Once upon a time, back in their collegiate days, Baker Mayfield irritated Nick Bosa.
Bosa took his opportunity to return the favor during his rookie season of 2019. But all of that is in the distant past now, according to Bosa, who explained his planting of an imaginary flag during San Francisco’s blowout win over Mayfield’s Browns in 2019 was nothing more than a lark.
“It was fun,” Bosa told reporters on Wednesday, via The Athletic, ahead of Sunday’s game between Bosa’s 49ers and Mayfield’s Buccaneers. “My celebrations as a rookie were pretty good.”
In 2017, Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners rolled into Columbus, Ohio, and took down the Buckeyes, 31-16, making a strong early season statement about their legitimacy. As an individual who has never shied away from antagonizing opponents, Mayfield took Oklahoma’s large flag, trotted to midfield at Ohio Stadium, waved it majestically and then planted it in the center of Ohio State’s block O logo.
Mayfield and his Sooners earned the right to celebrate their victory, but the move irked Ohio State fans, and Bosa proved he didn’t forget when he sacked Mayfield just before halftime of their Week 5 meeting in 2019. The highly touted (and ultimately very disappointing) Browns were in the midst of being completely outclassed by the 49ers on Monday Night Football, and the sack capped a dominant first half for San Francisco.
It was the perfect moment for Bosa to get his revenge, and he did so in style.
Years later, the two have buried the hatchet. Both have grown wiser through their experiences: Mayfield is now on his fourth NFL team in his career, while Bosa has both suffered a season-ending injury and returned to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Bosa said on Wednesday that he finally met Mayfield during the most recent offseason and encountered a pleasant individual.
“He’s nice,” Bosa said of Mayfield. … “I’ve never had anything against him. Just a joke as a rookie.”
Mayfield has been humbled by the merciless machine that is professional football in recent years, watching his once-promising tenure in Cleveland devolve into a trade request and departure to Carolina, where he struggled enough to be benched and eventually released during the 2022 season. He landed in Los Angeles, where he played quarterback for a listless Rams team before entering free agency in 2023 and joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Since then, Mayfield has returned to form, leading a pass-heavy Buccaneers offense that finally broke a month-long losing streak with a 20-6 win over Tennessee in Week 10. He ranks 16th in passing yards (2,143), 12th in passing touchdowns (14), and has kept the Buccaneers afloat while they continue to search for a reliable rushing attack. His statistics don’t suggest he’s in line to earn Comeback Player of the Year, but considering where he was in Carolina and Los Angeles a year ago, 2023 is proving to be a nice bounce-back campaign for the former No. 1 overall pick.
He is Tampa Bay’s greatest offensive threat, thanks in large part to his rapport with receiver Mike Evans. He’s playing some of his best football since his 2020 season, when he led the Browns to their first playoff victory in nearly 30 years. Bosa knows the 49ers can’t take him lightly in their Week 11 meeting.
“He’s definitely scrappy,” Bosa said on Wednesday. “He’s tougher than he looks in the pocket with escapability and his athleticism, and then he’s good at, whenever guys are open within the scheme, he hits them.”
It will be up to Bosa and another former Buckeye — the recently acquired Chase Young — to harass Mayfield in order to produce a seventh victory for San Francisco. Just don’t expect Bosa to pull out the imaginary flag again.
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