The Buccaneers got their first dose of primetime action last Thursday night, but they didn’t live up to the hype under the bright lights, playing a sloppy game en route to a 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Tampa Bay was pretty unimpressive in all facets of the game. Despite leading 13-0 at the two-minute warning in the first half, the Bucs went into the locker room down by one. Coming out of the break, they couldn’t stop committing penalties, stunting every offensive drive they had. In the end, it was a battle of the kickers that Chicago ultimately won. Bruce Arians’ team had its three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 3-2 on the year as it heads into a mini bye week ahead of next Sunday’s home game against the Green Bay Packers.
Before we get to that big game against the Packers, it’s time to take one more look back at a game most would probably like to forget. That’s right, we still have Buccaneers of the Week points to award. So, let’s get to it.
A reminder of how this works, for anyone who hasn’t been around in the past: Each week, I’ll rank the top five Bucs of the Week and assign them point values, which will determine their place in the “Buccaneers of the Week Standings.” No. 5 gets one point, No. 4 gets two and so on. The 2018 Buccaneer of the Year was Mike Evans, while Shaquil Barrett was the 2019 Buccaneer of the Year. OK, let’s get it going.
With Chris Godwin and Justin Watson sidelined, rookie Tyler Johnson stepped up in the first half of Thursday’s game, catching four passes for 61 yards. He didn’t catch any passes in the second half, but he still finished as the team’s leading receiver... Rob Gronkowski made some big plays, catching three passes for 52 yards... Mike Evans caught the team’s lone touchdown, bringing his total for the season to six... Jason Pierre-Paul had a decent game, picking up four tackles (three solo) and his fourth sack of the year... Jamel Dean came up with four passes defended in the game, including some key pass breakups late in the game.
5. Carlton Davis (One point)
The Buccaneer secondary had a pretty strange night against the Bears. It allowed Nick Foles to complete 71% of his passes, though that only led to 208 passing yards. Overall, it wasn’t an objectively bad outing for the group, nor the defense as a whole. One guy who especially stood out was Carlton Davis, who continued his strong start to 2020. The third-year corner out of Auburn spent his first season and a half struggling in terms of tracking the ball in—he simply couldn’t buy an interception. That changed toward the back half of 2019 and it has continued into 2020. He came up with a first-half interception on Thursday night, which marked his third pick in the last three games. Heading into play Sunday, he was tied for the league lead. He also finished the night as the Bucs’ leading tackler, picking up seven (all solo). For having a pretty tough assignment on a short week, it’s hard not to be impressed with the way he responded.
Davis’ reputation is starting to pick up a little bit nationally, thanks in part to the exposure brought along by Tampa Bay’s big offseason signings. Week in and week out, you can hear the FOX or CBS announcers praising the 6-foot-1 corner, calling him one of the better ones in the league. It’s hard to argue with his rising stock, especially with the receivers he is tasked with covering on a weekly basis. It truly says a lot about the year he is having, too, as it wasn’t long ago that the Bucs’ corners were ranked dead last in the NFL. The group of them have used that “#32” designation as motivation. From the looks of it, it’s working. Davis cracks the top five for the first time this season, picking up a point in the standings.
4. Vita Vea (Two points)
Tampa Bay set a franchise record on Thursday night by making Chicago the third straight team it has held under 50 rushing yards (following Denver and Los Angeles). Another team record—most consecutive games allowing under 100 rushing yards—was also extended to 11. A significant part of that effort was Vita Vea, who continued to do what he does best. He was a huge presence on the interior of the defensive line, racking up three tackles (two solo), with 1.5 going for a loss. That includes his second sack of the season, which was one of three on the night for the Bucs. Unfortunately, Vea went down with what was later announced as a season-ending injury. Prior to his exit, he had a 92.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the highest-graded game of his career.
Losing Vea for the season is a massive blow to the Bucs’ front seven, as he is a big part of both the run defense and the pass rush. His ability to plug the middle and collapse the pocket is part of what creates so many plays for guys like Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. And he was having a fantastic season, especially by PFF’s grading system. He finished the year (five games) with an overall grade of 90.4, which was second among all interior defensive linemen. Plus, his pass-rush grade—90.3, which was also second among interior linemen—served as proof that he was coming along in that aspect of his game. That was something he talked about improving on before this season, and it’s unfortunate that he—and we—won’t be able to see that throughout the rest of the year. He grabs two points in the Bucs of the Week Standings for his Thursday night performance. It’s just a shame that those are also his last points of the season.
3. William Gholston (Three points)
There have been plenty of contributors on the Buccaneer defense so far this season, but perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the emergence of William Gholston. Having been with Tampa Bay since 2013, when he was drafted in the fourth round, Gholston has kind of settled in to a role in which he is a valuable asset against the run, but not much else. That has changed so far this year, as he has stepped up his game as a pass rusher. He came up with his first sack of the year in Week 2, and he added another on Thursday night. The veteran had two sacks combined in 46 games between 2017-2019. He’s getting to the quarterback far more frequently, too, as he registered three total hits on Foles in Thursday’s game.
In the first half of the game against Chicago, Gholston was pretty much the only Buc capable of getting to Foles. He continued to disrupt the pocket in the second half as well, doing a great job of creating pressure. There was plenty of curiosity coming into 2020 about where the Bucs would get their sacks from outside of Barrett and Pierre-Paul. So far, the 29-year-old Michigan State product has done well to contribute. And if he’s clicking along with Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the talented players in the Bucs’ front seven, that can only mean danger for opposing offenses. Losing Vea will hurt, but that just puts more on guys like Gholston to come through and deliver the rest of the way.
2. Ryan Succop (Four points)
Thursday’s game really turned into a battle of the kickers, which is something the Bucs have not wanted to get involved in for years now. And while they didn’t come out on top in said battle, it was by no fault of Ryan Succop. Signed just before the regular season got underway, the veteran has been pretty reliable for Tampa Bay, and he was perfect on Thursday night. He was 4-of-4 on field goals in addition to making his only extra point attempt. While the Bucs have to be disappointed with their constant need to settle for field goals in this game, they also have to be pretty happy with the way those field goals went. Succop connected on kicks from 39, 35, 46 and 25 yards out. None of those, save for the 25-yarder, could truly be counted on as automatics for this team in recent years, but Succop was dead-on with all of them.
Since Matt Bryant and Connor Barth, the Bucs have cycled through kickers like Hogwarts cycled through Defense Against the Dark Arts professors (even if you aren’t familiar with Harry Potter, you can probably understand what that means). Succop has provided a bit of stability so far in 2020, taking over for Matt Gay. He is 9-of-11 this season on field goals, with one of those being blocked. His lone missed PAT of the season was also blocked. So, while this kicking curse may not feel totally washed away just yet, at least there is less shuddering when Succop takes the field for an attempt. As one of the only reasons the Bucs were even in it on Thursday night, he takes home four Bucs of the Week points.
1. Ronald Jones II (Five points)
Tampa Bay’s struggles in the run game have been well-documented over the years. Doug Martin was the last Buccaneer running back to truly have an impressive season, and that was five years ago. So far in 2020, third-year back Ronald Jones II has been trusted to carry the load, and he is doing a fantastic job of it—especially in recent weeks. With his 17-carry, 106-yard night against the Bears, he picked up his second straight 100-yard rushing game. That was the first time he has ever put up 100-plus in back-to-back games. He was one of the only ones keeping the offense going against a tough Chicago defense, running tough and showing some bursts to pick up some big yards. Considering he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, it has to make you wonder why he was only given 17 carries on a night when the Bucs were down two receivers and their top tight end.
Jones is up to 359 yards on 74 carries this season, which is good for 4.9 yards per carry. With so many injuries in the backfield these last two weeks, he has been given the chance to lead the run game the way he was expected to before the signings of LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. And with that responsibility, he has risen to the challenge. Despite not finding the end zone in either of his 100-yard games, his contributions to the offense can’t be overstated. He has gotten them into some good situations, like when he broke free for 37 yards early in the third quarter. It only led to a field goal, but plays like that are why Jones was drafted in the second round, and he’s putting them on display more often as of late. If he keeps doing so, the Bucs may finally have a steady presence in their backfield for the first time in years. This week, he takes home the full five points to jump into a first-place tie in the standings.
2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 5:
- Antoine Winfield Jr./Ronald Jones II — 8 points
- Devin White/Tom Brady — 7 points
- Mike Evans/Lavonte David — 6 points
- Leonard Fournette/Shaquil Barrett/Scotty Miller — 5 points
- Ryan Succop — 4 points
- Mike Edwards/William Gholston — 3 points
- Chris Godwin/Jordan Whitehead/Vita Vea — 2 points
- Sean Murphy-Bunting/Carlton Davis — 1 point