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Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Cleveland

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Browns?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers pulled through on Sunday afternoon, escaping a ridiculous game with a 26-23 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns. The victory made absolutely no sense, with the home team blowing a 23-9 fourth-quarter lead and missing a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation before gaining just 36 yards on three drives in overtime.

But after recovering a fumble near midfield, the Bucs got another chance. That meant another chance for a kicker who had already missed an extra point and a 40-yard field goal in the game. Head coach Dirk Koetter decided to send him out for a 59-yard field goal attempt and somehow, the kick was good and the Bucs walked away victorious.

Tampa Bay is now 3-3 heading into next week’s game in Cincinnati. Before we turn the page, let’s dive in and look at our Buccaneers of the Week.

5. Mike Evans (One point)

Mike Evans quietly had another 100-yard receiving game, catching seven of his 11 targets for 107 yards. That translates to 15.3 yards per catch, which is so valuable. It was even more valuable on Sunday as the Bucs struggled with turning the ball over. The team’s No. 1 receiver was a constant force, as usual, for quarterback Jameis Winston. On third downs, Evans was consistently finding separation. Tampa Bay’s ability to extend drives in Sunday’s game often came down to No. 13 breaking through coverage. He also did a pretty nice job of racking up yards after some of his catches.

The Buccaneer offense struggled to get the run game going, which put some pressure on the passing attack. Evans was up to the challenge, perhaps taking advantage of the absence of E.J. Gaines in Cleveland’s secondary. It was the third 100-yard game of the season for him and his fifth game of six or more catches. He is performing at a high level in his fifth season. The Bucs need him to continue this production if they want the offense to play at a high level.

4. Kwon Alexander (Two points)

Kwon Alexander played his best football of the season in the first two quarters of Sunday’s game, which makes it even more heartbreaking that he went down late in the first half with a torn ACL. Missing him for the rest of the season will absolutely hurt the Tampa Bay defense. Alexander is not only one of the most productive members of that defense, but also one of its captains. In the same week that he was voted a defensive captain, he suffered a season-ending injury. That’s just rough.

Before the injury, Alexander played a major hand in setting the tone for the Buccaneer defense. In the team’s first game since letting go of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the defense came out hot. The Browns got a couple of first downs on their opening drive before stalling. Kwon and the defense held Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense in check for the first half, allowing no points. Even more importantly, the unit was getting off the field on third down. Alexander, prior to his injury, picked up seven tackles (five solo) and a pass defended. He was flying all over the field like vintage Kwon before leaving the game. Despite missing the second half, he still deserves a spot on this list for setting the tone early.

3. Lavonte David (Three points)

Is it a coincidence that Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David land back-to-back on this list in the first week of linebackers coach Mark Duffner serving as defensive coordinator? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, David had a strong outing of his own on Sunday. He was the team’s leading tackler with eight (seven solo) and tied for a team-high two tackles for loss. Like Alexander, he set the tone early.

The defense was put in a tough spot at the end of the first half after a Cameron Brate fumble. But the unit stepped up and forced a 4th down try for the Browns. After Baker Mayfield appeared to have scrambled for a first down, David came through with a heads-up play, punching the ball out. It rolled backward and out of bounds. Since it fell behind the first-down marker, the Bucs took possession. The veteran linebacker is notorious for making big plays and he got himself another one this week. With Mike Smith gone, maybe we’ll see the prime No. 54 week in and week out.

2. Chandler Catanzaro (Four points)

Sure, this is controversial. Sure, Chandler Catanzaro put the Bucs in a position to lose on multiple occasions in Sunday’s game. His missed extra point early in the game came back to bite when Tampa Bay was tied 23-23 late. Missing a 40-yard field goal at the end of regulation took the game to overtime, where the Bucs surely could have lost. But... When it comes down to it, Tampa Bay won on a 59-yard field goal in overtime. Dirk Koetter, for whatever reason, trusted his kicker with a 59-yard attempt in a tie game. His kicker delivered. Does it erase his severe problems from earlier in the game and earlier in the season? No chance. But if that 59-yarder doesn’t connect, the Bucs leave with a loss or a tie.

The Bucs should still be evaluating their options at the kicking position, but they sit at 3-3 because Catanzaro shook off his issues and came through with a clutch kick. That’s worth something, right? At the very least, it’s worth four points in this week’s standings.

1. Carl Nassib (Five points)

If you had told me before the season that I would be naming Carl Nassib as the team’s top player of any week, I would’ve been wildly confused. But here we are. Nassib haunted his former team on Sunday, seemingly playing with a chip on his shoulder knowing that those responsible for cutting him were watching. He sacked Baker Mayfield twice and—get this!— dropped into coverage on one play and came up with a pass defended. He stepped up for a Tampa Bay defensive line that was missing Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry. And he came through when his new team needed him most.

After Cleveland took possession at Tampa Bay’s 45-yard line in overtime, Mayfield and the offense likely needed just one first down to get into field goal range and potentially win the game. But on third down, Nassib dropped the rookie quarterback for a loss of seven. Instead of lining up for what would have been a 55-yard field goal attempt to win the game, the Browns had to punt. The sack didn’t win the game, but it definitely extended it. And from there, the Bucs found a way to take advantage. With a strong revenge game, Carl Nassib makes his first appearance on this list.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week seven:

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