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Buccaneers of the Week: at Jaguars

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Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 28-11 win over Jacksonville?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With a 28-11 win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Sunday, the Buccaneers have finally strung two wins together for the first time this season. The victory got them to 5-7 on the year and started the final month of the season off on the right foot.

Tampa Bay got out to a 25-0 lead by halftime, thanks in large part to the three turnovers forced by the defense on Jacksonville’s first three drives. The offense cashed in on two of them and the defense scored themselves on the other, which made for a wonderful display of complementary football. The Bucs were quieter in the second half, but did enough to hang on for a comfortable 17-point win.

When this team wins, there is no shortage of deserving candidates for some Buccaneers of the Week points. With that in mind, let’s take a look and see which five guys were the most deserving this week before getting a glimpse of the season standings with four games to go. But first...

Honorable Mentions

Peyton Barber didn’t get much on his 17 carries, going for just 44 yards (2.6 yards per carry). But he did find the end zone twice, becoming the first Buc to run for two scores in a game since he did it himself back in November of 2017... Lavonte David quietly had a good day, totaling seven tackles (four solo), with one for a loss. He also picked up a pass defended... Jason Pierre-Paul continued his impressive comeback from neck surgery, racking up three tackles (all solo), with two for loss and one sack. The sack gave him 3.5 in six games since his return. He finished with three quarterback hits in total... Carl Nassib notched his fifth sack of the season and forced a fumble that was recovered by Ndamukong Suh... Vita Vea may not have showed up on the stat sheet this week, but he set up a sack on the defensive side of the ball and delivered a great lead block on one of Barber’s touchdown runs... Carlton Davis once again had a strong day, adding two more passes defended to his season total, which is now at a team-high 14... Matt Gay bounced back from a rough day in Atlanta by connecting on both of his extra point attempts and hitting field goals from 25 and 37 yards out... Bradley Pinion averaged 48.3 yards per punt on the afternoon, with a key 58-yarder from the back of the Bucs’ end zone in the fourth quarter.

* deep exhale *

Let’s get onto the top five.

5. Sean Murphy-Bunting (One point)

Tampa Bay’s young secondary has been on quite the run over the last few weeks. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards have been (rightfully) getting much of the attention, but Sean Murphy-Bunting has shown a ton of improvement as well. He continued to do so on Sunday against the Jaguars, playing 69 of the team’s 73 defensive snaps (95%). That alone shows that he’s made enough strides for the coaching staff to give him some more time on the field. But he came up with two passes defended in the game and arguably one of the game’s biggest plays. With Tampa Bay’s lead in danger of being cut to one possession, Murphy-Bunting came up with an interception — his second of the year — in the end zone to kill the threat. He was simply in the right place to make a play, and it was a big one — a game-saver.

The former Central Michigan Chippewa finished the day as one of Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defensive players in the league, earning a grade of 90.2. That was enough to earn him a spot on PFF’s Team of the Week. Regardless of how you feel about that grading system, this is still a significant honor for a rookie who had struggled for the first half of the year. As we’ve seen with Dean and Edwards, Murphy-Bunting might be another day two pick that just needed some time to grow into his role as an NFL defensive back. By no means is he a finished product, but he is playing much better and with a lot more confidence. With a point in the Bucs of the Week Standings, he separates himself from the cluster that is tied for 10th in the season standings.

4. O.J. Howard (Two points)

How long have we been waiting to see the O.J. Howard of 2017 and 2018? Only all year, right? For whatever reason, the Bucs just haven’t been able to get Howard going for much of this season, but Sunday was a big step forward for the third-year tight end. He caught five of his six targets for 61 yards, averaging 12.2 yards per catch. Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they don’t have to be. The human mismatch was exactly that on multiple occasions against the Jaguars, displaying his insane athleticism on a couple of his catches. He made a couple of grabs that he hadn’t been making earlier in the year, which could be a good sign for what his finish to the season might look like.

Jameis Winston and the Buccaneer offense wasn’t as efficient as it typically is, but it didn’t have to be because of the defense’s stellar outing. Even still, Howard was a big part of what the Bucs did do on offense. He finished as the team’s second-leading receiver, providing Winston with a reliable target that could go up and get the ball in a tight spot. That was especially necessary on a day when Mike Evans and Chris Godwin never really got going like they usually do. If nothing else, Sunday proved that there is a place for Howard in this offense. It might come at the expense of another talented guy in Cameron Brate, but the front office will cross that bridge when it gets there. For now, Howard picks up his first Bucs of the Week points this season.

3. Breshad Perriman (Three points)

With Evans and Godwin not exploding for massive days, the Bucs needed other guys to step up. Howard was one, and the other was Breshad Perriman. After taking his share of criticism for much of the 2019 season, Perriman came out and showed what the team was looking for when it signed him during the offseason. He was Tampa Bay’s leading receiver on the afternoon, catching five of his six targets for a career-high 87 yards. He averaged 17.4 yards per catch, putting together a very good day to spark the offense’s opportunistic effort. Three of his catches went for first downs when the Bucs were facing third downs, one of which was a 32-yard reception that extended what was eventually a touchdown drive. He later added one for 30 yards on a drive that led to a field goal.

This one game might not mean Perriman has a future in Tampa Bay, but it was still good to see some production out of the former first-round pick. He has played a minimal role in the offense this year, which has at times led to a hole at the No. 3 wide receiver spot. On a team that includes Evans and Godwin, having no clear No. 3 has been compensated for a lot of the time, but it’s certainly better to have a third reliable option to go to. Winston seemed comfortable with the speedster in this game, which led to a career day for the former UCF Knight. He is another guy who picks up his first Bucs of the Week points this week.

2. Shaquil Barrett (Four points)

For all of the flak that gets thrown Jason Licht’s way for his free agency signings, he deserves a lot of praise for the signing of Shaquil Barrett. Finding this guy who was buried on the Denver Broncos’ depth chart has turned out to be a steal for Tampa Bay, as Barrett is nearing a franchise record for sacks in a single season. He came up with two more on Sunday against the Jaguars, bringing his season total to 14.5. That leaves him just 2.5 away from breaking Warren Sapp’s record of 16.5, which was set back in 2000. Can he get 2.5 more in four games? You have to like his chances. One of his sacks against Jacksonville led to a Nick Foles fumble that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by the No. 1 guy on this list. It was his sixth forced fumble of the season.

Okay, at what point is Barrett a lock for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award? He at least deserves some more buzz. His 14.5 sacks leads the league, and so do his six forced fumbles. And not only is he on pace to break Sapp’s sack record, but he’s also one forced fumble away from tying the Bucs’ single-season record of seven, which is held by Broderick Thomas (1991) and Stylez G. White (2007). The focus for Tampa Bay this offseason NEEDS to be on finding a way to lock Barrett up to a longer-term contract, as he is set to become a free agent. He’s playing his way into some big money, so the Bucs will have a decision to make. They have a lot of cap space, but they also have a lot of free agents. Time will tell. But with four points this week, Barrett breaks out of a fourth-place tie for the season and jumps into second.

1. Devin White (Five points)

Week after week, we’re seeing why the Bucs drafted Devin White with the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft. He had another massive game on Sunday, finishing with a team-high seven tackles (five solo), a tackle for loss, an interception (the first of his career) and a fumble returned for a touchdown (his first career defensive score). Those splash plays can be expected of White, who was known for making them game in and game out during his time at LSU. The Buccaneer defense was once again on fire this week, and the rookie was in the middle of the effort. His ability to step up and make some nice open-field tackles on Leonard Fournette (his former LSU teammate) was an underrated part of his Week 13 performance, a performance that absolutely should lead to a weekly honor or two from the league.

Since his return from injury, White has gotten better and better every week. He has developed into a major part of the Tampa Bay defense over the last several weeks, growing into his role as a defensive leader. He is now one-half of an extremely formidable linebacker duo — with Lavonte David — that is legitimately on track to be the best in the league. With another team-leading performance on Sunday, White is up to 69 tackles (44 solo), 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, three passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in just nine games. He has been an absolute stud for this team and with another five points in the standings, he pulls himself into the top five alongside Mike Evans and — fittingly — Lavonte David.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 13:

1. Chris Godwin — 23 points

2. Shaquil Barrett — 19 points

3. Ronald Jones II — 17 points

4. Jameis Winston — 15 points

5. Mike Evans/Lavonte David/Devin White — 13 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/Sean Murphy-Bunting — 4 points

10. Ryan Smith/Jason Pierre-Paul/Scotty Miller/Carlton Davis/Breshad Perriman — 3 points

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

12. Andrew Adams — 1 point