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QB Mayfield hurts ribs as Bucs lose 23-13 to the Saints and waste chance to clinch title at home

A football player wearing a baseball cap walks off the field with his head down, surrounded by teammates and coaches.
Jason Behnken/AP
FR171457 AP
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. The Saints won 23-13.

Sunday’s 23-13 loss to New Orleans wasn’t the only source of pain for Bucs QB Baker Mayfield, who took a hard hit to the ribs late in the game. X-rays were negative, and Mayfield expects to play in next week's regular-season finale at Carolina.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasted an opportunity to clinch their third consecutive NFC South championship.

But Sunday's 23-13 loss to New Orleans wasn't the only source of pain for Mayfield, who took a hard hit to the ribs when Saints defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Alontae Taylor slammed into him after the scrambling quarterback released a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt in the final two minutes.

“Ribs don’t feel too good," said Mayfield, who finished the game and expects to play in next Sunday's regular-season finale at Carolina. “Just sore.”

X-rays were negative.

The successful 2-point throw to Chris Godwin was wiped out by a penalty when officials determined the receiver stepped out of the end zone before stepping back in to make a catch that would have trimmed what once a 20-point deficit to 23-15 with 1:37 remaining.

“It'll get easier throughout the week. The first few days are always the worst,” Mayfield said of the prospect of having to play next week with sore ribs. “I've had a few broken ribs here and there and obviously — like I said — nothing showed to that extent as of right now. So yeah, I'll be able to deal with it and go from there.”

The Bucs' offense was held off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter and turned the ball over four times.

“They just played better than us. They executed better than us. They won the turnover battle," Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. "When you do those type of things, you win the game.”

Both teams are 8-8 heading into the final week of the regular season, with the Bucs needing a win in the regular-season finale for a franchise-best third consecutive division title.

But next weekend’s opponent, last-place Carolina, has nothing to lose and can play carefree. The Saints (8-8) close with a division game at home against Atlanta (7-9). If the Bucs lose, then the winner of Saints-Falcons will claim the division title.

“Obviously we know we have to win next week,” Bowles said.

Mayfield, with his fourth team in six seasons that includes Carolina last season, threw for nine touchdowns and one interception during the four-game winning streak that followed a stretch in which Tampa Bay lost six of seven.

“I think we prepared great all week,” Mayfield said. “We just didn't come out and bring it to Sunday. It didn't translate. You can't have that. You've got to be able to show up when we need it but luckily we have one more game to seal this thing.”

Mayfield went 22 of 33 for 309 yards with two interceptions and two TDs. He was sacked twice and didn’t get the Bucs into the end zone until 7:50 to play when he hooked up with Trey Palmer to finish a 91-yard drive on a 22-yard TD catch.

Godwin caught the second TD pass from Mayfield, scoring on a 47-yard reception.

A week ago in a victory over Jacksonville, Mayfield passed for 283 yards and two scores. In an impressive road win at Green Bay a week before that, the 28-year old threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns.

Tampa Bay had just 44 yards of offense during the opening half.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Mayfield said. “Somewhere we've been before. We've got to get it fixed, and move forward."