The Buccaneers, despite having a new coaching staff and some new additions on both sides of the ball, started their 2019 season the same way they ended the 2018 campaign. They lost a winnable game late in the fourth quarter, though this one came in a different way.
This time around, it was the defense stepping up and the offense faltering. That doesn’t line up with the bad losses this team has had in the last several seasons, but it was still a letdown of a loss nonetheless.
There were still performances in Sunday’s 31-17 loss that are worth acknowledging. Like we did in 2018, we’ll take some time after each game to break down Tampa Bay’s 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. Last year, it was Mike Evans who finished at the top, earning 35 points.
So, lets get on with the first installment of the 2019 standings. Who were the five best players for Tampa Bay in the Week 1 loss to San Francisco?
5. Vita Vea (1 point)
The Buccaneer defense kept the team in the game on Sunday, pretty much pushing the 49ers around throughout the afternoon. The unit was especially strong against the run, holding the San Francisco backfield to just 98 yards on the ground. Second-year nose tackle Vita Vea was a huge part of that effort, which is especially impressive considering the fact that his status for the game was uncertain for weeks leading up to the game. In early August, he sprained his LCL and was set to possibly miss 6-8 weeks. It seemed strange that the Bucs weren’t ready to rule him out for Week 1.
Good thing they didn’t. His knee seemed just fine on Sunday, as he played 48 defensive snaps (71% of the group’s total). That allowed him to be a consistent force in the run game. He finished with three tackles (two solo), but it was about much more than the tackles. Vea clogged up the line of scrimmage, opening things up for the linebackers to clean up. That’s going to be a huge part of his role in this new defense, and he played it to perfection against the ‘9ers. After a seventh-place finish last year with nine points, he gets 2019 off to a good start with a point in the initial standings.
4. Vernon Hargreaves III (2 points)
When the Bucs couldn’t get anything going on offense in the first half of Sunday’s game, the defense stepped up. More specifically, Vernon Hargreaves III stepped up. Just after allowing a first down, Hargreaves turned things around by jumping a Jimmy Garoppolo pass, picking it off and returning it 15 yards for a touchdown. Following the extra point, Tampa Bay had its first lead of the season, a 7-6 advantage that they carried into halftime. That splash play was the 24-year-old’s big moment of the afternoon, but he was impressive throughout. Garoppolo didn’t look his way too much, and that’s a credit to the young veteran’s play.
This is a big season for Hargreaves, and he is off to a flying start. Second-year corner Carlton Davis struggled on the other side of the defense, but the fourth-year NFLer more than held his own to start 2019. What made the difference? Well, it certainly looked like VH3 was playing with confidence on Sunday. And with a performance like he had, his confidence should be even higher now. A confident Vernon Hargreaves is a Vernon Hargreaves who will make more plays like these:
3. Lavonte David (3 points)
Those opportunities that Vita Vea was creating for Tampa Bay’s linebackers? Yeah, Lavonte David reaped the benefits of those more than any other linebacker. The veteran, making the move inside after spending years on the outside, didn’t miss a beat. He finished as the Bucs’ second-leading tackler, picking up seven (six solo), with one for a loss. It felt like David was all over the field on Sunday, which we’ve gotten used to.
After undergoing a minor knee surgery in the preseason, he was another guy whose status for Week 1. He was cleared for Week 1 and played 96% of 68 possible snaps, which was huge for Tampa Bay. Linebackers are a huge part of Todd Bowles’ defense, and a linebacker of No. 54’s caliber is going to be a huge factor in this scheme. He showed signs of that on Sunday. Plus, as rookie Devin White continues to develop, it’ll only create more chances for David to make an impact. The two of them should form a formidable duo in the middle of the Buccaneer defense. For now, though, it’s David earning three points in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings.
2. Ronald Jones II (4 points)
The offense was dreadful in Week 1, but second-year running back Ronald Jones II was the lone bright spot. He had to split time with Peyton Barber and Dare Ogunbowale, but he emerged as the go-to guy in the second half. The Bucs started feeding Jones the ball play after play on a couple of later drives, and he rewarded them for it. The former USC Trojan picked up a couple of first downs and put the Bucs in position to score a couple of times. It’s not his fault they only came away with three points between the two drives.
By the end of the night, Jones had 13 carries for 75 yards, which was good for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. He also caught his lone target for 18 yards, converting a third-and-long. Jones looked like a different guy than we saw a year ago, which follows along with the hype we heard from the coaching staff in the offseason. After a performance like he had in the opener, it would be nice to see him involved a little more heavily on Thursday night against the Panthers. His late production provided a much-needed spark for the offense, but he still only played 22 snaps (31% of the unit’s total). More RoJo on Thursday, please. If that’s the case, maybe he’ll add to the four points he earned in this week’s standings.
1. Jordan Whitehead (5 points)
After being selected in the fourth-round of the 2018 draft, Jordan Whitehead was a pleasant surprise as a rookie. He looked even better in training camp and the preseason, which helped him earn a starting safety spot in Week 1. He more than took advantage of it, leading the Bucs in tackles with eight (seven solo). He seemed to be in the right spot on almost every play, looking comfortable and confident with his role in the new-look defense. His production matched, making him look like one of the best defenders on the field.
Not only that, but he was a steady presence on that side of the ball. With Justin Evans still sidelined with an injury, rookie Mike Edwards being limited to four snaps and Darian Stewart leaving the game late, Whitehead was huge for the safety group. He played all 68 defensive snaps and put together one of the best — if not THE best — game of his young career. Any prior worries about Whitehead as a starting safety were probably silenced after just 60 minutes of the season. He was flying around making plays throughout, earning him the full five points and the top spot in the standings after Week 1.
Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 1:
- Jordan Whitehead — 5 points
- Ronald Jones II — 4 points
- Lavonte David — 3 points
- Vernon Hargreaves III — 2 points
- Vita Vea — 1 point