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QB Baker Mayfield has been 'outstanding' with Buccaneers 'clawing' toward playoffs 

Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers are on a hot one.

Hosting the Jaguars on Sunday with a chance to set up a win-and-in scenario over each of its final two games, Tampa Bay went on attack mode in all phases.

Mayfield led the way, orchestrating scores on every drive through three quarters aside from a one-snap possession before halftime, and the defense followed suit by thwarting Jacksonville at every turn in a 30-12 blowout where the margin seemed wider still.

"He's been outstanding," head coach Todd Bowles said on Sunday of Mayfield, via ESPN. "He's been outstanding in December. That's what you want from your quarterback in December. Everybody knows each other's plays right about now. But when you're trying to make a push and your quarterback is playing great, it gives you a chance."

Outstanding might even seem somewhat of a downgrade for Mayfield after he was perfect with a 158.3 passer rating in last week's win over the Packers, but it still fits the bill for what the former No. 1 overall pick did as an encore.

Mayfield stood tall under pressure, escaping the inescapable in several situations, and he was consistently on target while going 26 of 35 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and a 116.7 passer rating.

He and the Tampa offense put together consecutive first-half drives of 69 yards, 56, 45 and 65, alternating between field goals and touchdowns.

The last of those scores was a candidate for play of the game -- a 22-yard TD pass placed above two defenders where only Mike Evans could go and get it.

The catch was Evans' second score of the game. It marked his third time in four years reaching 13 receiving TDs. And for those who ever harbored doubts that Mayfield could come in and continue to feed the four-time Pro Bowler, Evans's 1,163 receiving yards on the year is already his highest mark since 2018.

After the Bucs hit the Jags with another touchdown-field goal combo in the third quarter, it was all but over, thanks in part to Tampa Bay's stars on the other side of the ball being equally discourteous to Jacksonville's best-laid plans.

Bowles' swarming D held Travis Etienne to just 12 yards rushing. The unit forced a season-high four turnovers, topping a mark of two takeaways apiece in four other games.

Antoine Winfield Jr., who had popped up on the injury report Friday as questionable with a calf issue, showed no ill signs while intercepting Trevor Lawrence once and also falling on a fumble. Devin White collected a pick, as well, his second of the year, and third-round rookie YaYa Diaby delivered his first-career strip sack.

The discombobulated Jaguars managed no points until the third quarter, a drive that proved to be Lawrence's last due to a right shoulder injury -- his latest in a growing list of ailments in the latter part of the season.

It was perfect complementary football for the Bucs, who have now won four straight after entering December dead in the water at 4-7.

They currently hold the NFC South lead and can clinch it for a third consecutive year with a win either versus the Saints in Week 17 or against the Panthers to close out the season.

"We're piecing it together, everybody's playing for each other, everybody's locked in, and we're trying to get in," Bowles said about the team's performance. "We're clawing, we're scrapping, we're doing everything we can, those guys have great attitudes, the leaders have been great for us getting us through tough times [and] coming out the other side and we know it's not over."

An offseason that began with Tom Brady's retirement, a stripping down of a roster with little cap space and the budget signing of Mayfield has -- against all odds -- also delivered Tampa Bay a perfect complement under center.

Mayfield is having far and away his best year as a pro. He's thrown for 3,598 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has the trust of his playmakers and sustains drives long enough for his defense to routinely rest up, benefit from points or both.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning that the Buccaneers and Mayfield have mutual interest in his return in 2024, and the QB reiterated that following the team's latest win.

"I would love to be here," he said. "It's a great city, great group of guys, great organization, but winning ball games takes care of that, so we'll have that discussion after the year."

With the way things are going, the journeyman Mayfield appears to have found himself a home, while the Buccaneers could likely find themselves playing there to start the playoffs.

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