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Buccaneers of the Week: at Carolina

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s loss in Sunday’s 42-28 loss to the Panthers?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers put up another disappointing first-half effort on Sunday and once again couldn’t overcome it, falling 42-28 on the road to the division rival Panthers. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 3-5 (and into sole possession of last place in the NFC South) at the halfway mark of the 2018 season. There isn’t a lot to love about the Bucs these days, as it seems more and more likely that the franchise will have to endure another transition this offseason. New coaching staff? New general manager? New quarterback? Maybe all three? We’ll see. For now, the current group has eight games to make something out of this season.

Let’s check in on the Buccaneers of the Week from the last game of the season’s first half.

5. Lavonte David (One point)

There wasn’t a clear choice for the No. 5 spot this week, as not too many players shined in the loss to Carolina. Lavonte David’s performance was far from perfect, but he cracks the list this week for once again being one of the team’s top tacklers on a day when tackling was horrible for the Tampa Bay defense. Adarius Taylor led with nine overall tackles, but David finished with eight and led the team in solo tackles with six. He also split a sack with Gerald McCoy early in the second half, setting up what was actually a shutout quarter for the Buccaneer defense.

Throughout his years in the NFL, David has played on some really bad defenses. It’s hard to not feel like a lot of his talent goes to waste in Tampa, where coaching staffs continue to come in, fail to revive the team and then get fired. That cycle has been constant throughout the career of the former Nebraska standout, but he has managed to play pretty well through all if it. The last few years haven’t brought the same production that his early years in the league did, but he is still one of the best players on the defense week in and week out. He had some tough moments on Sunday, but so did almost everyone. He gets a point this week to keep his spot in the top four of the standings.

4. Carl Nassib (Two points)

Jason Pierre-Paul’s success has been well-documented, that’s for sure. The Bucs acquired him in a trade with the Giants and he has played lights-out all year long. But one of the other big acquisitions in the spring for Tampa Bay was Vinny Curry. An injury has kept him from doing much of anything for the Bucs and while he has been pretty ineffective, a late pickup has emerged as one of the unsung heroes of the defense. Carl Nassib, who was cut by Cleveland in early September, has stepped up at defensive end in a pretty big way.

Nassib had the top spot on this list after his two-sack performance against the Browns on Oct. 21 and he’s back this week after another solid performance against the Panthers. He finished Sunday’s game with three tackles (two solo) and his third sack of the season. He registered an additional quarterback hit as well, cementing himself as the Bucs’ top defender of the day. The defensive line didn’t get a whole lot from Pierre-Paul this week, while the returning duo of Curry and Gerald McCoy weren’t all that present either. It was Nassib who came up big for the Tampa Bay defensive line, earning another two points in the standings to move up into the top five for the season.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Three points)

With what he had done in his previous playing time this season, Ryan Fitzpatrick was probably a shoe-in for this list as soon as Dirk Koetter announced him as the starter. He surely would’ve been higher than No. 3 had he not contributed to the Bucs’ slow start that saw them fall behind 35-7. But after falling behind by 28, “Fitzmagic” resurfaced once again. He led Tampa Bay on a 21-0 run to get the game within one score in the fourth quarter. Overall, he finished the day 24-of-40 for 243 yards and four touchdowns, though he did toss two interceptions. Early on, it looked like the high-powered Buccaneer offense was no match for the Panthers, but Fitzpatrick stayed composed and got his team back in the game.

He struggled to connect with No. 1 receiver Mike Evans, completing just one of his 10 passes to him. Even still, the veteran made use of his other weapons (mostly including the top two guys on this week’s list) and stayed turnover-free during the middle portion of the game. He only threw his second interception once Carolina went back up by 14. It was a deep ball that he may have forced to DeSean Jackson, but it took a good play by rookie corner Donte Jackson for it to be a game-icing turnover. Fitzpatrick was another Buc who had an imperfect day, but still did enough to stand out as one of the team’s best players. With his three points this week, he sits atop the season standings at the halfway mark.

2. O.J. Howard (Four points)

The Tampa Bay offense failed to get much going in the first half of Sunday’s game, but when it did get something started, it was usually courtesy of O.J. Howard. The second-year tight end continued to emerge as one of the team’s top pass-catching weapons on Sunday, pulling in four of his six targets for 53 yards and two touchdowns. His two scores were the only points for the Bucs in the first half, with both coming on well-run routes inside the five-yard line. Howard does a lot of things right, which is why he is on his way to being one of the NFL’s most productive tight ends.

Howard’s emergence has been accompanied by a decline in production from Cameron Brate, which may or may not be a problem for Tampa Bay moving forward. The Bucs are paying Brate a lot of money for him to only be getting 27 snaps, which was just 40 percent of the offense’s overall snap count. To be fair, Howard was only in for 10 more (translating to 55 percent), but it still gives some credibility to the thought that Brate’s future with the Bucs could be up in the air. Regardless, Howard is continuing to progress and further his designation as one of the top steals of the 2017 NFL Draft. With his four points this week, he slides into the top five in the season standings.

1. Adam Humphries (Five points)

There was no bigger performance on Sunday for the Bucs than Adam Humphries’. Playing close to home, the Clemson product led Tampa Bay in receiving with eight catches (on eight targets) for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs’ second-half comeback attempt wouldn’t have been possible without Humphries, who made up for quiet days from Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. Last week’s installment of Buccaneers of the Week posed the question of whether or not Humphries would still get a lot of targets with Jameis Winston on the bench. The resounding answer of “yes” came in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers.

Humphries’ big afternoon is just further proof of how deep Tampa Bay is at receiver. The top three of Evans, Jackson and Godwin combined for five catches (on 17 targets) for 88 yards and no scores. Most teams that get that combined effort from their top three pass-catchers aren’t going to move the ball or score much. The Bucs survived that to put up 28 points, which should be enough to win most games in this league. Both of Humphries’ touchdowns came in the second half as Tampa Bay climbed back into the game. His first was a five-yarder to bring the game to 35-21, but his second was an impressive 30-yard catch and run that brought the Bucs within seven.

With his huge effort, there was no other choice for the top spot in this week’s standings. Despite not making his first appearance on this list until last week, he finds himself tied for sixth at the halfway point of the season.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week nine:

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