MINNEAPOLIS — The grit Baker Mayfield showed Tampa Bay down the stretch of his debut sure outweighed the rough start.
He had ample support from a more-than-capable defense, too.
Mayfield recovered to throw two touchdown passes without a turnover, and the Buccaneers beat Minnesota 20-17 in the season opener after three first-half turnovers by the Vikings on Sunday.
“It wasn’t our prettiest effort by any means, but we finished the right way,” Mayfield said.
Chase McLaughlin — another key offseason addition for Tampa Bay — matched his career long with a 57-yard field goal for the lead with 5:10 left, and the Buccaneers forced a three-and-out on each of Minnesota’s last two possessions.
“Baker’s gutsy. He’s tough,” coach Todd Bowles said. “The guys stayed behind him.”
Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft who landed with his fourth team in three years to take over for the retired Tom Brady, completed 21 of 34 passes after a 3-for-11 start. He hit Mike Evans for a score right before halftime for a 10-all tie.
“I knew they were going to get it going,” Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “Once you get it going and start clicking and get some points on the board, the game is going to change.”
Mayfield hustled around right end to convert a third-and-2 around the three-minute mark at the Minnesota 39. Chris Godwin made a stretched-out fingertip catch to convert third-and-10 right after the 2-minute warning to clinch it.
“It just comes with playing quarterback for a long time,” said Mayfield, who hopped from the Browns to the Panthers to the Rams to before landing with the Bucs. “The most important play is the next one.”
Kirk Cousins went 33 for 44 for 344 yards and touchdowns to Jordan Addison and Alexander Mattison, and Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 150 yards. But after going an NFL-record 11-0 in one-score games during the 2022 regular season, the Vikings ran out of that late-game mojo.
“There was quite a few self-inflicted mistakes,” coach Kevin O’Connell said.
Rookie Jay Ward was penalized for lining up in the neutral zone on a field goal try by McLaughlin that gave the Buccaneers a fresh set of downs to finish a drive that took almost nine minutes out of the third quarter with a touchdown pass to rookie Trey Palmer that made it 17-10.
The Buccaneers, with seven starters left from the 2020 Super Bowl champions and four first-round draft picks on defense, surprised Cousins with a couple of safety blitzes by Antoine Winfield Jr. early. They consistently clogged the middle with Vita Vea and friends to keep Mattison quiet on the ground.
Winfield, whose father played nine seasons in Minnesota’s secondary, recovered the fumble from his strip sack of Cousins at the Vikings 30 to set up an early field goal for the Buccaneers despite a drive that netted zero yards. Rookie Christian Izien intercepted Cousins near the goal line late in the first half.
Cousins was fuming on the sideline after he was picked off, a ball throw a bit behind K.J. Osborn that Izien ripped out of the receiver’s hands. The first fumble in the first quarter at the Bucs’ 25 was caused by right guard Ed Ingram, whose arm knocked the ball out as he blocked to his left.
“We moved the football, but we turned the ball over,” Cousins said. “The game will always be about points.”
Evans and Jefferson have been eyeing contract extensions that didn’t come together with their respective teams in time for the regular season.
Evans went public with his demand for a new deal entering his 10th year, all with the Buccaneers, but appears headed for free agency next spring. The Vikings have less urgency around Jefferson with two seasons left on his rookie contract.
The Vikings honored former coach Bud Grant, who died earlier this year at age 95, with various tributes before the game and at halftime with about 30 of his former players on hand. Wearing a jersey patch with his signature on it this season, the Vikings donned their classic uniforms with the deeper purple hue, wider white numbering and gold trim accents they had during their 1970s heydays under Grant.
Buccaneers: LB Lavonte David collided with his 350-pound teammate Vea in the fourth quarter and left for concussion evaluation. … First-round draft pick DL Calijah Kancey (calf) aggravated the injury that had him listed as questionable and did not play after halftime.
Vikings: C Garrett Bradbury (back) was hurt during the second drive and didn’t return. … LT Christian Darrisaw (ankle) missed some second-quarter snaps, but he returned after halftime. … OLB Marcus Davenport (ankle) was inactive after getting hurt in practice during the week.
Buccaneers: Host Chicago next Sunday.
Vikings: Visit Philadelphia on Thursday night.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL