TAMPA, Fla. - Baker Mayfield is determined to make the most of an opportunity to jump-start his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft passed for 317 yards and a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 27-17 victory over the struggling Chicago Bears on Sunday.
With Mayfield playing turnover-free ball for the second straight week and Mike Evans catching six balls for 171 yards, the Bucs (2-0) handed the sputtering Bears a franchise-record 12th consecutive loss dating to last season.
"If you don’t turn it over you give yourself a chance to win," Bucs coach Todd Bowles said after Mayfield completed 26 of 34 passes and also bailed out tight end David Wells by recovering a fumble that bounced 11 yards backward to the Chicago 32.
Evans delivered his second TD catch of the season on the next play.
"He’s savvy. He has a good feel for the game and what’s around him. And the awareness he has around him helps him out a great deal," Bowles said of Mayfield, who is with his fourth team in just over two years. "He’s a very smart player."
The 28-year-old quarterback set up Rachaad White’s 1-yard TD run with a 70-yard completion to Evans in the first quarter. His 32-yard scoring pass to Evans — Tampa Bay’s all-time leading receiver — finished an 89-yard drive and put the Bucs up 20-10.
Tampa Bay’s defense did its job, too, after yielding a 75-yard TD drive on Chicago’s first possession of the game. The Buccaneers sacked Justin Fields six times and picked him off twice.
The Bears (0-2) closed to 20-17 on Chase Claypool’s 20-yard TD catch, but saw any hope for a comeback fade when Fields — throwing out of his own end zone — tossed an interception that Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett returned 4 yards for a clinching TD.
"Disappointing loss. The guys battled to the end," Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. "We had a chance."
TAMPA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 17: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears attempts a pass during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Mayfield, who spent his first four seasons with Cleveland before splitting 2022 between Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams, shrugged off a slow start to throw for 173 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover to beat Minnesota 20-17 on the road in the season opener.
The Bucs started more smoothly against the Bears, driving 77 yards in 12 plays to take an early 3-0 lead on Chase McLaughlin’s 26-yard field goal. Mayfield drove his team to another field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter for a 13-10 halftime lead.
The sixth-year pro’s transition to the Bucs has been helped by a strong complement of skill players.
In addition to Evans having a big day, Chris Godwin had five receptions for 58 yards and White finished with 73 yards rushing on 17 attempts.
"As we grow in this offense and continue to get better and better we’re going to be able to do whatever we want," Mayfield said. "We’ve got a really good skill group."
Fields completed 16 of 29 passes for 211 yards. DJ Moore, acquired in the offseason in a bid to put more playmakers around Chicago’s young quarterback, had six receptions for 104 yards, but the Bears were limited to just 67 yards rushing.
Fields, in his third season after being selected 11th overall in the 2021 draft, said the Bears "definitely have a lot to fix."
"I think in this position you can do one of two things, and that’s either lay down and just kind of throw in the towel and just say whatever. But I don’t think anybody on this team is like that," Fields said. "My job and the coach’s job is to keep everybody going, keep everybody’s morale up. It’s a long season."
Tampa Bay’s roster includes 13 rookies, six of them undrafted free agents. Safety Christian Izien had Tampa Bay’s second interception of Fields, joining Ray Isom (1987), Robert Lester (2013) and Brenard Wilson (1979) as the only undrafted players in the common-draft era to begin their career with an interception in each of their first two games.
Bears: Lost starting safeties Jaquan Brisker (illness) and Eddie Jackson (foot) on consecutive plays in the first quarter. WR Darnell Mooney (knee) departed in the third quarter.
Buccaneers: Played without two defensive starters, CB Carlton Davis III (toe) and DL Calijah Kancey (calf), who were inactive. Backup RB Chase Edmonds (knee) left in the second quarter and did not return.
Bears: Travel to Kansas City to face Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
Buccaneers: Remain home, hosting defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles next Monday night.