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Buccaneers of the Week: vs. New Orleans

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 28-14 loss to the Saints?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers watched their already-slim playoff hopes fade away on Sunday as they imploded in the second half of a 28-14 home loss to the Saints. Tampa Bay looked like a solid team for most of the first half, but before too long, penalties and special teams miscues turned momentum. The offense was shut out in the second half, largely due to an ugly effort from the offensive line. The defense continued to play pretty well, though it was put in tough spots on multiple occasions.

Regardless of the reasons behind the loss, Tampa Bay is now 5-8. There’s virtually no hope left at a playoff spot, which means speculation surrounding the future of head coach Dirk Koetter and his staff has returned. But we’re not here to speculate on that right now. Let’s get into the good— no matter how little of it there was— from Sunday’s game. It’s time to get going with our Buccaneers of the Week.

5. Mike Evans (One point)

The Buccaneers have lived mostly by their passing game throughout the 2018 season. Much of that passing game goes through Mike Evans, so when there are offensive struggles, it usually means a down performance for No. 13. That wasn’t necessarily the case on Sunday as he still put up 86 yards, though it was only on four catches. The offense got out to a quick start, scoring on its opening drive. Evans caught a 36-yard pass to spark that drive, but that was his biggest play of the day.

The New Orleans secondary smothered Tampa Bay’s receivers all day long, not leaving much room for Jameis Winston to work with. Evans only had six total targets, effectively getting eliminated from the second half for the most part. The Buccaneer offensive line was pushed around in the final two quarters, which killed the passing attack. Evans’ day was definitely not his best, but there weren’t a lot of positives from the rest of the offense on Sunday. Perhaps for nothing else other than leading the team in receiving, he earns a point in this week’s standings.

4. Cameron Brate (Two points)

Speaking of there not being a lot to like about the offense on Sunday... Cameron Brate cracks this list despite only having two catches on the day. Both catches were big ones, going for touchdowns in the first half. The tight end out of Harvard capped off Tampa Bay’s opening drive of the game with an 11-yard touchdown catch before adding a one-yard score late in the second quarter. Overall, Brate only had four targets, but the two that he caught were instrumental in getting the Bucs out to a halftime lead.

Brate took somewhat of a backseat to O.J. Howard for much of the season, but after Howard went down with a season-ending injury, the Bucs needed the veteran to step up. In terms of red zone production, the 27-year-old has been reliable. He now has three touchdown catches over the last three games, bringing his season total to six. He and Jameis Winston have now linked up for 20 touchdowns in their time as teammates, which is tied for the third-most scores between a quarterback and receiver in franchise history. The duo is tied with Winston and Mike Evans. For two scores on Sunday, Brate gets two points in the standings.

3. Lavonte David (Three points)

It’s very obvious that the Bucs dearly missed Lavonte David while he was out with an injury. In his return last week against Carolina, the veteran linebacker led the team with tackles and landed at No. 3 on the Buccaneers of the Week list. He looked like vintage No. 54 last week against the Panthers and continued to make plays all over the field this past Sunday against the Saints. He once again led the team in tackles, racking up 10 (nine solo). Despite missing two games, David still leads the team in tackles on the season with 93, which is a full 30 ahead of the second-leading tackler.

The Nebraska product played a part in slowing down Alvin Kamara, who finished with 51 rushing yards and just 36 receiving yards. That’s a pretty solid day, but considering the damage that Kamara usually does (and often against the Bucs), it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that the defense did a good job containing him. The Buccaneer defense has been an improved unit in the last few weeks, which is a nice sight overall. It has to also be a good feeling for David, who has spent much of his career as one of the best players on some very poor defenses. For the second straight week, he gets three points in these standings.

2. Carl Nassib (Four points)

When the Bucs claimed Carl Nassib off waivers after the preseason ended, no one could have expected that he would turn into one of the most productive defenders on the team. He is making an impact week in and week out, getting after the opposing quarterback often. The 2016 third-rounder has been a major part of an improved pass rush, one that has taken off since Mike Smith was fired and Mark Duffner was promoted to interim defensive coordinator. In Sunday’s loss to the Saints, Nassib came up with a sack-fumble and an additional tackle for loss. The sack brought his season total to 6 1/2.

With some deficiencies in the secondary, Tampa Bay can’t play very well defensively without a strong pass rush. It has certainly gotten that pass rush in the last several weeks, with Nassib coming up with a lot of that pressure. He now has at least one quarterback hit in each of the last six games. His unofficial total for 2018 is up to 15, while Tampa Bay’s team total of 94 is good for fourth-best in the NFL. Nassib’s production for the Buccaneer defensive line has been a major reason for the unit’s improvement from last year to this year. The four points he earned this week have him tied for the No. 4 spot in the overall season standings.

1. Jason Pierre-Paul (Five points)

Jason Pierre-Paul has gotten very familiar with these standings, as he appears for the ninth time in 13 installments. This is his fourth straight week on the list, but his first appearance at No. 1 since week four. The veteran defensive end has looked like a man on a mission all year long, but Sunday he somehow found a way to take his play to another level. He finished the day as the second-leading tackler with eight (seven solo), with one going for a loss. He also batted a pass away at the line of scrimmage and recovered a fumble early in the second half. Pierre-Paul was an absolute monster against New Orleans on Sunday, continuing his incredible season.

Despite not having a sack on Sunday, JPP managed to make an impact. He continued to put pressure on Drew Brees and, paired with Carl Nassib, became responsible for one of New Orleans’ two turnovers. There isn’t much left to say about Pierre-Paul’s season that hasn’t already been said. He has been Tampa Bay’s best defender this season. To think that general manager Jason Licht got him for just a third round pick is wild. That move should be a huge plus in Licht’s favor when ownership is considering his future with the team. The 2010 first-round pick is turning 30 on New Year’s Day, but he has made it clear that he isn’t slowing down. With a full five points this week, he claims the top spot in the overall Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week 14:

  1. Jason Pierre-Paul— 27 points
  2. Mike Evans— 24 points
  3. Ryan Fitzpatrick— 17 points
  4. (TIE) Peyton Barber/Jameis Winston/Carl Nassib— 16 points
  5. Lavonte David— 15 points
  6. DeSean Jackson— 11 points
  7. O.J. Howard— 8 points
  8. Chris Godwin— 7 points
  9. (TIE) Kwon Alexander/Chandler Catanzaro/Adam Humphries— 6 points
  10. (TIE) Andrew Adams/Cameron Brate— 5 points
  11. Vita Vea— 3 points
  12. (TIE) Offensive Line/Jacquizz Rodgers— 2 points
  13. (TIE) Vernon Hargreaves/Bryan Anger/Carlton Davis— 1 point