INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Quarterback Baker Mayfield came out swinging on Tampa Bay’s first series Sunday.
A right ankle injury changed everything.
After seeing the Buccaneers squander a rare chance for an opening possession touchdown, Mayfield valiantly returned. He missed only two offensive snaps before trotting back on to the field, trying to rally the Bucs from an early 14-point deficit despite looking neither as efficient nor effective following the injury.
And Mayfield already knows that might not change for at least a few more days.
“Ankle stuff’s really not fun,” he said after a 27-20 loss at Indianapolis. “Really not sure what exactly happened, I’ll have to see the film. Didn’t feel very good, but just had (trainer) Bobby (Slater) and the team tape me up again as much as they possibly could. But it will be pretty sore tomorrow.”
Mayfield was hurt when the Bucs (4-7) called a quarterback keeper on first-and-goal from the Colts 1-yard line. When players stood up, the sore Mayfield stayed down apparently unaware Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner’s knee looked as if it drove Mayfield’s leg awkwardly toward the turf.
It didn’t take long for things to go awry.
Offensive lineman Aaron Stinnie was called for a false start even before Kyle Trask officially took his first snap. When play resumed, Rachaad White was stopped for 2-yard gain and then Chris Godwin couldn’t get both feet inbounds on what would have been a TD catch.
Instead, the Bucs settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead — and that was just the start.
When Mayfield returned, he was picked off on his second throw by linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr. Indy needed four plays to convert the turnover into the first of Jonathan Taylor’s two TD runs, grabbing a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Mayfield, who completed seven of his first nine throws for 62 yards, finished the game going 20 of 30 with 199 yards, two touchdowns, the interception and he lost a fumble with 89 seconds left to seal the Colts’ victory. The ankle injury also prevented him from eluding the Colts’ constant pressure, resulting in a season-high six sacks allowed by an offensive line that had given up just 20 all season.
“We’re trying to get a win,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said after enduring his sixth loss in seven games and his fourth straight on the road. “We’re not worried about anything else. We’re trying to get a win. As crazy as it may sound, we’re one game out of first place, but the way we’re playing, it’s got to be turned around. It feels like we’re 10 games out, and we’re one game out, but we’ve got to play better.”
Mike Evans provided his typically steady hand with six catches for 70 yards and two scores as did White, who rushed 15 times for 100 yards.
The breakdowns came elsewhere.
Tampa Bay’s usually stingy run defense had allowed only four TD runs in the first 10 games, gave up three Sunday along with 155 yards on the ground and 5.7 yards per carry.
And though Mayfield fought through the pain, it was pretty clear he wasn’t 100%.
“At first, it didn’t feel very good and then it kind of eased up as the game went on, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.
The questions now are what will the two-time defending NFC South champs do and will their hurting quarterback be ready to go next weekend against Carolina?
“He finished the game,” Bowles said. “I’ll have to wait until he gets checked out and see how bad it is once he puts it up. That’s going to be the telltale sign.”