Bowles. "You got to give them credit. They're a good a football team, an electric crowd, [Head Coach] Dan [Campbell] did a great job, [Defensive Coordinator] Aaron [Glenn] did a great job, [Offensive Coordinator] Ben [Johnson] did a great job. Hats off to them."

David led the Bucs' defense with 13 tackles plus a sack and two tackles for loss, including a critical play on the Lions' penultimate drive that helped force a punt. Rookie DL Calijah Kancey made several big plays in the first half to help hold Detroit to 10 points, including a third-down pass deflection on the game's first drive and a third-down sack on the Lions' last possession of the half. Cornerback Jamel Dean deflected three passes before leaving in the fourth quarter with a back injury.

The game was tied at 10-10 at halftime thanks to an impressive 92-yard drive in the final 90 seconds of the half. Mayfield converted a third-down with a  14-yard scramble, then hit Evans on consecutive long plays down the right sideline for a total of 56 yards down to the Lions' two. Otton's' back-corner touchdown catch completed the third-longest postseason drive for the Bucs dating back through 2001. Tampa Bay outgained the Lions, 233 yards to 134 in the first half but didn't have a lead thanks to a couple early missed opportunities. That included two drives that ended in field goal attempts, one of which was unsuccessful. The Buccaneers also committed the only turnover of the half on a tipped-ball interception near midfield by C.J. Gardner-Johnson but did get a goal-line stop to hold the Lions to three points after a near interception by CB Jamel Dean was dropped in the end zone.

After making a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter, Chase McLaughlin clanged his 50-yard attempt off the left upright in the second period for a very rare miss. Prior to that kick, McLaughlin had made 22 field goal attempts in a row and was 33 for 35 overall. His only other two misses had been blocked kicks earlier in the season. Punter Jake Camarda had a strong game, averaging 51.8 yards per punt, including a team postseason-record 66-yarder in the first half and dropped two of his four kicks inside the 20.

The Buccaneers' division title, dominant win in the Wild Card round and repeated comebacks on Sunday capped a season that significantly defied outside expectations after the retirement of Tom Brady in the winter. The Bucs fell short of their ultimate goal but proved that they still had a very talented roster, as well as a quarterback in Mayfield who could lead the team to victory. Mayfield played the 2023 season on a one-year contract but it's safe to assume there will at least be mutual interest in extending the relationship.

"He most definitely earned it," said Bowles. "Obviously, it's too early to talk about that, and business is business, but Baker had a hell of a year. We love him, the guys love him and we'll see what the future holds.

Added Mayfield: "I love this group. I've said that all year and it's authentic. It would mean a lot to me, to bring back a lot of key pieces, to get this back together, to get into Year Two in the system. I feel like we could make huge strides. I would love that. Obviously, we'll see how it's going to play out but I can't say enough about this organization and the opportunity they gave me this year."

The Lions won the opening coin flip and decided to take the ball first. Goff was pressured into an errant throw on first down but managed to swing one to Montgomery for seven yards on second down. The drive ended quickly, however, as rookie DL Calijah Kancey batted down the next pass at the line.

After the game's first punt, Mayfield ran play-action on first down from the Bucs' 20 and looked downfield but eventually dropped it off to White over the middle for a gain of eight. White got his first handoff on the next snap and managed to break out into the open over left tackle for a gain of 16. That would be the only first down of the Bucs' opening drive, though, as blitzing safety Ifeatu Melifonwu blitzed in untouched and dropped Mayfield for a sack of eight yards. Mayfield's next pass bounced off Evans' hands and high into the air, where it was easily hauled in by Gardner-Johnson at the Detroit 47. His weaving return added 12 yards to the Bucs' 41.

Two Montgomery runs picked up nine yards, with a defensive holding call on the second one making it first down at the 27. Two plays later, Goff hit WR Jameson Williams over the middle for 12 yards and a facemask penalty took the ball down to the eight. On second-and-goal from the three, Dean got his hands on a Goff pass intended for St. Brown but couldn't hold on to a potential pick. LB K.J. Britt and OLB Yaya Diaby combined to stop Montgomery for a loss of one and the Lions settled for a 23-yard field goal by Michael Badgley.

White again found a seam on a first-down carry to dash for eight yards to open the Bucs' second drive. CB Cam Sutton broke up an on-target slant intended for Evans but Evans ran a corner route on third-and-two and Mayfield found him with a precise pass despite good coverage from Melifonwu. Mayfield then faked a handoff to White and found WR Trey Palmer wide open down the left seam for a pickup of 23 to the Lions' 26. Another DB blitz worked to perfection for the Lions as slot corner Brian Branch dashed in for a nine-yard sack. Mayfield had to scramble on second down and slid after a gain of just one. A nine-yard draw play to RB Chase Edmonds moved the Bucs closer for the field goal and McLaughlin hit from 43 yards to tie the game with four minutes left in the first quarter.

A run and a catch by Gibbs combined for nine yards to start Detroit's next drive, and Goff kept it on a sneak for a first down. Goff had a long time to throw on the next snap and eventually found St. Brown over the middle for eight, and the same connection moved the chains two plays later, putting the ball on the midfield stripe. The Lions were facing a third-and-four at the Bucs' 44 when the first quarter came to an end. On the first play of the second period, Goff just got off before being hit by blitzing S Antoine Winfield Jr. and found LaPorta over the middle for a first down at the 31. Two more completions to LaPorta accounted for 17 yards and put the ball at the 14. Dean had good coverage on an end zone shot to St. Brown for an incompletion. On third down from the nine, Goff had a lot of time to throw and got the first down and more, hitting a wide-open Reynolds in the back middle of the end zone for a 10-3 Lions lead.

Edmonds got the next set of downs in the Bucs' backfield and got five yards on a catch and a run. On offensive pass interference made it third-and-15 and a swing pass to Edmonds almost kept the drive alive. Edmonds weaved and fought through defenders but eventually came up a yard short at the Bucs punted. Jake Camarda's kick went 66 yards to the opposite end zone for a touchback.

Starting at the Lions' 20, Goff got seven yards on a scramble and four on an out to LaPorta. Two plays later, Goff got it to LaPorta once again on a crossing route for 12 yards to the Detroit 44. A deep shot to Williams was well-covered by CB Carlton Davis and Dean broke up a slant pass to the same target on second down. A third-down pass to St. Brown was on target but dropped and the Lions punted the ball back with just under seven minutes left in the half. It was fair caught at the 13.

Evans kept his heels inbounds on a sideline stop route for a gain of 23 to get the Bucs away from their end zone, but a tunnel screen to Godwin didn't work at all, making it second-and-10. Two snaps later, on third-and-seven, White took a short pass out to the right and made several defenders miss on his way to a first down at the 49. A play-action rollout pass to TE Cade Otton moved the chains again with a 14-yard gain to the Lions' 37. Mayfield was pressured and forced to throw it away on first down, followed by a five-yard Edmonds run over left end. On third-and-five, Mayfield's pass to Godwin on a slant was a bit high and the Bucs again settled for a field goal attempt and McLaughlin's kick hit the left upright and bounced back.

That made the line of scrimmage for Detroit its own 40, and Montgomery barged up the middle for four yards, bringing on the two-minute warning. St. Brown was tripped up just short of the sticks on a second-down out. Goff dropped back to throw on third down but Kancey beat his man quickly and buried the QB for a five-yard sack, leading to  punt with 1:34 left before halftime.

The kick was fair caught at the eight, but White improved the situation with an 11-yard run up the middle for a quick first down. After an incompletion, Palmer went to his knees to haul in a sideline pass for nine yards. Mayfield faked a handoff to White on third-and-one, then kept it on a designed run, getting into the open field for a gain of 14. The Bucs called a timeout with 35 seconds left in the half. Evans beat press coverage from Sutton and was wide open for a 27-yard catch-and-run, getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Mayfield then took another shot to Evans, who made a dazzling, sliding catch at the Detroit two. The Bucs used their second timeout with 17 seconds left in the half. Mayfield then threw a back-corner fade to Otton, who hauled it in to tie the game.

The Bucs got the ball to start the second half after a touchback and got moving with a 12-yard strike to Godwin on a crossing route. White got the ball on the next two plays and got five up the middle and 14 more over left end to the Detroit 44. However, a five-yard catch by Evans on second down put the Bucs into third-and-four and the Lions' pass rush got home again, this time with a nine-yard sack by DL Aidan Hutchinson. The Bucs punted and the Lions got it back at their own 15.

Goff tried to go over the top to St. Brown on first down but Davis had tight coverage and it was incomplete. He was pressured into a throwaway on second down and an apparent first-down catch by Reynolds was brought back on a chop block penalty. A strong open-field tackle by CB Christian Izien on LaPorta on third down brought on the punting unit. Jack Fox's kick rolled to a stop at the Bucs' 40.

White got a handoff right into the teeth of a run blitz and lost four yards and a hard pass over the middle to Otton was broken up by a Kerby Joseph hit. Mayfield took a shot to Evans down the sideline but it didn't connect and the Bucs had to punt again.

The Lions' next possession started at their own 36 and Goff threw to St. Brown for eight yards on a play-action rollout to the right. Two plays later on third-and-one, TE Brock Wright got wide open down the left seam for a gain of 29. Gibbs got around left end for eight and a screen to LaPorta got enough for a first down at the Bucs' 16. St. Brown took a short pass over the middle to the sideline and went out of bounds to make it first-and-goal at the five. A Gibbs run put the ball at the one but Dean broke up an end zone shot to Reynolds. The Lions brought in a jumbo package but threw out of it, with Goff's lob over the middle too tall for LaPorta. The Lions went for it on fourth-and-goal and got it on a run up the middle by Reynolds on his first carry of the game. That put Detroit back up by seven points with four minutes left in the third quarter.

After an offsides call on Detroit, the Bucs got five more on a defensive holding call on Melifonwu. Two snaps later, a play-action rollout pass to Otton got nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 48. Mayfield bounced off a would-be sacker on the next snap and escaped right long enough to find Otton again for 13 more. The next play was the third Otton target in a row and the longest of them all, as he got wide open down the right numbers for a gain of 27 to the 12. Two incompletions later, the Lions brought a big blitz up the middle and the Bucs had the perfect call for it, a little swing pass to White that got him the ball with a straight shot to the end zone. The touchdown tied the game at 17-17 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.

Gibbs started right and cut back on a first-down carry for five yards that ended the quarter. The fourth period started with a pair of big gains on passes of 12 yards to Gibbs and 18 to Reynolds. Gibbs' next carry was good for eight more to the Bucs' 31. On the next snap, Gibbs broke free and outraced the Bucs' nearest defenders to the end zone for the go-ahead score with 13 minutes left in regulation.

After a touchback, the Bucs hit a quick third-and-10 when White and Otton couldn't haul in Mayfield's first two passes. White fought to get to the sticks on a short pass to the left but came up four yards short and the Bucs had to punt. Camarda's 58-yard punt rolled to a stop at the Detroit 11.

A short pass to LaPorta got three before Dean dropped him. Dean was injured in the process of making the tackle. Montgomery caught a short pass over the middle for a first down at the 25, and Goff then located Williams on the left sideline for a gain of 24. LB Lavonte David then made two consecutive big plays, stopping Montgomery in his tracks for a gain of just one and sacking Goff for a loss of six. But Goff found St. Brown on a curl and the receiver pushed through a defender to get just enough for a first down at the Bucs' 40. Gibbs caught another pass on the next snap and got the ball down to the Bucs' 20. After getting another first down at the nine, Goff threw over the top to St. Brown for a touchdown in the left corner of the end zone.

Mayfield got a quick 11 yards on a pass to Otton but his next three dropbacks led to two incompletions and one four-yard sack. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-14 and Mayfield found Evans on the left sideline for a gain of 24. Connections of 11 yards to WR David Moore and Godwin got 28 more and made it first down at the Lions' 16. Two plays later, Evans ran a deep slant into the end zone and caught a hard pass in traffic for the touchdown. The Bucs went for two but a fade to Evans was broken up and it was 31-23 with 4:37 left to play.

The Bucs kicked away but the Lions got two immediate first downs on a 15-yard St. Brown catch and an 11-yard run by Montgomery. A sack by OLB Shaq Barrett was erased by a defensive holding call but the David stopped Montgomery for a loss of four two plays later and Goff's third-and-11 pass was incomplete. The Bucs used two timeouts on the stop but got the ball back at their own 10 with 1:59 left on the clock.

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