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Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Panthers

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Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 37-26 loss to the Panthers?

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

The Buccaneers dropped their second straight game Sunday, falling 37-26 in London against the division rival Panthers. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 2-4 before its bye week and established plenty of questions that need to be answered over the next several weeks.

The game was largely a disaster, with the Bucs turning the ball over seven times (and Jameis Winston being responsible for six of them). Two weeks ago, Bruce Arians and his team were entering a crucial two-week stretch that, if everything had gone according to plan, would’ve ended with the Bucs at or near the top of the NFC South. Instead, they are working their way closer to the bottom of the division.

But while most of Sunday’s game was bad, it wasn’t all bad. So, as we do every week, we’ll take a look at the top performers — our Buccaneers of the Week. Let’s get straight into it, as there legitimately weren’t enough choices to have honorable mentions.

5. Lavonte David (One point)

The Tampa Bay defense was horrible against the pass once again in Sunday’s game, but the run defense remained strong. And while Devin White finished as the team’s leading tackler, it was Lavonte David who seemed to be all over the place throughout the game. He was a big part of holding Christian McCaffrey to well under 100 yards — again — and kept the defense together in the second half when the Bucs were trying to put together some sort of comeback attempt. Overall, David finished with six tackles (five solo), with one for a loss. But the numbers don’t tell the full story of the day he had from his middle linebacker position.

David, in typical Lavonte David fashion, has flown under the radar so far in 2019. He has remained the best player on the Tampa Bay defense and has continued to quietly lead by example. He won’t make headlines or garner any league-wide attention with the season he’s put together so far, but he rarely gets his credit. It’s nothing new. But he continues to put his head down, work hard and produce for the Bucs, even when few other guys are stepping up. He doesn’t do it for the attention, and I think that’s what everyone loves about him. For his efforts and leadership in Sunday’s game, David takes home a point in this week’s standings.

4. Vita Vea (Two points)

As mentioned above, the Buccaneer defense once again shut down potential league MVP Christian McCaffrey. That’s two games this season that McCaffrey has been held under 100 total yards this season — out of six — and both have come against the Bucs. One of the biggest (literally and figuratively) reasons for that is Vita Vea. In Sunday’s loss, Vea continued to do what he does best, pushing dudes around and taking away the middle of the line. As a team, the Panthers ran for 59 yards. And that was in a game where they led the whole way and could lean on the ground game a bit. They still averaged only two yards per carry. Vea finished the game with four tackles (two solo) and a half a sack. As is usually the case with him, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the sheer impact up the middle. On Carl Nassib’s sack, it was Vea pushing through a double-team to set it up.

The second-year defensive tackle’s play this season has been easy to overlook. I’m guilty of it myself. If you aren’t paying close attention to the trenches, you might just miss the importance of what Vea has done. He eats up double-teams like it’s nobody’s business, and he almost makes it look effortless. As hideous as the Bucs’ pass defense has been this year, their run defense has been fantastic. Big No. 50 is leading the charge in that area. He gets two points this week for his strong play. And I’ll be the first to admit that Vea should have more than three points in the season standings. But if he keeps playing the way he has, this won’t be his last — or highest — appearance.

3. Ryan Smith (Three points)

The guy has long been an impact player on the punt team in Tampa Bay, but I’m not sure we’ve seen him come up as big as he did in London. Early on, he downed a Bradley Pinion punt at the 1-yard line. And while the Panthers did go 99 yards on the ensuing drive, you can’t fault Smith for that. He put the Buccaneer defense in position for a safety, a turnover or at the very least, a stop that would force Carolina to punt from the back of the end zone. And he wasn’t done there. On Tampa Bay’s very next punt, he forced a fumble that set up a short scoring drive that ended in a Bucs touchdown. The struggling Tampa Bay offense only had to go 37 yards to get six points, and that was because of Smith.

This is a first. Prior to this week, the only special teams players to appear on this list have been kickers and the occasional punter. But Smith’s special teams performance against Carolina gave me no other choice. Plus, talk about someone I didn’t expect to be on this list at any point this season... And don’t get me wrong, that’s not a knock on Smith. It’s just that he started the season with a four-game suspension and upon his return, head coach Bruce Arians made it clear that he was stepping into his special teams role, but not a role in the secondary. Good on Smith for making an impact anyway, and for that, he gets three points in the standings.

2. Carl Nassib (Four points)

Carl Nassib was a constant presence on Buccaneers of the Week in 2018, and while he has been overshadowed by Shaquil Barrett in 2019, he’s putting together a pretty nice year to this point. He probably had the best statistical day of any Tampa Bay defender, totaling six solo tackles (four for loss), a sack and two quarterback hits. He played a huge part in stopping Christian McCaffrey as well, forcing his way into the backfield multiple times to either take McCaffrey down himself or set someone else up to do so. And on a day that saw the defense get little pressure on the quarterback, it felt like Nassib was the one getting home most frequently.

Going forward, consistency from Nassib will be huge. Barrett will continue to draw the attention of other teams, so it’s up to the Penn State man to take advantage and find his way into the backfield. Plus, if Jason Pierre-Paul makes his return in the coming weeks, having the threat of him, Nassib and Barrett off the edge could inject some life into this Tampa Bay defense. Because with the way the secondary is playing, the unit needs as much pass rush as it can get. Nassib was a pleasant surprise after the Bucs picked him up last year. Now, this is what we expect out of him. For his work in Sunday’s game, he gets four points in the standings to jump into the top five.

1. Chris Godwin (Five points)

From one Penn State man to another, as the top spot once again goes to Chris Godwin. On Sunday, the third-year receiver continued to live up to the preseason hype that surrounded him, putting up a big performance in what was otherwise a frustrating day for the offense. Jameis Winston couldn’t stop turning the ball over and Byron Leftwich abandoned the run early on, so Godwin was pretty much the only bright spot. He caught 10 of his 12 targets (a ridiculous 83% catch rate) for 151 yards. That’s an average of 15.1 yards per catch, which is right up there with what he’s been doing all season, picking up first down after first down.

Godwin is well on his way to the first 1,000-yard season for his career. Sunday was his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the year, bringing him up to 662 yards on the season. He’s averaging 15.4 yards per catch this season, picking up some of Mike Evans’ slack as he struggles for what seems like the first time in his career. The Bucs have a lot of work to do as a team, and that includes the offense. But if Godwin can keep this up (which he should be able to), Evans gets on track (which he should be able to) and Winston returns to his Weeks 2 through 4 form (we’ll see), Tampa Bay should feel good going forward.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 6:

1. Chris Godwin — 18 points

2. Shaquil Barrett — 13 points

3. Ronald Jones II — 11 points

4. Jameis Winston — 10 points

5. Jordan Whitehead/Carl Nassib — 6 points

6. Vernon Hargreaves III — 5 points

7. Lavonte David — 4 points

8. Mike Evans/Sean Murphy-Bunting/Ryan Smith/Vita Vea — 3 points

9. Peyton Barber/Alex Cappa — 2 points

10. Matt Gay — 1 point