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Buccaneers of the Week: at Falcons

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Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 35-22 win over Atlanta?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers played their most complete game of the season on Sunday, beating the rival Falcons 35-22 in Atlanta to improve to 4-7 on the year.

One win doesn’t change much for Tampa Bay, but it was still great to see such an effort against a team it had lost five straight against. There were stars all over the defense and some bright spots on offense, with special teams being the only letdown.

That brings us to the Buccaneers of the Week, which promises to be the most difficult to break down since the inception of this series in Week 1 of the 2018 season. There are at least 10 deserving guys for the five spots, and the five that do receive points can legitimately be mixed and matched plenty of different ways. So, let’s give this a try. Feel free to throw your opinions out there, but let’s save the name-calling, shall we?

Honorable Mentions

Jameis Winston overcame two early interceptions to have a nice game, completing 18 of his 28 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 38 yards on eight carries, doing well to make plays with his legs when he needed to... Ronald Jones II didn’t get a ton of carries, but he was productive with the touches he got. On 12 carries, he rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown... Mike Evans was limited to four catches for 50 yards, but he surpassed 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season, becoming the second player in NFL history to do so to start a career... Ndamukong Suh scored his second touchdown of the year, scooping up a Jason Pierre-Paul sack-fumble and returning it for six... Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib both picked up sacks in the win... Mike Edwards had another nice game, totaling two passes defended. Shaquil Barrett added another sack to his total, plus he was in the backfield pressuring the quarterback all day.

5. Devin White (One point)

This almost feels unfair. In fact, it is. Devin White certainly outplayed the No. 5 spot, but in the grand scheme of things, the four guys ahead of him had a slightly bigger impact on the outcome of the game. Regardless, White put together another outstanding game. He finished with eight tackles (five solo) and two sacks, bringing his total to 2.5 on the year. On both sacks, he came through virtually untouched on well-timed blitzes to bring Matt Ryan down. The rookie still has some work to do in pass coverage, but he’s extremely effective against the run and the blitzes were somewhat of a new wrinkle that we should see more of going forward.

White had a rough start to his first NFL campaign, with an illness and an injury holding him back early on. The No. 5 overall pick has emerged as a leader of the Tampa Bay defense over the last several weeks. He is legitimately looking like more and more of a game-changer by the week, especially in a tandem with Lavonte David. Once he uses his speed a bit more and gets his pass coverage up to par, we’ll really start to see the Devin White we saw at LSU. Somewhat cruelly, White gets just a point in this week’s standings.

4. Jamel Dean (Two points)

What a weird few weeks it’s been for Jamel Dean. In Seattle, he was thrown into the fire and struggled as a result. The following week, he had a nice game against Arizona. Then, he didn’t play a single defensive snap against New Orleans last week. So, when the rookie got the start Sunday in Atlanta, there was a lot of rejoicing within the Buccaneer fan base. And truly, there was even more rejoicing over Dean’s performance throughout the afternoon. He was excellent in coverage, racking up another five passes defended to bring his season total to a team-high 13. He juuuuust missed an interception that could’ve been a pick six, but it wasn’t enough to blemish his day.

The third-round pick stepped up against a top-tier receiving corps, showing a lot of growth. That’s what the rest of this season is about for the Bucs — evaluation. Dean and the young secondary have a lot to prove, and Sunday was a fantastic start. There’s a ton of talent at the position. That’s been clear. But the experience hasn’t been there. With time, there will be growth. Dean epitomizes all of that. With more weeks of studying film and preparing as a starter, it’ll be intriguing to see what the former Auburn Tiger can do. He’s already shown a lot of progress, especially when you consider the fact that he’s shown up on this list in the last two games that he’s played at corner. He gets two points this week to pull into a sixth-place tie for the season.

3. Carlton Davis (Three points)

The fact that Jamel Dean wasn’t the top defensive back on this list tells you all you need to know about the day Carlton Davis had. The second-year corner was fantastic in the Buccaneer win, picking up five tackles (all solo), five passes defended and his first career interception. For the first year and a half of his career, he had struggled to display any semblance of ball skills. He has been better this year, but Sunday was the best game of his career. After dropping an easy pick earlier in the game, the Auburn product did manage to come up with an interception later on. It came on an excellent play as well, with Davis going up with Calvin Ridley before wrestling the ball away for the turnover.

Like with Dean, the Bucs have to be evaluating Davis the rest of the way. He has shown flashes of potential in the past, but he hasn’t managed to take his game to the next level. Maybe Sunday was the start of that. Julio Jones wasn’t at 100% for the whole game, but Davis locked him down even when he was. Tampa Bay is in dire need of a No. 1 corner, and the front office has to be hoping that Davis can be that guy. Vernon Hargreaves III certainly wasn’t. It would be frustrating to spend a day one — or even another day two — pick on a corner in hopes of shoring up the secondary. Being able to spend those picks elsewhere would be huge. That’s why it would be so significant if the emergence of Davis and Dean continues for the rest of the season. With his big game against the Falcons, Davis gets three points in the standings.

2. Vita Vea (Four points)

What is there to say about the game that Vita Vea had on Sunday? It was surely a day the big man will never forget, as he caught a touchdown pass from Jameis Winston in the first half. That’s right. Vita Vea, the defensive tackle, now has a receiving score to his name. At 347 pounds, the 2018 first-round pick is the heaviest player in NFL history to catch a touchdown pass. And of course, he was still his same disruptive self on defense too. He came up with a sack and two passes defended as well, making it a complete game. If this wasn’t the best game of his career to date, feel free to point out what was.

The crazy thing about Vea is that it feels like he’s still scratching the surface. He is already proving to be very good, but he’s on his way to being great. The “should’ve drafted Derwin James” crowd will likely never go away, but it does seem a whole lot quieter these days. Say what you want about drafting a run-stopping defensive tackle when the Bucs did. They got a heck of a player that promises to anchor their defense extremely effectively for the foreseeable future. The guy is a force to be reckoned with, one that has an impact on almost every game. With his memorable performance on Sunday, he takes home four points in the Bucs of the Week Standings.

1. Chris Godwin (Five points)

As dominant as the defense was against Atlanta, the most dominant player on the field — on either team — was Chris Godwin. It was yet another monster performance for the third-year receiver, as he caught all seven of his targets for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdown receptions were very impressive, with the first coming in traffic on a beautiful throw from Jameis Winston and the second coming on a one-handed grab while he was set to be rocked by a defender. The 23-year-old continues to amaze everyone week after week, proving that he’s a true No. 1 receiver that just so happens to be playing on the same team as another top receiver in the league.

Godwin has been one of the best receivers in the NFL all year long. Sunday was his fifth 100-yard game of the season and his third multi-score game. Plus, he surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He and Evans are the second pair of Bucs teammates to each total 1,000 receiving yards in a season (the first was Evans and Vincent Jackson in 2014). With 1,071 yards, Godwin is No. 2 in the league (trailing only Michael Thomas). And with nine receiving touchdowns, he leads the entire NFL. The Bucs absolutely have to pay this man what he’s worth. Get him locked into a long-term deal now while you have the chance. Because he’s a star. Five full points this week extends his lead for the Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 12:

1. Chris Godwin — 23 points

2. Ronald Jones II — 17 points

3. Shaquil Barrett/Jameis Winston — 15 points

4. Mike Evans/Lavonte David — 13 points

5. Devin White — 8 points

6. Jamel Dean/Vita Vea — 7 points

7. Jordan Whitehead/Carl Nassib — 6 points

8. Vernon Hargreaves III — 5 points

9. Matt Gay/Cameron Brate — 4 points

10. Sean Murphy-Bunting/Ryan Smith/Jason Pierre-Paul/Scotty Miller/Carlton Davis — 3 points

11. Peyton Barber/Alex Cappa/Mike Edwards— 2 points

12. Andrew Adams — 1 point