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Buccaneers of the Week: at Atlanta

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 34-29 loss to the Falcons?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After every game, we’ll break down the Buccaneers’ top five players of the week. Point values will be distributed to each, which will then be added up for our weekly Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

The Buccaneers came up just short in their return from the bye week on Sunday, falling 34-29 to the Falcons in Atlanta. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 2-3 after a promising 2-0 start and there were many reasons for it. Chandler Catanzaro’s missed extra point in the first quarter came back to bite later on, the defense continued its poor play for much of the game and a red zone turnover made a difference as well.

But here, we’re looking at the players that were the Bucs’ best on Sunday. Let’s get right into the top five guys from this week:

5. Jason Pierre-Paul (One point)

For the fourth straight game, Jason Pierre-Paul lands on this list. He finds himself on the lower end this time, but he did enough in Sunday’s loss to earn a point in the standings. It’s no stretch at all to say Pierre-Paul has been Tampa Bay’s best defensive player all year long. He is giving full effort from the opening kickoff to the final whistle and it’s paying off in a big way. The veteran is leading by example as well as being vocal about the defense’s struggles. Plus, his production is there, that’s for sure. There’s a reason that many fans are clamoring for him to be one of the team’s captains from here on out.

Sunday wasn’t great for the defensive line and it wasn’t JPP’s best performance either. But he still picked up the team’s only sack of the afternoon, which is his fifth in five games. He is halfway to that elusive season of double-digit sacks that the Bucs haven’t had from a player since 2005 and as long as he remains healthy over the remaining 11 games, he has time to get there. And with defensive coordinator Mike Smith getting the boot, we’ll see if that means even more production from Pierre-Paul.

4. Lavonte David (Two points)

Lavonte David nearly stopped a late Atlanta drive all by himself. With the Falcons leading by two, the Bucs needed a stop to give themselves a shot to win with a late field goal. After a quick first down, David dropped Tevin Coleman for a loss of two on the next play. He then stopped Ito Smith for a gain of just four, which set up a 3rd & 8. He played tight coverage on Austin Hooper on that third down, but Hooper managed to make the catch and barely—just barely— get the first down. Despite the conversion, it was hard to not be impressed by the veteran linebacker. He stepped up at a time when no one else did. He finished the day with six tackles (all solo), a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.

There has been a lot of disappointment in the fan base lately when it comes to David, but it hasn’t had to do with him personally. Since Mike Smith came to Tampa Bay, David’s numbers have plummeted. He had 130-plus tackles in each year from 2012 through 2015. Smith arrived in 2016 and David went down to 87. He picked up 101 last year, but it still wasn’t the same No. 54 that everyone saw early in his career. With Smith out as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mark Duffner serving as the interim, we could see a return of the real Lavonte David. Either way, he earned two points this week for another strong performance on a defense that has been lacking them.

3. O.J. Howard (Three points)

Remember when O.J. Howard left the Bucs’ week four loss in Chicago and it was said that he would miss 2-4 weeks with a sprained MCL? Yeah, he didn’t even miss a game. His recovery was on the shorter side of that timetable, even shorter than the projected two weeks as he was back at practice throughout last week. Not only did he suit up against the Falcons, but he played a big part in Tampa Bay’s passing game. He caught all four of his targets for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Howard has been a gem for the Bucs over the first 19 games of his career and how he fell to 19th in the 2017 draft is still a mystery. The Alabama product has provided Tampa Bay with a reliable pass-catching tight end that works well in a pair with Cameron Brate. His run blocking has been exceptional and his presence in the passing game has grown considerably. He makes his debut on the list this week after another strong performance— just two weeks after it looked like he could be missing some significant time.

2. Peyton Barber (Four points)

The Bucs finally got their run game going on Sunday, seeing the Peyton Barber they were expecting to have when they awarded him the starting job in August. He ran 13 times for 82 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He also added four catches (on four targets) for 24 yards and a touchdown. It was by far his best game of the young season, one that he can build on this week against the Browns, who have the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL.

Considering Tampa Bay fell behind so early in Atlanta, it relied a lot more on the passing attack. But even then, Barber’s success set up some play-action opportunities. This offense is at its best when it has the ability to run play-action effectively. The Auburn product provided that on Sunday and ran tough when he got his carries. Going forward, the Bucs would surely love to establish the ground game a little more. Of course, that can only happen if they aren’t falling behind by two touchdowns early on. But for now, Barber makes his debut on Buccaneers of the Week after a strong showing against the Falcons.

1. Jameis Winston (Five points)

First, let’s get the interception talk out of the way. Yes, Jameis Winston threw two in his return to the starting job. One of them was bad, although unlucky, coming in the end zone when the Bucs were threatening. The ball bounced off a defender’s back and stayed in the air for what felt like 10 seconds. That’s rough. It took points off the board. But that was the only real blemish from Winston’s afternoon. His other interception came on a deep miss to DeSean Jackson, but it set the Falcons up from their own five-yard line. Tampa Bay’s defense got a stop and the offense got a short field and scored a touchdown.

Aside from the red zone turnover, Winston was one of the biggest reasons for the Bucs hanging around in the game. He completed 30 of his 41 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns. His four touchdown passes moved him from a fourth-place tie in franchise history to sole possession of third, officially passing Trent Dilfer (70) and Doug Williams (73).

The young quarterback looked the part of a franchise guy on Sunday, despite his two turnovers. He showed poise throughout the day and even had the offense in position to win the game late. With 1:10 left and no timeouts, he drove the Bucs down to the Falcons’ 21. Had there been no missed extra point earlier in the day, Winston would have had Catanzaro in position for a game-tying field goal as time expired. Had the defense been able to come up with a quick stop instead of allowing a Matt Bryant field goal, Winston has Catanzaro set up for a game-winner. The point is, the 24-year-old did just about everything he could to get the Bucs to 3-2. For that, he earns the top spot in this week’s list.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week six:

  1. (TIE) Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jason Pierre-Paul— 12 points
  2. DeSean Jackson— 11 points
  3. Mike Evans— 10 points
  4. (TIE) Lavonte David/Jameis Winston— 5 points
  5. (TIE) Kwon Alexander/Peyton Barber— 4 points
  6. (TIE) Cameron Brate/O.J. Howard— 3 points
  7. (TIE) Offensive Line/Chandler Catanzaro— 2 points
  8. (TIE) Vernon Hargreaves/Bryan Anger— 1 point