Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs take playoff mindset north for South showdown with Falcons

Atlanta finds itself in the driver’s seat in the division and the Falcons get the chance to distance themselves from the pack on Sunday.

With a slim lead over the Buccaneers (5-7) and New Orleans Saints (5-7), Atlanta (6-6) can accelerate its march toward its first playoff game since 2017 by sweeping Tampa Bay.

The Falcons already own a win over the Bucs — 16-13 on Oct. 22 — who understand the gravity of this NFC South game and the stakes the rest of the season. If Tampa Bay wins at Atlanta, the Buccaneers are 6-7 and even in the standings with the Falcons.

“We viewed (last week) as a playoff game,” Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said. “From here on out, every game we play is a playoff game, and most of them are division games that we play, so it’s really important for us to win those division games.”

The Falcons are 3-0 in division games but last won the NFC South in their Super Bowl runner-up season (2016). Quarterback Desmond Ridder is 2-0 against Tampa, beating them in the regular-season finale as a rookie and on Younghoe Koo’s 51-yard field goal earlier this season.

Ridder has just eight TD passes this season and the Falcons are 24th in points per game (18.8) and 22nd in passing (193.4 yards per game), portending a close game behind an offense that relies on runners to move the chains. Atlanta is sixth in the NFL in rushing with 135.2 yards per game and racked up 156 rushing yards in the Week 7 meeting. That was largely without rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who played a bit part due to illness.

Ridder said the Falcons left some “meat on the bone” with failed drives and stalled possessions in the red zone at Tampa Bay.

That’s a sentiment Baker Mayfield shared after re-watching the game.

“The first game was a little hard to watch, film-wise,” Mayfield said. “Their front and linebackers make it extremely hard to run the ball, just all over the field, especially down there. For us, it’s a good challenge. And it’s something we need to take the next step on.”

Running the ball is what the Falcons do best. No outside receiver has more than two touchdowns. Robinson leads the team with three TD catches.

“We know what the deal is. It’s going to be a battle,” Buccaneers safety Ryan Neal said. “They have a lot of athletes. They found a system they got going, a rhythm. We know what time it is. We got to come out and hit them in the mouth. It’s going to be that kind of game. Everybody knows it. The whole conference knows what time it is.”

Among the differences since the teams last met is the emergence of Buccaneers rookie pass rusher Yaya Diaby. He has 5.0 sacks in the past six games and moves from left to right to find the favorable matchups.

Ridder is agile and a threat to run. He also has six fumbles and eight interceptions and has been sacked 28 times this season.

Diaby will be joined in the front seven by linebacker Lavonte David (groin) and rookie SirVocea Dennis (illness), who were cleared to play. Linebacker Devin White (foot) and cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle/foot) were ruled out on Friday.

Run-defense anchor and nose tackle Vita Vea (foot) did not practice this week and is a game-time decision.

Atlanta’s defense is helping drive the playoff push, allowing 20 points per game, but the Falcons are filling spots due to injuries, too. Linebacker Nate Landman (knee) and defensive tackle David Onyemata (ankle) are out.

“This is the NFL, people are going to make plays but don’t give up (and) turn those into disasters and let them get momentum,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “That’s a credit to mindset.”

Mayfield’s radar will need to lock onto Falcons safety Jessie Bates, who has five of the Falcons’ seven interceptions this season. But Atlanta’s starting cornerbacks, Jeff Okudah (ankle) and A.J. Terrell (concussion), are questionable for the high-stakes rematch.

“We win, we keep going. We lose, it’s over,” Neal said.

–Field Level Media

Dec 3, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws the ball against the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield beats former team as Bucs top lowly Panthers

Mike Evans racked up 162 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches to help Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield earn a victory against one of his former teams as the Buccaneers beat the visiting Carolina Panthers 21-18 on Sunday.

The Panthers, playing their first game under interim coach Chris Tabor after the firing of Frank Reich, held the lead for all of 10 seconds in the third quarter.

That’s when Evans struck for a long touchdown play and the Buccaneers (5-7) led the rest of the way.

Mayfield was 14-for-29 for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Running back Rachaad White gained 84 rushing yards on 20 carries for Tampa Bay.

Panthers quarterback Bryce Young was 15-for-31 for 178 yards and an interception. Chuba Hubbard rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts.

Parts of the game were played amid downpours, leading to stretches without much offense.

Carolina (1-11) threatened by scoring on Hubbard’s 1-yard run followed by Young’s two-point conversion run to pull within 21-18 with 5:02 to play. The score came at the end of an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

After forcing a punt, the Panthers regained possession, but Young’s fourth-and-1 pass was intercepted by Antoine Winfield Jr.

Evans made a 75-yard touchdown reception off a slant pattern on the first snap after Carolina went ahead in the third quarter. He initially was ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line, but that was overruled upon review.

Two possessions later, the Buccaneers were in the end zone again when receiver Chris Godwin took a handoff and went on a 19-yard scoring run.

Tampa Bay led 7-3 at halftime.

The Buccaneers scored first on White’s 1-yard run in the first quarter. That was set up by Mayfield’s 40-yard pass play to Evans.

Eddy Pineiro’s 23-yard field goal for Carolina made it 7-3 early in the second quarter to conclude a 14-play, 70-yard drive.

The Panthers notched their first takeaway in four games on Xavier Woods’ second-quarter interception, but they didn’t convert for any points from it.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) is sacked and fumbles the ball toward the end of the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield sore, but no major injury

Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield reported to work on Monday with soreness in his right ankle, but testing showed no major injury.

Mayfield plans to be available this week as Tampa Bay (4-7) prepares for the Carolina Panthers (1-10). He had X-rays at Indianapolis on Sunday and an MRI exam on Monday.

“He has a sore ankle. We’ll see how he’s feeling during the week, but it came out negative so that’s a good thing,” head coach Todd Bowles said Monday.

Just one game behind the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, both 5-6, the Buccaneers are in the thick of the NFC South race despite Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Colts.

Mayfield, 28, was injured on the opening drive but remained in the game. He got hurt on a designed quarterback sneak.

The Colts sealed the game by forcing a Mayfield fumble in the fourth quarter. He also threw an interception and was sacked six times.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Isaiah Winstead (2) holds onto the ankle of Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (1) during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs add RB Rachaad White (knee) to injury report

Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting running back Rachaad White was added to the team’s injury report on Saturday due to a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday’s game at the Indianapolis Colts.

White was not listed on the injury reports Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

The team also ruled out rookie defensive lineman Mike Greene (calf) on Saturday after he was listed as questionable. Greene, 24, did not practice all week. He has six tackles in 10 games (two starts).

White, 24, has started all 10 games this season and rushed 141 times for 459 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 354 yards and one score.

Tampa Bay selected White in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He started eight of 17 games last season, totaling 129 carries for 481 yards and one TD, and 50 receptions for 290 yards and two scores.

On Friday, the Bucs (4-6) ruled out linebacker Lavonte David (groin) and cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle/foot) for Sunday’s game.

The Colts (5-5) ruled out cornerback JuJu Brents (quadriceps), center Ryan Kelly (concussion) and tight end Drew Ogletree (foot) on Friday.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean (35) after a play against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Bucs CB Jamel Dean (ankle) avoids major injury

Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean’s ankle injury is not as serious as initially feared, NFL Network reported.

The 27-year-old veteran is considered week-to-week, according to Wednesday’s report.

Dean was injured during the third quarter of Sunday’s 27-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He landed awkwardly after attempting to deflect a pass that wound up as a 76-yard touchdown for Brandon Aiyuk.

Dean was assisted off the field and carted to the locker room before being ruled out for the rest of the game.

Zyon McCollum, a fifth-round pick in 2022, is listed behind Dean on the depth chart heading into Sunday’s game between the visiting Bucs (4-6) and the Indianapolis Colts (5-5).

Dean has 48 tackles and three passes defensed in nine starts this season. Tampa Bay’s 2019 third-round pick has recorded seven interceptions, 44 passes defensed and 241 tackles in 66 career games (47 starts).

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

NFL moves up start time for Broncos-Texans game in Week 13

The NFL shuffled the start times of two games during its schedule for Week 13, the league announced Tuesday.

The Denver Broncos’ road game against rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans has been moved up approximately three hours to 1 p.m. ET. The Carolina Panthers’ road contest versus the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in turn, has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. ET.

The game pitting the Broncos (5-5) and Texans (6-4), two upstart teams with playoff aspirations, will be aired on CBS.

The San Francisco 49ers’ clash against the Philadelphia Eagles will start at 4:25 p.m. on FOX in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) leans into the play against Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Dee Delaney (30) during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Three TDs from Brock Purdy fuel 49ers past Bucs

Brock Purdy threw for three touchdowns and Brandon Aiyuk had a career-high 156 yards receiving and a score to fuel the host San Francisco 49ers to a 27-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

Purdy completed 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards and Christian McCaffrey found the end zone again after seeing his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown come to an end at 17 games (including playoffs) last week. Tight end George Kittle had eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown for the 49ers (7-3), who have won two straight following a three-game skid.

Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield completed 29 of 45 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Mike Evans had a 1-yard touchdown reception and Rachaad White added a 1-yard rushing TD for the Buccaneers (4-6), who have lost five of their last six games.

McCaffrey gained position on Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White as he bolted through the line and snared a 4-yard touchdown reception to open the scoring at 3:55 of the first quarter.

San Francisco rookie Jake Moody sandwiched 37- and 28-yard field goals in the second quarter around Evans’ 1-yard touchdown reception over the middle. Evans’ TD catch was his team-leading seventh of the season and fourth in his last five games.

Aiyuk, who had a 37-yard reception to set up Moody’s second field goal, started the third quarter with a bang. He beat Tampa Bay cornerback Jamel Dean off the line and reeled in a soft pass from Purdy before racing down the left sideline for a career-long 76-yard touchdown.

Kittle added his fifth touchdown reception of the season and second in as many weeks with 1:42 left in the third. He snared a 3-yard scoring strike in the back of the end zone to push the 49ers’ lead to 27-7.

White found the end zone early in the fourth quarter for the fourth time (three rushing, one receiving) in three weeks.

Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs at the San Francisco 12-yard line on its next drive. Ji’Ayir Brown intercepted Mayfield in the end zone on the Buccaneers’ following drive.

–Field Level Media

49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) scored three times in San Francisco's 35-7 win over the Buccaneers last December. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

49ers, Bucs shift course, still digging for goals

Division title goals and beyond remain attainable after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers snapped pronounced losing streaks with decisive victories last week.

The Buccaneers (4-5) and host 49ers (6-3) look to build on that momentum at the other’s expense on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., a rematch of the 49ers’ 35-7 win in the same stadium last December.

The Bucs halted a four-game losing skid with a 20-6 triumph over the visiting Tennessee Titans last Sunday. The Buccaneers now find themselves a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints for first place in the mediocre-at-best NFC South.

“Everybody’s got a lot of pride. You don’t want to have a bad game and not come back from it. You’re not gonna go in the tank,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. “… Everybody got down, put their nose down to the grindstone and got back to work as a group.”

San Francisco, which also played last week’s game in the state of Florida, ended a three-game slide with a 34-3 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 49ers remain tied with the Seattle Seahawks atop the NFC West.

The Buccaneers have a tall order ahead in San Francisco, which ranks tied for third in the NFL in points scored per game (28.0) and tied for second in points allowed (15.9).

Brock Purdy threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns and versatile Deebo Samuel returned from a three-game absence to rush for a score versus the Jaguars. Christian McCaffrey, who has made himself at home in the end zone of late, saw his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown come to an end at 17 games (including playoffs).

McCaffrey hardly had what is considered an off day with 142 yards, including 95 on the ground to boost his NFL-leading total to 747 rushing yards on the season.

McCaffrey left his stamp on the Buccaneers last season, rushing for 119 yards and a touchdown and adding two catches for 34 yards and a score in the 28-point win.

On the other side of the ball is Nick Bosa, who benefited from being reunited with his Ohio State teammate Chase Young en route to earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Bosa registered 1.5 sacks to go along with three tackles and a forced fumble against Jacksonville.

Bosa, Young and others will look to make life difficult for Baker Mayfield, who threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans. Mike Evans accounted for one of those scores after bulldozing his way into the end zone.

Evans reeled in six passes for 143 yards to continue his pace to reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the 10th consecutive season to start his NFL career.

“You can never fall asleep on Mike Evans. He is as scary as he was 10 years ago,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Baker on how he plays the position.”

Speaking of Evans, he was limited in Wednesday’s practice due to a quadriceps injury. Defensive back Josh Hayes (concussion) also was limited. Safety Ryan Neal (thumb) and linebacker Devin White (foot) did not participate in the session.

Right tackle Luke Goedeke practiced Thursday after being idle with a foot injury on Wednesday, and cornerback Carlton Davis III (toe) was a full participant after missing last week’s game.

San Francisco offensive lineman Nick Zakelj was placed on injured reserve with a torn biceps on Wednesday. Shanahan said the club will elevate an offensive lineman from the practice squad after placing a failed waiver claim on Calvin Throckmorton, who went to the Titans because of the worst-record priority. Throckmorton started seven games for the Carolina Panthers this season.

Left tackle Trent Williams (rest), left guard Aaron Banks (toe) and Zakelj did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (1) runs the ball in the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers defeat Titans to end four-game slide

Baker Mayfield threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 20-6 win over the Tennessee Titans in Tampa, Fla.

Mayfield completed 18 of 29 passes with an interception as the Buccaneers improved to 4-5 and moved within a half-game of first-place New Orleans in the NFC South after the Saints lost at Minnesota.

Tennessee quarterback Will Levis connected on 19 of 39 passes for 199 yards with an interception in his third NFL start. Levis was sacked four times and hurried on other throws as the Titans’ makeshift offensive line experienced issues protecting him.

Those issues cropped up on the game’s first drive when Tennessee (3-6) reached the Tampa Bay 9-yard line before Levis was nailed for a 9-yard loss by Vita Vea on third-and-goal. Nick Folk got three points out of the march with a 38-yard field goal at the 8:34 mark.

Mayfield gave the Buccaneers the lead for good with 5:39 left in the first half by connecting with Rachaad White on a 43-yard touchdown pass that polished off an 85-yard drive.

Tampa Bay added to its lead in the third quarter. Chase McLaughlin connected on a 25-yard field goal with 10:42 on the clock, finishing a 68-yard drive. On its next possession, Mayfield found Mike Evans for a 22-yard scoring strike that capped an 80-yard march, putting the Buccaneers ahead 17-3. Evans caught six passes for 143 yards.

The Titans mounted a promising drive late in the third quarter and early in the fourth period that got to the 9 before stalling. They elected to kick a field goal and Folk delivered from 27 yards out with 12:54 left. However, Tampa Bay melted nearly six minutes of clock before McLaughlin hit from 35 yards out with 7:01 left for the game’s final points.

The Buccaneers limited Tennessee to 209 total yards. Titans running back Derrick Henry managed only 24 yards on 11 rushes.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) scrambles with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (45) applies defensive pressure during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Stroud sets rookie record in Texans’ wild win over Bucs

C.J. Stroud threw for a rookie-record 470 yards Sunday, capping it with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tank Dell with six seconds left to give the Houston Texans a wild 39-37 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stroud led a 75-yard drive in 40 seconds after Baker Mayfield put Tampa Bay (3-5) ahead with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cade Otton, the duo’s second scoring hookup of the day. Stroud found Dell for a 26-yard completion prior to his fifth touchdown pass of the day.

Marc Bulger held the previous rookie record for passing yards in a game with 453 for the St. Louis Rams in November 2002.

Stroud completed 30 of 42 passes, connecting with Noah Brown six times for 157 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Dalton Schultz added 10 catches for 130 yards and Dell finished with six grabs for 114 yards, along with two scores.

The Texans (4-4) grabbed a 33-30 edge when backup running back Dare Ogunbowale kicked a tiebreaking 29-yard field goal with 8:45 remaining. Ogunbowale replaced Ka’imi Fairbairn, who was ruled out at halftime after suffering a quad injury.

Mayfield connected on 21 of 30 passes for 265 yards for the Buccaneers, who lost their fourth straight game. Rachaad White rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Mike Evans contributed 87 yards on four receptions before leaving late in the game with an injury.

Tampa Bay controlled most of the first half, scoring the first three times it had the ball to build a 10-point lead. Chase McLaughlin hit a 35-yard field goal just over two minutes in, five plays after Schultz fumbled at the Houston 42.

After Stroud hit Nico Collins for a 14-yard touchdown on the Texans’ next possession, the Bucs marched 75 yards over nearly seven minutes. Mayfield capped it with a 3-yard scoring strike to Otton for a 10-7 edge at the 2:13 mark.

White’s 1-yard touchdown run with 9:05 left in the half made it 17-7 but Houston got a 50-yard field goal from Fairbairn with 5:17 remaining, making it 17-10 Bucs at halftime.

–Field Level Media