Sat. Jun 15th, 2024
Tampa Bay Bucs v Green Bay Packers
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Chef Mayfield and his Tampa Bay Bucs stand alone, atop the NFC South.

Don’t look now but the team from Central Florida is back in first place and they occupy the spot all by their lonesome. Following a Tampa Bay victory last week against the Green Bay Packers and a New Orleans Saints loss on Thursday Night Football, the Bucs have complete control over their destiny. The team sits pretty with the only non-losing record in the division.

To their credit, the Tampa Bay Bucs of 2023 are battle-tested. They may not be the favorites, or anyone’s pick to manifest a deep playoff run, but the team has survived adversity this year. Todd Bowles’ bunch has had many opportunities to pack it in and call it quits, but they’ve stood by their coach— staying the course.

The Bucs are 7-7 not the most impressive record in the league, but in the context of how Tampa has arrived at that mark the story has an optimistic arc. The Bucs have battled back from 4-7, where they sat after losing to the Indianapolis Colts on November 26th.

So… What’s changed?

Tennessee Titans v Tampa Bay Bucs
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Throughout the Tampa Bay Bucs’ three-game winning streak, two players have really found their stride—

The Bucs have gotten major contributions from Baker Mayfield and Rachaad White.

The Chef has been in quite a rhythm the last several weeks, including a fantastic, narrative-altering performance at Lambeau Field.

Baker Mayfield’s last three games (all wins for the Bucs) have added seven touchdowns and just one interception to his statsheet. The numbers are certainly inflated by the quarterback’s play last week (A perfect rating and four touchdown throws) still, the week prior, Baker Mayfield gave Tampa two touchdown passes and added a rushing touchdown in a pivotal divisional road victory. Mayfield even saved his best for last two weeks ago against the Falcons, tossing a game-winning touchdown to give the Bucs a walk-off finish.

Mayfield has been far from perfect this season (minus last week), but he has landed on a hot streak at the exact right time for his team. Tampa’s potential future franchise quarterback has found a way to ease off the turnovers, while still producing touchdowns.

Tennessee Titans v Tampa Bay Bucs
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Coming into 2023, Rachaad White was the Bucs’ shiny new toy. Some of what the young back was capable of had been put on display last season, in a rotational role with Leonard Fournette. 2023 was set to be White’s time. The second-year runner would be given full reign and the responsibilities of being a number one back. During the first few months of the season, fans could see glimpses of the talent that was beneath the surface. The on-the-surface-reality was not nearly as glamorous. White only had two games where he rushed for more than four yards per carry prior to Thanksgiving— Not ideal.

Many times it can be easy to forget the run game is not as simple as give a good back the football and watch him run. It’s often forgotten how critical offensive line play is and that the chemistry between a running back and his line only grows as a season progresses. Coming down the stretch, Rachaad White has yet to average under four yards per carry. White has had two 100-yard rushing games since Thanksgiving and the Bucs may have found themselves a new centerpiece in the backfield.

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By admin