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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers of the Week: at Panthers

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 46-23 win over the Panthers?

The Buccaneers came into Sunday’s game against the Panthers with the deck stacked against them. They had just gotten embarrassed on Sunday Night Football in Week 9, Ali Marpet was ruled out again, two players landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday and the team’s flight to Charlotte was delayed for seven-plus hours, leading to a landing that came just before 11:30 p.m. the night before a 1 p.m. kickoff.

Nonetheless, Tampa Bay overcame. It was a tough first half that saw the two teams tied at 17 heading into the locker room, but the Bucs came out clicking on both sides of the ball in the second half. A 29-6 second-half run helped the visitors to a 46-23 victory, completing the season sweep of Carolina while improving the team’s overall record to 7-3 on the year.

There’s a tough stretch ahead for the Bucs, with games against the Rams and Chiefs in the next two weeks. But before we get there, let’s look back on Sunday’s bounce-back win and give out some Bucs of the Week points, shall we?

A reminder of how this works, for anyone who’s new around these parts: 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.

Honorable Mentions

The Buccaneer offensive line, even with a different look due to Ali Marpet being in concussion protocol, was solid on Sunday. Its run blocking was phenomenal, and it allowed just one sack. The group, which included A.Q. Shipley at center and Ryan Jensen bumped over to left guard, deserves a lot of credit for stepping up this week with its best member sidelined... Chris Godwin barely missed out on Bucs of the Week points this week, as he led the team in receiving yards with 92 on six catches... Antonio Brown was a reliable target all day long, catching seven of his eight targets for 69 yards... Rob Gronkowski only had two catches in the game, but they were both big ones. He caught a 44-yard pass to set up a game-tying touchdown near the end of the first half before later hauling in a touchdown... Cameron Brate had a few key catches as well, with one going for a touchdown—which moved him ahead of Joey Galloway for fourth-most in franchise history—and another going for a first-down conversion on 3rd & 19.

The Tampa Bay defense had an outstanding second half, holding the Panthers to just six points. Those six games came on a two-play, four-yard drive after a 98-yard kickoff return, too... Lavonte David and Devin White both had solid games, racking up six tackles and one tackle for loss each... Shaquil Barrett picked up another sack this week, as well as another tackle for loss and a second quarterback hit... Justin Watson was credited with a sack on a fake punt attempt by Carolina. Yes, the receiver Justin Watson... Carlton Davis did well to play through an injury after missing time in both practice and some of the game.

5. Ryan Succop (One point)

Despite the Bucs putting up 46 points on Sunday, Bruce Arians said after the game that he felt like the team left about 20 points on the field. That sounds crazy, but it wasn’t, as the offense stalled in the red zone quite a few times in the game. Luckily, though, Tampa Bay has a kicker it has been able to rely on all season long. Ryan Succop finished the game 4-of-4 on field goal attempts and 4-of-5 on extra point attempts, with the lone miss coming on a block. The veteran made field goals from 23, 24, 21 and 40 yards out, helping the Tampa Bay offense when it couldn’t quite finish its drives in Carolina territory. He totaled 16 points on the day, helping him maintain his NFL lead in total points through 10 weeks of the season.

The importance of Jason Licht signing Succop shouldn’t be downplayed when reflecting on the Bucs’ success so far this season. To think that the 34-year-old was unsigned until joining Tampa Bay on Sept. 1 now seems crazy, as he has put together a great season to this point. He is 20-of-22 on field goals so far this season, going 13-of-13 on kicks between 20 and 39 yards and 6-of-7 on kicks between 40 and 49 yards out. He is 30-of-32 on extra point attempts, though the majority of his misses on field goals and PATs this season have come on blocks. Overall, Succop has been fantastic, serving as a major upgrade over anyone the Bucs have had in the last decade or so. It’s not surprising, then, that the Bucs of the Week point he picked up this week has him tied for fourth in the season standings.

4. Mike Evans (Two points)

The Buccaneer offense was so successful against the Panthers on Sunday thanks in large part to the way it spread the ball to so many receivers throughout the game. The man who led the team in targets for the day was none other than Mike Evans, who had the ball thrown his way 11 times. He caught six of those passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, averaging 12.8 yards per catch. His touchdown grab was an excellent one—and an important one, too—as he went up high to bring the ball in and maintained possession even with the defender’s arms trying to dislodge the ball. There was no shortage of love for Evans this week, and he paid it off by having his best game since Oct. 4 against Los Angeles.

Fans haven’t been happy with Evans’ involvement in the offense in recent weeks—and for much of this season. However, he is now tied for the second-most touchdown receptions in the NFL through 10 weeks this season. He also has 514 yards on 40 receptions, and while he isn’t currently on pace to surpass that 1,000-yard mark that would net him a league record, he could still get there. It’s not hard to see why fans have been frustrated, but Evans is playing in an offense with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to weapons. He may not get the ball thrown his way 11 times in every game, but he very clearly still has a large role in Tampa Bay’s offense. Sunday proved that, and he picks up two points in the standings to move into a fifth-place tie on the season.

3. Jason Pierre-Paul (Three points)

The Tampa Bay defense may have gotten out to a shaky start against the Panthers, but it was dominant in the second half. And someone who was pretty dominant throughout the whole game was Jason Pierre-Paul, who continued his impressive season with three tackles (two solo), a sack, two quarterback hits and a pivotal interception. One week after dropping a potential momentum-shifting pick, he held on to a Teddy Bridgewater pass in the third quarter to keep momentum on the Bucs’ side. It came just after Tampa Bay went up 26-17 and it led to a field goal that pushed the lead to 29-17. Later in the second half, Pierre-Paul got to Bridgewater for a sack that helped end a drive and set up Tampa Bay’s final touchdown of the day.

Pierre-Paul has been one of the brightest spots on the Buccaneer defense this season, as his sack total is up to 7.5 through 10 games and he continues to step up in big moments. Even at 31 years old, he still seems to have plenty in the tank, and his leadership for the young defense has continued to be exceptional. And while he has a year and a half left on his contract with Tampa Bay, Pierre-Paul has already cemented himself as one of the best pass-rushers in franchise history. His sack on Sunday brought his total with the team to 28.5 in 36 games, and it moved him ahead of Ronde Barber for eighth-most in team history. For his impact on the defense in Sunday’s game, he gets three points in the standings, bringing his season total to seven.

2. Tom Brady (Four points)

You just knew Tom Brady was going to come out and have a huge game after the way last week’s matchup with the Saints went. From the beginning of the game until the very end when he was relieved by Blaine Gabbert, Brady was on a mission. He completed passes to eight different receivers on the day and threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-39 passing, plus he rushed for a touchdown as well. There was simply no chance that the GOAT was going to have a second straight stinker of a game—he just doesn’t seem to have that in him. His ability to spread the ball around and connect with the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski for big plays throughout all four quarters was impressive, and it was the kind of performance Tampa Bay needed to get back on track ahead of two big games against the Rams and Chiefs.

This season, Brady’s play against teams that aren’t the Saints has been at an MVP level. He has thrown 21 touchdowns to just two interceptions in the eight games against non-New Orleans teams, while the division leaders have been his kryptonite. He has thrown for two touchdowns and five interceptions against them, leading to two tough losses. Nonetheless, Brady’s play this year has seemed to improve as the season has gone on, thanks to the familiarity he has with the offense and his receivers. He was firing on all cylinders on Sunday, serving as a huge reason for the team’s ability to finish off a season sweep of Carolina for the first time since 2016. And with four big points in the standings, he has claimed the top spot through 10 weeks.

1. Ronald Jones II (Five points)

Early in Sunday’s game, Ronald Jones II had the ball knocked loose for another early-game fumble, and it led to a 7-0 Panthers lead right off the bat. But Bruce Arians chose to stick with him this time around, unlike some previous games in which the third-year running back has seen his snap count tank after a mistake. That decision by Arians could not have paid off any better, as Jones had a career day. He rushed for 192 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, with his biggest play of the day coming on a 98-yard touchdown run in third quarter that extended the Bucs’ lead to 26-17. That play was a huge game-changer, as it turned bad field position with a three-point lead into a nine-point lead and all the momentum in the world. But even without that 98-yarder that helped his yards per carry average balloon to 8.3, he still would have ran for about 4.3 yards per carry, which is still a solid clip.

It’s been great to see Jones take ownership of his role as the Bucs’ No. 1 running back this season, as the additions of LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette late in the offseason seemed to threaten the 2018 second-rounder’s spot atop the depth chart. He has only gotten better in 2020, though, as he is up to 730 yards and five scores on the year, with a 5.1 yards per carry average. He is well on his way to his first career 1,000-yard rushing season, which is a testament to the work he has put in. It was just a few years ago that he had only 44 yards on 23 carries in nine games. Now, at this point in the season, he is one of the league’s bigger breakout performers in 2020. That’s why it’s no shock that, with five points this week, he is tied for second place in the Bucs of the Week season standings.

2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 10:

  1. Tom Brady — 16 points
  2. Devin White/Ronald Jones II — 15 points
  3. Lavonte David — 11 points
  4. Antoine Winfield Jr./Ryan Succop — 9 points
  5. Scotty Miller/Mike Evans — 8 points
  6. Jason Pierre-Paul — 7 points
  7. Carlton Davis — 6 points
  8. Leonard Fournette/Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
  9. Chris Godwin — 4 points
  10. Mike Edwards/William Gholston/Jamel Dean — 3 points
  11. Jordan Whitehead/Vita Vea/Ndamukong Suh — 2 points
  12. Sean Murphy-Bunting/Offensive Line — 1 point

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