Baker Mayfield might have landed with the right team at the right time.
At least that’s how it looks four games into the 2018 top overall draft pick’s first season with his fourth team.
Mayfield threw three touchdown passes for Tampa Bay, Derek Carr’s surprise return from a shoulder injury did little to help New Orleans’ anemic offense, and the Buccaneers beat the Saints 26-9 on Sunday.
Mayfield is “a fighter with a ton of resilience. He’s been a great fit for us,” said receiver Chris Godwin, who caught eight passes for 114 yards, including a 42-yarder that set up Tampa Bay’s final touchdown.
“You see him making plays, scrambling, taking some big shots, popping back up — that’s infectious for the team,” Godwin said. “It makes the offensive line want to block more, makes us want to run our routes a little bit harder and give him a chance because we know he’s going to play as much as he can to give us a chance.”
Mayfield’s mobility helped him evade pass rushers and even scramble for a couple of third-down conversions. His arm, meanwhile, produced points.
Mayfield completed 25 of 32 passes for 246 yards including TDs to Cade Otten, Trey Palmer and Deven Thompkins as the Bucs (3-1) took over first place in the NFC South.
“It shows the accountability in our building and not letting the outside noise affect us,” Mayfield said. “Right now, the narrative is going to flip — and we have to keep that mindset even more so. You can’t change whether people are patting you on the back or talking trash.”
For the Saints (2-2), the optimism that accompanied their 2-0 start has been replaced by soul-searching.
“I’ve got to make sure we put a better product on the field the next time we show up,” coach Dennis Allen said. “When you get beat like that, you’ve got to look at it all. If you just said it was all in the execution then that would look like a freakin’ cop out, right? So, I think we’ve got to be better in a lot of areas.”
Starting one week after spraining his throwing shoulder at Green Bay, and after only limited work in practice the past week, Carr struggled to move New Orleans’ offense, which had accounted for just four touchdowns in the first three weeks and did not add that total in Week 4.
Carr said his shoulder was “no excuse for us playing the way that we did today.”
He finished 23 of 37 for 127 yards and the Saints could not keep up with the Bucs on a day when they were hoping for a boost from star running back Alvin Kamara’s return from a three-game suspension.
Kamara touched the ball 24 times with 11 carries and 13 receptions, but finished with just 84 yards from scrimmage.
New Orleans took a 3-0 lead on its opening drive but didn’t score for the rest of half.
Mayfield, meanwhile, passed for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter.
He bought time with his feet on third down before hitting Otten for a 4-yard score that made it 7-3.
Mayfield was intercepted just short of the goal line late in the half by Isaac Yiadom, but Saints fullback Adam Prentice fumbled the ball right back. Mayfield then hit Palmer on a fade route to make it 14-3 at halftime.
Mayfield put the game away with his 5-yard pass to diving Thompkins with 3:44 left.
Early in the third quarter, Carr had top receiver Chris Olave open deep downfield twice on one drive. Carr underthrew him the first time. On the second, safety Antoine Winfield recovered in time to catch Olave from behind and make a diving break-up in the end zone.
“There’s a couple of throws where I felt like it might have come up a little bit short, and I don’t know (if) that was relative to the shoulder,” Allen said.
Kamara helped carry the Saints inside the Tampa Bay 20 late in the third quarter — gaining 41 yards on four runs and two catches — but they settled for Grupe’s short field goal to make it 14-6.
Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans injured his hamstring in the second quarter. Bucs coach Todd Bowles said it appeared Evans “just tweaked it,” but added, “We’ll see how serious it is or isn’t once we get out of here and they run some more tests.” … S Ryan Neal left with a concussion after making a tackle on the game’s second play.
Saints: TE Juwan Johnson was active but unable to play because of an apparent pregame calf injury. … G Andrus Peat left in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion.
Buccaneers: After a bye, host Detroit on Oct. 15.
Saints: Visit New England next Sunday.