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Buccaneers of the Week: at New York

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 38-35 loss to the Giants?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers fell 38-35 on the road to the New York Giants on Sunday, marking their fourth straight loss. At 3-7, they are headed for another sub-.500 season. In a matter of six weeks, Tampa Bay will likely be moving on from head coach Dirk Koetter and, presumably, much of his coaching staff. The team is headed for another top 10 pick in next year’s draft, which means the month of April is officially more intriguing than most of anything else the Bucs will do the rest of this season.

It wasn’t all bad in Sunday’s loss, so let’s get to this week’s top guys.

5. O.J. Howard (One point)

There are plenty of holes on Tampa Bay’s roster right now, but there are also quite a few young guys that will be excellent to build around. O.J. Howard is one of those guys. The second-year tight end has been a constant bright spot for the Bucs throughout the last two seasons. He had a promising rookie year and has only added to that in 2018. He caught five of his six targets on Sunday for 78 yards, averaging 15.6 yards per catch. The Alabama product is now up to 34 catches for 565 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Sunday was yet another strong day for Howard, but it ended in disappointing fashion. He had to leave with an ankle injury and is now being placed on injured reserve with injuries to his ankle and his foot.

Losing Howard is a huge blow for the Bucs, as he has become one of the team’s more reliable pass-catchers. Regardless of who has been at quarterback, he has produced. Not only has he been solid in the passing game, but his run-blocking has developed nicely as well. He is becoming a complete tight end right before our very eyes, one that Tampa Bay is lucky to have.

4. Jameis Winston (Two points)

When Ryan Fitzpatrick entered Tampa Bay’s game in Cincinnati a few weeks ago and almost led a comeback, he earned the fourth spot in these weekly rankings. After an impressive relief effort against New York, Jameis Winston does the same. After Fitzpatrick threw his third interception of the afternoon at the 9:58 mark in the third quarter, Winston stepped in for the first time since Oct. 28. When he entered the game, he led the offense on four straight scoring drives to get the Bucs back in the game. He had a couple of close calls as far as turnovers go, but caught breaks and stayed composed. The offense clicked and Winston looked good for much of his time in the game.

The one turnover that the 24-year-old quarterback did have was on a desperation Hail Mary that DeSean Jackson may or may not have given up on. Overall, Winston was 12-of-16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns (plus the one pick). His 41-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the fourth quarter tied him with Vinny Testaverde for the second-most in franchise history. Reports emerged Monday afternoon that the 2015 No. 1 overall pick will start Sunday against the 49ers, which would be the right call. It’s time for Tampa Bay to evaluate Winston’s future with the franchise, and it can’t do so very effectively if he is riding the bench. With some nice relief work this week, he shows up in the standings for the first time since Oct. 14.

3. Mike Evans (Three points)

After two straight weeks of sub-par performances, Mike Evans returned to his normal self in Sunday’s game against the Giants. He was the team’s leading receiver, catching six of his seven targets for 120 yards and a touchdown. With those 120 yards, he picked up his fifth 100-yard game of the season. He is already at 957 yards this season, putting him 43 yards away from a 1,000-yard season, which would be his fifth in five NFL seasons. That kind of consistency has been rare for Tampa Bay throughout its history, which is why the 25-year-old owns almost every one of the franchise’s receiving records.

Through all of the controversy at the quarterback position, Evans’ presence has been a calming one for the Bucs. There’s a reason he is one of the team’s offensive captains. His maturity has been on full display throughout the struggles throughout the last two seasons, and that’s important. Evans is arguably the team’s best player, so the fact that he continues to work hard and produce week in and week out sets a good tone for his teammates. He is the No. 1 guy to build around on this team going forward and there might not even be a close second. For his performance on Sunday, he takes three points to remain near the top of the overall standings.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul (Four points)

Speaking of the top of the overall standings, Jason Pierre-Paul took it to his former team on Sunday. He got after Eli Manning throughout the day and finished with 1 12 sacks. He is now at 9 12 for the season, which means he needs another 12 to be the first Buccaneer with double-digit sacks in a season since Simeon Rice did it in 2005. He got banged up at one point in the game, but did return, so he should get his shot at that final 12 (plus more) this week against San Francisco.

Pierre-Paul has been the top player on this Tampa Bay defense all year long. There is no contest. The rest of the group has been wildly disappointing in 2018, but the former Giant has been a huge help for a defensive line that badly need it. The defense as a whole has been among the league’s worst this season, but can you imagine how much worse it would be without JPP? That’s a scary thought. His seven tackles (four solo) and 1 12 sacks in Sunday’s game against the Giants were enough to get him four points this week, which pulls him into the top spot in the overall standings.

1. Peyton Barber (Five points)

The Buccaneers have something special in running back Peyton Barber. Heading into the 2018 season, there was some intrigue around Barber and how he would handle being the No. 1 guy in the backfield. So far, the Auburn product is doing a fine job. The offensive line hasn’t always been a big help, but Barber is getting it done anyway. On Sunday, he ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Through 10 games, he is averaging four yards per carry. That is a mark that the Bucs have to love.

The issue with the Tampa Bay offense this season is that it continues to fall behind in games. That eliminates Barber a lot of the time. The numbers reflect that, as the former undrafted free agent is averaging just 13.5 carries per game. His season-high for carries is 19, which he has done twice. Tampa Bay needs to establish the run earlier and more often over the final six games. On Monday, Dirk Koetter had this to say about Barber’s impact going forward:

“I think so, I think that number could go up. As you said, we’ve fallen into this pattern where we start slow, we get behind. I thought Monk did a great job yesterday of staying with the running game even when we were down two scores. We made some nice plays in the running game and in the RPO game – we also had a pick-six in the RPO game. Peyton – with 18 carries and a couple of throws – I think Peyton had three explosives. Peyton’s ability to make yards after contact, to break tackles, to get some of those explosives. I think we only had two negative runs all day yesterday. Sure, if we were playing with a lead, I think Peyton could tack on another five to seven carries.”

Despite having to pick of the slack of rookie Ronald Jones II, who was going to be the “2” in a 1-2 punch, Barber is playing very well. The Bucs need to feature him more, that’s for sure. For now, he picks up five points to move up into the top five of the overall Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week 11:

  1. Jason Pierre-Paul— 20 points
  2. Mike Evans— 19 points
  3. Ryan Fitzpatrick— 17 points
  4. Peyton Barber— 16 points
  5. DeSean Jackson— 11 points
  6. Carl Nassib— 10 points
  7. Lavonte David— 9 points
  8. O.J. Howard— 8 points
  9. Jameis Winston— 7 points
  10. (TIE) Kwon Alexander/Chandler Catanzaro/Adam Humphries— 6 points
  11. Chris Godwin— 5 points
  12. Cameron Brate— 3 points
  13. (TIE) Offensive Line/Jacquizz Rodgers— 2 points
  14. (TIE) Vernon Hargreaves/Bryan Anger/Carlton Davis— 1 point