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Buccaneers of the Week: at New Orleans

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 48-40 win at New Orleans?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After every game, we’ll break down the Buccaneers’ top five players of the week. Point values will be distributed to each, which will then be added up for our weekly Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

The Buccaneers opened their 2018 season on Sunday with a 48-40 shootout win in New Orleans over the Saints. The victory improved Tampa Bay to 3-0 in season openers under head coach Dirk Koetter and set the team up well for its final two games without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Let’s get right into our top five Bucs from week one.

No. 5: Vernon Hargreaves III (One point)

There wasn’t a lot to love about the Buccaneer defense on Sunday, but third-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves had a pretty solid day. The pass defense as a whole was a problem, but Hargreaves was a consistent bright spot throughout the afternoon. He finished third on the team in tackles with seven (six solo), forced a fumble (that was returned for a touchdown by Justin Evans) and a pass breakup. None of the Saints’ explosive plays seemed to come at the expense of VH3, which can’t be said about too many other guys in the defensive backfield.

Hargreaves’ versatility was a plus on Sunday, as he was able to rotate between the outside and slot positions as needed. His strong day was huge for Tampa Bay, especially considering the absence of veteran Brent Grimes. Hargreaves did leave with an injury after his pass breakup, so his status for next week is uncertain as of now. But as far as week one, he earned a spot in these initial standings.

No. 4: Offensive Line (Two points)

As a group, the offensive line was extremely effective on Sunday. The Bucs made some changes to the unit in the offseason, signing center Ryan Jensen, moving Ali Marpet from center back to guard and cutting J.R. Sweezy. It’s only been one game, but those moves look pretty good so far. The o-line was especially good in pass protection, allowing no sacks while holding up strong enough to allow Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a career day. Fitzpatrick doesn’t have as much success and the Bucs don’t put up 48 points without that quality play from the guys up front.

Run-blocking was a little more hit-or-miss, but the group did what it had to do in that area. Peyton Barber found some holes in the first half to establish a run game that complemented the air attack. Per Greg Auman of The Athletic, the Bucs had 115 rushing yards on 30 carries, save for the kneel-downs in the final minutes:

That was more than enough to get the job done in a game that included so much success through the air. With that effort and their excellent pass protection, the big men make an early debut in the Bucs of the Week standings.

No. 3: DeSean Jackson (Three points)

DeSean Jackson’s first season with the Bucs was a disappointing one. That, combined with the emergence of Chris Godwin, made the veteran somewhat of an afterthought heading into the 2018 season. Very early in Sunday’s game, he made a statement. After Tampa Bay fell behind 7-0, Jackson blew right past a defender to get open for a 58-yard game-tying touchdown. His day wasn’t over there. He ended up catching all five of his targets 146 yards and two touchdowns.

D-Jax’s ability to be a deep threat was something that drew Tampa Bay’s interest before the 2017 season. He and Jameis Winston failed to get on the same page for much of last season, which led to a dip in production. During training camp and the preseason, both Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick seemed to develop a better connection with Jackson. In Fitzpatrick’s case, it has clearly translated. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered a concussion late in the game. The Bucs are surely hoping his absence isn’t a long one, especially after Sunday.

No. 2: Mike Evans (Four points)

It was hard not to place DeSean Jackson at the No. 2 spot on this list, but Mike Evans’ one extra yard was the difference. Okay, no. But really, Evans claims this spot—even somewhat controversially— due to his competition. Going up against Marshon Lattimore and owning him the way he did was one of the more overlooked stories of Sunday’s game. Evans is one of the game’s top receivers, but had struggled against Lattimore last year and against the Saints as a whole throughout his career. He broke out of that on Sunday in a huge way.

The Texas A&M product, fresh off signing a contract extension this offseason, caught all seven of his targets against New Orleans for 147 yards and a touchdown. A 50-yard touchdown catch in which he beat Lattimore was the highlight of his day, but the performance as a whole was a big reason for Tampa Bay’s win. The Bucs have a lot of talent at receiver, but if they’re going to live up to their full potential as an offense, they’re going to need Evans to be at his best. He was at his best on Sunday, that’s for sure.

No. 1: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Five points)

There was never a doubt as to who would claim the full five points in these standings this week, right? Ryan Fitzpatrick, at 35 years old, looked like the league’s best quarterback on Sunday. New Orleans’ defense didn’t look remotely ready for Fitzmagic to come out in full force. The veteran, playing in place of the suspended Jameis Winston, did much more than what was expected of him. He could’ve just come in, managed the game and dipped out after three games. That clearly isn’t his mindset.

In the opening game of his 14th NFL season, Fitzpatrick set a new career-high for passing yards with 417. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for one, lowering his shoulder at the goal line to put the Bucs ahead in the first quarter. He was on fire all day, even picking up a clutch first down late in the fourth quarter by scrambling for 12 yards on 3rd & 11. Fitzpatrick was the man on Sunday, giving him the top spot on this week’s list.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week one:

  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick— 5 points
  2. Mike Evans— 4 points
  3. DeSean Jackson— 3 points
  4. Offensive Line— 2 points
  5. Vernon Hargreaves— 1 point