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Buccaneers of the Week: at Saints

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Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 31-24 loss in New Orleans?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In Week 5, the Buccaneers continued their trend of alternating wins and losses every week by losing 31-24 to the Saints in New Orleans. Tampa Bay dropped to 2-3 ahead of its Week 6 trip to London by playing an all-around disappointing game.

The Bucs took advantage of an early turnover to go up 7-3, but eventually fell behind before halftime and fell further behind after the break. They never quite got into a rhythm, needing a garbage time touchdown to make the score look a little better than it was. Overall, New Orleans outgained Tampa Bay 457-252 on its way to maintaining its hold on first place in the NFC South.

There weren’t a lot of memorable performances for the Bucs on Sunday, but we still can scrape together some worthy candidates to take home points in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings. We’ll get there, but first...

Honorable Mentions

Ndamukong Suh had himself a pretty nice game, coming up with two tackles (one solo) and a quarterback hit. He was one of the only consistent forces of pressure this week for the Tampa Bay defense... Kevin Minter once again played in place of the injured Devin White, finishing as the team’s leading tackler. He had 10 tackles (nine solo) in the loss... Matt Gay was once again perfect, nailing all three of his extra point attempts in addition to a 42-yard field goal... The final drive helped Jameis Winston put up another game with a passer rating over 100 (104.6). He finished with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-27 passing, hanging in there while getting sacked six times on the afternoon.

5. Jordan Whitehead (One point)

The Buccaneer secondary as a whole had a rough day, failing to contain Teddy Bridgewater and his favorite target, Michael Thomas. But that shouldn’t take away from the day that Jordan Whitehead had. The second-year safety continued to be one of the more consistent players in the secondary, picking up seven tackles (six solo) and two passes defended. One of those was a diving pass breakup that was nearly an outstanding interception. Plus, one of his tackles was a big one, as he stopped Alvin Kamara in the open field to save what could have potentially been a touchdown.

Whitehead was a fourth-round pick in 2018, but he certainly plays like a day two pick at the very least. He’s up to 26 tackles (20 solo), a team-high six passes defended and an interception on the year. Especially with the continued growing pains of Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves III at the corner position and the inexperience of Mike Edwards at safety, the Bucs need Whitehead to continue leading the way for that group. He’s certainly done so thus far, and that’s reflected by his place in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings through five weeks. He is the highest-ranked defensive back and the second-highest defender in the standings through five weeks.

4. Alex Cappa (Two points)

In Week 1 of the 2018 season, the entire offensive line earned a spot in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings. The Bucs won that game over the Saints by a score of 48-40, and the whole unit came up huge all afternoon. Fast forward to the 2019 matchup in New Orleans and we have our first-ever individual offensive lineman making the list. Second-year guard Alex Cappa picks up two points here, partly because of his performance but more for his grit.

It came out Monday that Cappa broke his arm in the second quarter of the game. He didn’t come off the field. He played all 59 of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps, and seemed to play decently well, without breaking down the film. Most of the pressure on Winston came off the edge rather than up the middle against Cappa. The Humboldt State product has adapted well to his starting role early on this season, and him missing some time with a broken arm is genuinely a big problem for the Bucs. For a guy to play through that kind of injury — especially at the position he plays? That deserves a ton of respect. And that’s what he gets here, along with the two points in the standings.

3. Sean Murphy-Bunting (Three points)

Again, the Tampa Bay secondary had a rough day. But a splash play from a rookie made for a nice bright spot in the first half. Sean Murphy-Bunting, the Bucs’ second-round pick, has struggled to get on the field through the first part of the season. He had a great training camp, but his preseason play left a lot to be desired. That has kept him on the sideline for much of the first five games, but he saw more action on Sunday. Late in the first quarter, Murphy-Bunting made a momentum-shifting play, picking off a Bridgewater pass that was tipped by Kamara. It was the rookie’s first career pick, and it set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the day.

Murphy-Bunting had the pick and five tackles (three solo), and he gained valuable experience throughout the day. Because Carlton Davis was ejected early on, Murphy-Bunting had to step in and step up. He had his moments of struggles, as did most of the secondary, but it was definitely beneficial for the 22-year-old to get some meaningful snaps. He ended up playing 60, which was 86% of the defense’s total. For what was a learning experience — and for his momentum-changing interception — he gains three points in this week’s standings.

2. Ronald Jones (Four points)

The second spot this week goes to someone who is becoming a staple on this list, and that’s second-year running back Ronald Jones II. The numbers weren’t as eye-catching this week, but Jones was still effective in the limited opportunities he got. He ran the ball nine times for 35 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards. That’s 56 yards on 11 touches, which is about five yards per touch. That’s efficient, and an average the Bucs will take all day every day. Not much went right for the Tampa Bay offense in Sunday’s loss, so the former USC Trojan didn’t have much of a chance to really get going. Still, he provided the offense with a bit of a steady presence when given the chance.

Peyton Barber had eight carries of his own and both backs only got 20 snaps each. Dare Ogunbowale got pretty much an equal share of snaps (19) due to the Bucs’ need to throw the ball later in the game. The volume wasn’t there for Jones this week, and that can be seen as a real issue. He has been one of the more explosive and effective players on the Tampa Bay offense in the first quarter of the season, so to see him fall to the wayside a little bit (though not as much as Mike Evans and O.J. Howard...) was a bit frustrating. Nonetheless, his efficiency in limited touches earns him a strong four points this week, pulling him into second place through five games.

1. Chris Godwin (Five points)

The rest of the players on this list, while plenty deserving of their points, were a little tougher to decide on given the fact that Sunday’s game wasn’t a good one for the Bucs. But the top spot? The top spot was once again plenty easy. After barely missing out on the top spot last week, Chris Godwin gets the full five points this week. He was the only receiver that truly got involved for the Bucs, picking up a lot of the slack with seven catches on nine targets for 125 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third 100-yard game of the season (his second straight) and his second consecutive multi-score day. With Evans quieted all afternoon, Godwin made plenty of noise.

The hype surrounding Godwin heading into 2019 felt like it might be too much for the third-year receiver to live up to. But even with all of the expectations, he is thriving. He’s up to 511 receiving yards on the year (third in the NFL) and six touchdowns (first in the NFL) through five games. He’s averaging 15.5 yards per catch, with a ridiculously high percentage of his receptions going for first downs. When the Bucs can get Godwin and Evans to click in the same week — kind of like they did in Los Angeles — this offense is going to be nearly impossible to stop. With five more points in this week’s standings, Godwin pulls into a first-place tie with Shaquil Barrett. Extremely fitting.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 5:

1. Shaquil Barrett/Chris Godwin — 13 points

2. Ronald Jones — 11 points

3. Jameis Winston — 10 points

4. Jordan Whitehead — 6 points

5. Vernon Hargreaves III — 5 points

6. Lavonte David/Mike Evans/Sean Murphy-Bunting — 3 points

7. Peyton Barber/Carl Nassib/Alex Cappa — 2 points

8. Vita Vea/Matt Gay — 1 point