It is never easy to say goodbye to a quarterback who won a Super Bowl, especially when that quarterback was one of the best to ever do it. Even if Tom Brady’s third and final season in red wasn’t his best, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still did capture the NFC South crown in 2022.
Once Brady confirmed his retirement, Tampa Bay brought in Baker Mayfield. Few could have expected what the Buccaneers were able to do in 2023, a season that saw them start 3-1, fall to 4-7, and then cap off the year going 5-1. Along the way, they captured their third NFC South crown in a row, adding a playoff victory over the Eagles to accompany it.
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What Went Right for Buccaneers
Very few expected the Bucs to even be competitive, let alone fight for the division crown. However, Mayfield answered the call and stood strong in 2023, turning in a season that very well could be looked back on as one that saved his career. Larry Foote and Kacy Rodgers helped coach a top-10 scoring defense while Mike Evans turned in another strong year as Tampa’s WR1.
What Went Wrong for Buccaneers
The 1-6 stretch Tampa Bay endured between October and November featured multiple close losses, including a Week 8 shootout against the Houston Texans. Tampa Bay led 17-7 early in the second quarter on that late October afternoon before C.J. Stroud exploded for his best performance of the season, torching Tampa Bay’s defense for nearly 500 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Buccaneers re-took the lead with just over 45 seconds left in the game, but Stroud had one of the most defining moments of his rookie season as he led a game-winning drive.
Tank Dell with a clutch, go-ahead touchdown on the DIME from CJ Stroud. It helped lift the Texans past the Buccaneers, 39-37!pic.twitter.com/1MFQQwKku6
— Pawd Slama Jama (@PawdSlamaJama) November 5, 2023
In the Divisional Round against Detroit, Tampa Bay engaged the Lions in a close contest, but their hopes were dashed late on an interception by Derrick Barnes.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Baker Mayfield
The career-saving season Mayfield put together was also his best as a starting quarterback. He completed his first 4,000-yard passing year and also tossed a career-high 28 touchdown passes. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod this season, too. The former Browns, Panthers, and Rams quarterback had his best outing of the season in Week 15 against the Packers in a game the Bucs absolutely had to win to keep pace in the division. Mayfield delivered nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns on that afternoon to bring home the victory for Tampa.
Rookie of the Year – YaYa Diaby
Calijah Kancey was a candidate here, but Diaby had a fantastic season and may one day be looked back upon as the steal of the 2023 draft. Once he assumed the starting edge rusher spot, Diaby recorded almost all of the 7.5 total sacks he earned over this season. He will be a staple in Tampa’s defense for years to come.
Bucs’ Yaya Diaby finished sixth. https://t.co/funpx1Yp78
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) February 9, 2024
Best Offseason Addition – Lavonte David
Although this wasn’t a full-on free agent acquisition, Tampa re-signed their longest-tenured player in David last offseason. He put together another solid season, totaling 134 combined tackles and 4.5 sacks while missing two games. Ultimately, he continued his streak of missing fewer than five games in a season, achieving that mark for the 12th year in a row.
Biggest Surprise – Chase McLaughlin
You might think a kicker wouldn’t exactly qualify as a big surprise, but to some extent, McLaughlin did surprise fans with his performance in 2023. McLaughlin had to beat out Rodrigo Blankenship to assume full-time kicking duties, and once play began, McLaughlin rounded out a near-perfect kicking season, as his only two misses on the year were both blocked attempts. McLaughlin’s long-range abilities were also on full display as he nailed three 57-yard field goals at various points in 2023.
Biggest Disappointment – Chase Edmonds
Edmonds has never been a standout in the league, but 2023 may have been his worst season in what was a designated backup role to Rachaad White. In 13 appearances, he only racked up 176 rushing yards and didn’t record a touchdown of any kind for the first time in his six-year career.
One Burning Question
What do you do for an encore?
Mike Evans is preparing to enter free agency this offseason, and the No. 1 priority should be to bring him back for the foreseeable future. However, Tampa Bay has other tasks on its to-do list, including the search for a new offensive coordinator after Dave Canales took off for the top gig in Charlotte, N.C. A quarterback guru, Canales will look to steer former Panthers No. 1 pick Bryce Young in the right direction as a player.
To strengthen the Bucs’ hold on the NFC South, which may remain football’s weakest division in 2024, head coach Todd Bowles will also have to correct the late-game situations in which his team struggled this past season.
Buccaneers key free agents this off-season: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Mike Evans, S Antoine Winfield, Jr., LB Lavonte David, LB Devin White, DT Greg Gaines, S Ryan Neal, G Aaron Stinnie, G Matt Feiler, DL William Gholston, K Chase McLaughlin, WR David Moore, RB Chase Edmonds, LB Cam…
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 21, 2024
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