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Buccaneers of the Week: at Cincinnati

Which players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s game against the Bengals?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers dropped to 3-4 this past Sunday with a heartbreaking 37-34 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati. Tampa Bay trailed 34-16 in the fourth quarter, but a quarterback change sparked a furious comeback. The game was tied at 34-34 with just over a minute left, but the Buccaneer defense couldn’t hold on. Randy Bullock connected on a 44-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to stick the Bucs with another crushing loss.

The play of Jameis Winston has been a huge topic of conversation coming out of Sunday’s game, and not in a good way. He threw four interceptions and put his team in a huge hole. It was a poor enough performance that Dirk Koetter benched him in the second half and announced Monday that he would not start against Carolina next week.

With Winston’s performance aside, the Bucs got some encouraging play— especially in the second half— from plenty of players. Let’s get into the top five Bucs of this week.

5. Adam Humphries (One point)

Despite his consistent production year in and year out, Adam Humphries has continued to fly under the radar for much of his career. In Sunday’s game against Cincinnati, Humphries tallied a season-high for catches (seven) and targets (10), posting 76 yards. He is one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets, so it seems like the Bucs have been getting him more involved in the offense as of late. The Clemson product is getting it done on both screen plays and intermediate passes. In the second half of this week’s game, he made one of the best catches of Tampa Bay’s season thus far, stretching out between two defenders for a first down.

With Winston on the bench, it’s easy to wonder about the volume of targets that Humphries will get in the upcoming game against the Panthers (and potentially beyond). With Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback this season, Humphries has been targeted 14 times. He has been targeted 28 times by Winston. That’s a significant difference in usage, so we’ll see what his production looks like going forward. But for now, he makes his debut on Buccaneers of the Week by picking up one point.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Two points)

It’s hard for a player to make this list after playing just over one quarter, but if anyone can do it, apparently it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Fitzmagic” returned for the Bucs on Sunday, only for the defense to undo the excellent 18-point comeback in the final seconds of the game. Despite the defensive collapse, Fitzpatrick deserved a spot on this list. With the Bengals up 34-16, the game seemed over. Even when Jameis Winston was benched and the bearded veteran entered, no one seemed to think Tampa Bay would make it a game again. Well, it not only became a game again. The Bucs had a legitimate chance to win.

Fitzpatrick did what Winston couldn’t do. He played turnover-free football. That’s all it took to get the Bucs rolling on offense, as there was a noticeable difference in the unit’s flow from the end of the third quarter on. Fitzpatrick brought Tampa Bay back to tie the game 34-34 by completing 11 of his 15 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. He had his team within 34-26 with a little over three minutes to go and led a 10-play, 88-yard drive to tie the game with 1:05 to go. On 4th & 3 at the Cincinnati 18-yard line, he connected with O.J. Howard for a touchdown. Seconds later, he found Chris Godwin for the game-tying two-point conversion. Had the defense held up, who knows what would have happened? With the way Fitzmagic was rolling, Tampa Bay might have completed the comeback and improved to 4-3.

3. Peyton Barber (Three points)

Throughout the afternoon, the Bucs were able to rely a little more on their ground game. That hasn’t been said all too often this season, mostly because the run-blocking from the offensive line has been spotty. But on Sunday, Peyton Barber found running room and often turned negative plays into short gains. The importance of doing something as simple as avoiding a loss and gaining two yards can’t be overstated, as it can set up an offense with manageable second or third down opportunities. Barber had his most effective game of the season against the Bengals, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Going forward, Tampa Bay will need some consistency from Barber and the guys blocking for him up front. The Bucs have one of the top passing games in the NFL this season, but they still need some balance. With a more effective rushing attack, the offense could be even more dangerous. The ability to sell play-action hasn’t always been there this year for Tampa Bay, but it will be if Barber continues to play the way he did in Cincinnati. He’ll have a tough task ahead with a strong defensive front in Carolina, but he will head into that game after moving up in these Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul (Four points)

Truthfully, Jason Pierre-Paul probably should have been on this list last week for his performance against Cleveland. I got hit pretty hard for leaving him out and including Chandler Catanzaro, who hit the game-winning 59-yard field goal. I somewhat stand behind my decision to include Catanzaro, but there should’ve been room for JPP somewhere. Anyway, I digress...

There was no chance of Pierre-Paul getting left out this week. He came up with two sacks on Sunday to bring his season total to eight. EIGHT sacks in SEVEN games. The Bucs haven’t seen anything like that in over 10 years. He tied Simeon Rice’s 2002 record for most consecutive games with a sack (six), which also stands as the longest current streak in the league. JPP has led the Tampa Bay defensive line all year long and has continuously gotten after the quarterback. When he’s not coming up with sacks of his own, he’s usually creating enough pressure to either get someone else a sack or force an errant throw. The veteran defensive end might go down as the best acquisition of Jason Licht’s tenure as the team’s general manager, especially if he continues to eat up opposing quarterbacks at his current rate.

1. Mike Evans (Five points)

There’s no denying that the Buccaneers have one of the best receiving corps in the entire NFL. There’s also no denying that without Mike Evans, that would not be the case. The fifth-year pro continued his excellent season on Sunday against the Bengals, catching six passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Though some of Tampa Bay’s receivers seem to have their production fluctuate depending on who is throwing them the ball, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Evans. He totaled 68 yards with Jameis Winston in the game and 111 with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, though 72 of the 111 came on one play. The point is, regardless of who is taking the snaps, No. 13 is going to be a reliable go-to guy.

Tampa Bay has gotten plenty of production from a number of different guys on the offense so far this season. But if you had to name an offensive MVP through the first seven games, it would be extremely hard to find someone other than Evans for that honor. He is up to 46 catches for 770 yards and four touchdowns on the year, all while having to deal with a serious quarterback problem that could very well continue throughout the rest of the season. But what is special about Evans is that he will block out the issue, put his head down and go to work. And he’ll continue to produce like the top-five receiver that he has proven to be throughout his young career. With five points this week, he ties Jason Pierre-Paul atop the Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week eight:

  1. (TIE) Jason Pierre-Paul/Mike Evans— 16 points
  2. Ryan Fitzpatrick— 14 points
  3. DeSean Jackson— 11 points
  4. Lavonte David— 8 points
  5. Peyton Barber— 7 points
  6. (TIE) Kwon Alexander/Chandler Catanzaro— 6 points
  7. (TIE) Jameis Winston/Carl Nassib— 5 points
  8. (TIE) Cameron Brate/O.J. Howard— 3 points
  9. Offensive Line— 2 points
  10. (TIE) Vernon Hargreaves/Bryan Anger/Adam Humphries— 1 point