Week 1: Down.
Week 2: Up.
Week 3: Down.
The latest down in a Buccaneers season that is turning into the world’s worst roller coaster came Sunday afternoon when Tampa Bay blew a 28-10 halftime lead and eventually lost 32-31 on a missed 34-yard field goal by rookie kicker Matt Gay.
Just over a week after a huge road win over the division rival Panthers, the Bucs looked to be on their way to a 2-1 start to the year. Instead, everything came crashing down. The secondary fell apart, the offense went conservative and the kicking game failed them yet again.
But it wasn’t all bad. The first half was especially great to see, and there were some big bright spots in the midst of the darkness that was the game’s final 30 minutes. So, let’s look at the positives here. Which five guys took home some Buccaneers of the Week points this week? Let’s get to it. But first...
It was pretty hard to leave him off the list again this week, so Vita Vea deserves an honorable mention at the very least. He was once again a huge force in the run game, playing a big part in shutting down Saquon Barkley in the first half before the star running back left with an injury. Vea finished the day with an assisted tackle and two quarterback hits... O.J. Howard started to put his slow start behind him on Sunday, coming out with his best game of the season to this point. He caught three of his four targets for 66 yards, averaging 22 yards per catch... Rakeem Nunez-Roches recovered a fumble in the loss... Will Gholston registered two quarterback hits of his own.
5. Ronald Jones II (One point)
Had the Bucs ultimately won this game, it’s possible that Ronald Jones II would’ve climbed up to fourth on this list. But he still makes the list nonetheless, thanks to what was a very efficient day. The second-year running back ran the ball 14 times for 80 yards — an average of 5.7 yards per carry — and caught his lone target for a 41-yard gain. Tampa Bay’s usage of Jones in this game was pretty great, up until a couple second-half drives where they may have gone to the ground one or two too many times. The screen pass that he took 41 yards was especially great to see, and it would be good to see more plays like that.
Jones is off to a bit of an odd start in 2019, as he had a great Week 1, a quiet Week 2 and now a fantastic Week 3. Maybe that’s to be expected with the Buccaneer backfield, as Bruce Arians and his coaching staff have remained committed to riding the hot hand. Regardless, I’m sure everyone — especially Jones himself — will take the production from the first three weeks of this season over the first three weeks of his rookie year, when he didn’t even crack the gameday roster. RoJo makes his second appearance of the season on this list, taking home a point.
4. Carl Nassib (Two points)
Carl Nassib wasn’t THE standout linebacker for the Bucs on Sunday, but he certainly deserves his share of praise. Shaquil Barrett is rightfully getting a ton of attention for the game he had (we’ll get to him), but Nassib played a nice game himself. He finished with four tackles (two solo), his first sack of the season, two quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. He contributed to at least one — if not two — of Barrett’s sacks as well, putting some pressure on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones to allow Barrett to get to him.
Nassib was a revelation for Tampa Bay’s defense in 2018, and with Jason Pierre-Paul out to start this season, there’s some legitimate pressure on him to be a force off the edge. He’s done a pretty admirable job to this point, especially considering he’s at a new position. He’s adjusted quite nicely to the outside linebacker role in Todd Bowles’ defense, and Week 3 was his best game yet. Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come? For now, it’s two points for the guy who tied for fourth in last year’s standings.
3. Mike Evans (Three points)
It’s super tough to only have Mike Evans at the No. 3 spot here, really. After a slow start to 2019 — largely due to a sickness — Evans returned to form against the Giants. He finished the day with eight catches on 15 targets for 190 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. In the first half alone, he totaled 146 of those yards and all three of those scores, becoming the second Buc ever to catch three touchdowns in one half. The first? Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles. Evans had a quiet second half until a 44-yard catch late in the fourth quarter that set up what should’ve been the game-winning field goal.
It was very good to see Evans break out like he did against New York, especially considering the offense typically goes as he goes. That might be more true for Jameis Winston, but then again, you can almost say Winston goes as Evans goes. If this offense is gonna perform up to its standards, Evans needs to be the top-five receiver that he is. He was that guy on Sunday, which is why the No. 1 player in last year’s standings earns his first three points of the new season.
2. Jameis Winston (Four points)
From the very start of Sunday’s game, Jameis Winston was locked in. The Bucs took the ball to start the game, and Winston led them 75 yards in 10 plays to go up 6-0 early. He didn’t slow down for the rest of the half, heading into the locker room with 263 passing yards and three touchdowns. The second half was a bit of a letdown, but more because the offensive play-calling went conservative. Winston’s one big mistake was an interception on a throw that got away from him, but the Buccaneer defense got the ball right back with a turnover of its own.
Then, after the defense gave up the lead late, Winston got Tampa Bay in position to win the game with just two throws. If Matt Gay makes the easy kick, the Bucs win and people are grudgingly praising Winston’s performance. Instead, the talk is about everything else. And I’ll say this: if you’re trying to #BlameJameis for Sunday’s loss, you’re looking for something that’s not there. If you think the loss is on Winston, your bias/hate/agenda/ignorance is showing. If your quarterback completes 23 of 37 passes for 380 yards, three touchdowns and one inconsequential interception, you should win that game. Winston deserved this win, but all he gets is four points in these standings. That’s a shame.
1. Shaquil Barrett (Five points)
For the second straight week, Shaquil Barrett is the only real choice to grab the full five points in these standings. The former Denver Bronco burst onto the scene in Week 2 with three sacks against Carolina. No way he lived up to that in Week 3, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Barrett finished with FOUR SACKS, TWO FORCED FUMBLES, AND ABOUT 58 QUARTERBACK PRESSURES.
There was, once again, absolutely no stopping “Sack” Barrett on Sunday. With four more sacks, he has eight total. In three games. With those eight sacks, he has already hit his $250,000 bonus just three weeks into the season. Oh, and he has a $250,000 bonus for 10-plus sacks as well. He’ll probably have that by halftime of next week’s game, at this rate. Like he did in Carolina, he took over Sunday’s game at one point. He had the New York offense reeling, and it was beautiful to see. With another five points this week, Barrett has a solid lead in the overall standings through three weeks.
Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 3:
1. Shaquil Barrett — 10 points
2. Jordan Whitehead/Vernon Hargreaves III/Jameis Winston/Ronald Jones II — 5 points
3. Chris Godwin — 4 points
4. Lavonte David/Mike Evans — 3 points
5. Peyton Barber/Carl Nassib — 2 points
6. Vita Vea — 1 point