Just four days after a season-opening home loss to the 49ers, the Buccaneers were back on the field looking to rebound. We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen Tampa Bay go on the road for a Thursday night divisional matchup. And we’ve seen it go terribly wrong.
Not this time. Under Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and the rest of this new staff, the Bucs came out with a response. Sixty hard-fought minutes later, the visitors escaped with a 20-14 win over the rival Panthers, evening their record at 1-1 while dropping Carolina’s to 0-2.
The defense was spectacular, which meant the offense just had to do its job and not turn the ball over. It was like a return to Buc Ball. There were almost too many noteworthy performances to name, but we’ll do our best here.
After Week 1, it was Jordan Whitehead leading the Buccaneers of the Week Standings. Let’s see who claimed points in the Week 2 win. But first…
When rookie Devin White left the game early in the first quarter with a knee injury, Kevin Minter stepped right up into his spot and made a strong impact. He finished the night with eight tackles (four solo) and a quarterback hit. He also came up with an interception, but it was negated due to a penalty… Ryan Jensen deserves a mention here for baiting former Buc Gerald McCoy into a personal foul on what turned into the go-ahead scoring drive for Tampa Bay… Jordan Whitehead was pretty excellent once again. He only fails to get a spot in the top five because of how good of a game it was for so many other guys… Speaking of barely not getting a spot, we have rookie Anthony Nelson juuuuust missing the cut. He batted a Cam Newton pass away in the backfield early in the game before later forcing a fumble that was recovered by Ndamukong Suh.
Now, on to the top five.
5. Jameis Winston (One point)
Jameis Winston, being the heat magnet that he is, was ridiculed all week leading up to the game in Carolina. No matter. He’s probably used to it by now. The fifth-year quarterback came out and had a very good game, completing 16 of his 25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn the ball over once. And truthfully, he should’ve had another touchdown at the end of the third quarter on a beautiful pass that Breshad Perriman couldn’t come up with.
On NFL Network’s postgame show, Winston was asked to assess his performance, and the main thing that stood out to me was the fact that he said something to the effect of “I managed the game.” Now, Winston has never exactly been a “game manager” type of quarterback. But it was OK to see him take on that role in Thursday’s game. Are we going to get 300-yard, three-touchdown performances out of Jameis Winston the game manager? It’s doubtful, but if it means avoiding three-interception games… There’s surely a balance that can be struck between the two where Winston is allowed to be himself but also remain smart with the ball. That’s up to him, Arians and Byron Leftwich to figure out. For now, the 25-year-old quarterback gets his first point in this season’s standings.
4. Peyton Barber (Two points)
In Week 1, Ronald Jones II stole the show from the rest of the Tampa Bay backfield. That led to the assumption that he would be featured heavily against the Panthers. Well, Peyton Barber took a page out of the great Lee Corso’s book and said “not so fast, my friend.” Still the team’s No. 1 back going into the week, Barber got carries early and ultimately got them often, especially as the game wound down. He finished with 23 carries for 82 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
After Jones took over against the 49ers, Arians said he would ride the hot hand. Only Thursday night, it was Barber as the hot hand. He played a major role in the Bucs’ victory, running effectively to complement the passing game. Down the stretch, he got carry after carry to kill the clock. He did so pretty effectively, turning in some impressive runs that included extra yards after contact. Barber has always been a tough runner, and he continued to showcase that in his first extended action of the season. Through two games, it seems like the state of the Buccaneer backfield is just fine. After Jones got himself some early-season points in the standings last week, Barber grabs two points this week.
3. Vernon Hargreaves III (Three points)
Vernon Hargreaves drew criticism all throughout the win over Carolina, which is why it probably surprised some that he finished the game as the team’s leading tackler. A lot of the complaints about Hargreaves were centered on his coverage, as it felt like he was giving Panthers receivers – namely D.J. Moore – an awful lot of cushion to work with. He was burnt for a 44-yard gain early in the game, and it didn’t look good. But by the end of the game, the 2016 first-round pick was the hero.
Hargreaves finished with 12 tackles (11 solo) and a pass defended, but there was no play bigger than Tampa Bay’s final defensive play of the game. Up 20-14 with just over a minute to go, the Bucs were in danger of letting the lead slip away late. Inside the five, the Panthers were facing a 4th-&-1 after a Tampa Bay penalty for calling back-to-back timeouts. Christian McCaffrey, one of the league’s best running backs, took a direct snap, faked a reverse pitch, and looked for the edge. The Bucs weren’t fooled. Hargreaves wasn’t fooled. He was with McCaffrey the whole way, forcing him out of bounds short of the first down. Bucs ball, Bucs win. It was tough not to give VH3 the No. 2 spot this week, truthfully. But he earns three points and pulls himself into a first-place tie in the standings through two weeks.
2. Chris Godwin (Four points)
#12SZN is a real thing, and Chris Godwin shined on the big stage that is Thursday Night Football. The third-year receiver caught eight of his nine targets for 121 yards and a touchdown, averaging 15.1 yards per catch. It was Godwin’s fifth career 100-yard game, and it came when the Bucs really needed it. The Tampa Bay offense wasn’t necessarily prolific against Carolina, but it did enough to win. And the Penn State alum was a huge reason for that. He and his quarterback got on the same page early, starting the game with a 22-yard connection. From there, it felt like he picked up first down after first down, including a late conversion that helped the offense kill more time.
Considering Mike Evans was tied up with James Bradberry, the Bucs needed Godwin to win his battles. He did, and the team won because of it. The 23-year-old has the weight of ridiculously high expectations on his shoulders this season, but he’s dealing with all of it like it’s no big deal. And through two weeks, he’s been a big part of the offense. He has 11 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in two games, catching both of Jameis Winston’s passing touchdowns on the year thus far. He’s going to be featured heavily going forward, and when Evans gets going, this receiver duo will be a beautiful thing to watch. For leading the offense in Thursday’s win, Godwin gets four big points in the standings.
1. Shaquil Barrett (Five points)
I wouldn’t be surprised if Cam Newton and the entire Carolina offensive line has nightmares about Shaquil Barrett for the next week or so. Barrett terrorized Newton to the tune of three sacks and four total quarterback hits. The three sacks were a career-high for the former Bronco, plus he became the first Buc with three in one game since Jacquies Smith did it on Sept. 20, 2015 in New Orleans. He nearly had a fourth sack later on, but was held before he could complete it. The Buccaneer defense as a unit caused problems for Newton and the Panthers, but no one contributed to those problems quite like Barrett did.
When Tampa Bay signed Barrett in the offseason, it looked like a sneaky good move. He showed flashes of what he can do in Denver, but he was stuck behind the likes of Von Miller on the depth chart. Now, two games into the 2019 season, he has four sacks for the Bucs. He played 78% of the team’s snaps, so he’s clearly getting his shot to shine. In a defense like Bowles’, Barrett will be sent on blitzes like crazy. Might 10-plus sacks be a possibility, considering he’s already at four? We’ll see about that, but he’s definitely becoming a spark for this new-look defense. There was no other choice for the full five points in the standings this week.
Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 2:
1. Jordan Whitehead/Vernon Hargreaves III/Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
2. Ronald Jones II/Chris Godwin — 4 points
3. Lavonte David — 3 points
4. Peyton Barber — 2 points
5. Vita Vea/Jameis Winston — 1 point