It was much closer than just about everyone expected, but the Buccaneers emerged victorious on Monday Night Football in Week 8, escaping the Meadowlands with a 25-23 win over the Giants to improve their record to 6-2 at the halfway point in the season.
Things started uncharacteristically slow for Tampa Bay, as it trailed 14-6 at halftime. It was a couple of second-half turnovers by New York quarterback Daniel Jones that swung momentum in the Bucs’ favor and allowed them to take a fourth-quarter lead. Up 25-17 with just a few minutes to go, the defense had a chance to close it out a couple of times, but Jones piloted a great scoring drive to bring the game within 25-23 with 28 seconds to go. However, on the two-point conversion attempt, the Buccaneer defense came up with a stop to preserve the victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a third straight win for Bruce Arians’ team, which remains on top of the NFC South through eight weeks.
Before focus shifts to this Sunday night’s divisional showdown between the Bucs and Saints, let’s break down Tampa Bay’s top performers from its Monday night victory.
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.
Mike Evans was Tampa Bay’s leading receiver and just missed out on Bucs of the Week points, catching five passes for 55 yards and the game-winning touchdown... Tom Brady didn’t have his best game, but he still engineered the victory. He completed 28 of his 40 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns and, most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over... Rob Gronkowski continued his midseason resurgence, catching four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. It was his third straight game with a touchdown reception... Jaydon Mickens stepped up in a big way with Chris Godwin sidelined. He had a team-high eight targets, catching five of them for 36 yards, including a couple of key first-down grabs...
Devin White totaled seven tackles (five solo), with a sack and two quarterback hits... Shaquil Barrett had two passes defended and a quarterback hit, plus he had heavy pressure on Daniel Jones on both of Tampa Bay’s interceptions... Lavonte David picked up five tackles (three solo) and a pass defended, finishing the game as the Bucs’ highest-graded defender, with an 89.9 grade from Pro Football Focus... Sean Murphy-Bunting came through with a key interception for the Buccaneer defense late in the game.
5. Antoine Winfield Jr. (One point)
In the game’s biggest moment, the Bucs saw a rookie step up to save them. After giving up a late touchdown, the defense needed a stop on the Giants’ two-point conversion try to avoid heading to overtime. And what a stop it was, as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. came streaking across the field to cover Dion Lewis in the end zone. It what was a bang-bang play, Winfield got to Lewis and broke up the pass to avoid overtime and send Tampa Bay on its way to win No. 6 on the year. It was an unreal play for the 2020 second-round pick, as he started on one side of the defense and read the play perfectly to knock the pass away. In addition to making the game-saving play—which was discussed on the field and not ruled pass interference—Winfield tied for the team lead in tackles with seven (six solo).
His shining moment in primetime action certainly got the attention of the NFL world, and now the buzz for Winfield as a potential NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate seems to be growing. It’s well-deserved buzz for the former Minnesota standout, as he has continued to make plays week in and week out. Just last week, he came up with a huge interception in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory over Las Vegas. And now, on Monday, he made another huge play to keep Tampa Bay’s winning streak alive. It’s been an impressive first eight games for the rookie, especially considering he didn’t get a preseason to adjust to the NFL. With a point this week, he gets fifth place all by himself in the season standings.
4. Ndamukong Suh (Two points)
Coming into the season, the Bucs knew they were going to have to get pressure from more than just their edge rushers. And through eight games, Todd Bowles has gotten a solid pass rush from a number of guys. One of them is Ndamukong Suh, who has been one of the big keys to the pass rush and run defense so far in 2020. The 33-year-old was a force again on Monday night, picking up his fourth sack of the season and finishing with five total quarterback hits. In a game that saw Daniel Jones look relatively comfortable at times, Suh did a great job of forcing some disruption. And with Vita Vea out and Steve McLendon still settling in on the defensive line’s interior, the big night for Suh was definitely welcomed.
Suh has been a menace to opposing offenses all season long, making the Tampa Bay front office look great for wanting to bring him back for another year. It’s not that the veteran was ineffective in 2019, but he didn’t seem like the same guy he once was. Well, 2020 has brought out an invigorated Suh, and it’s been a huge part of the Bucs’ defensive success. His impact doesn’t always show up in the box score, but he has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks this year. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, Daniel Jones or just about any signal-caller this team has seen in the first eight weeks. Somewhat surprisingly, these are Suh’s first points in the season standings after weeks of being an honorable mention on the fringe of the top five.
3. Jason Pierre-Paul (Three points)
Leading up to Monday’s game against the Giants, Jason Pierre-Paul had plenty to say about playing against his former team. Finally healthy enough to make an impact against New York, Pierre-Paul said he was ready to “destroy” the team that drafted him, though he was sure to point out that there were no hard feelings between him and New York. His return didn’t start off so well in the first half, but he responded with a big second half to finish as one of the team’s top performers. He totaled seven tackles (five solo), tying for the team lead while also picking up a sack and two tackles for loss. Of course, the fact that the Bucs finally took the Giants down had to have Pierre-Paul feeling pretty good as well.
While Daniel Jones performed better than expected against Tampa Bay’s tough defense, Pierre-Paul was still able to make a difference in the ball game. When it came down to some of the game’s key drives in the second half, he had a part in halting New York’s momentum and getting the ball back to Tom Brady and the offense. And with Shaquil Barrett not quite performing up to his 2019 standards (hard to blame him for that, really), Pierre-Paul continued to lead the way for the Bucs’ pass rush. He now has a team-high 6.5 sacks, which ties him for fourth-most in the league. The 31-year-old is another one making the team’s front office look good, as it decided to bring him back and keep the defense together for 2020. He is paying it off in a big way, and with three points this week, he moves up to ninth in the season standings.
2. Ryan Succop (Four points)
The Tampa Bay offense struggled to get going for much of the game on Monday night, having to settle for field goal attempt after field goal attempt. Luckily, Ryan Succop continued his strong start to the 2020 season. He connected on kicks from 37, 40, 43 and 38 yards out, plus he made his lone extra point attempt. That’s 13 of the Bucs’ 25 points that he accounted for, and he did all of that in tough conditions. With temperatures under 40 degrees and some wind to deal with, the veteran remained calm and collected, delivering every time he was called on. As weird as 2020 has been, one of the weirder things has been the Bucs finally having a kicker that doesn’t make fans hold their breath whenever he takes the field.
Seriously, Succop’s steadiness has been a sight for sore eyes so far this season. It’s been years since Tampa Bay has fielded a reliable kicker, and it looked like it was going to roll the dice with Matt Gay again heading into this season. That was the plan until Succop was signed to compete with Gay very late in camp. Once he proved he was healthy enough, Succop was named the guy. And he has done very well in response to that, connecting on 15 of his 17 field goal attempts and 26 of his 27 extra point attempts. Of those few misses, a couple were blocks. He kept the Bucs in the game when the offense struggled in the Week 5 loss to the Bears and he did so again against the Giants, doing enough to keep the team in it until the offense finally found the end zone. With another four points, Succop pulls into a sixth-place tie in the season standings at the halfway point.
1. Carlton Davis (Five points)
While Tampa Bay’s defense wasn’t at its absolute best against New York, Carlton Davis definitely was. The third-year cornerback has become a true No. 1 corner for the Bucs this season, and he continued to perform at a high level this week. Daniel Jones didn’t throw in his direction all that often, and when he did, there wasn’t much doing for the Giants offense. Plus, Davis took advantage of a bad Jones throw on the first drive of the third quarter and came up with a key interception. That led to a Buccaneer field goal, which got the game within 14-9. New York went from having a chance to go up 21-6 to being up by only five, thanks to interception No. 4 on the year for Davis. He is now tied for the NFL lead.
To think that anyone ranked this Tampa Bay cornerback group dead last heading into the 2020 season is truly baffling, especially with what we’ve seen in the first eight weeks. Davis has led the way, playing at a Pro Bowl level despite getting tough assignments week in and week out. And with more top-level quarterbacks left on the schedule, the former Auburn Tiger will continue to have his hands full. But at this point, Tampa Bay knows it can rely on No. 24 to keep opposing receivers in check as he has done all year long. With a full five points from Monday’s victory, he joins Mike Evans at seventh in the season standings.
2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 8:
- Devin White — 15 points
- Tom Brady — 12 points
- Lavonte David — 11 points
- Ronald Jones II — 10 points
- Antoine Winfield Jr. — 9 points
- Scotty Miller/Ryan Succop — 8 points
- Mike Evans/Carlton Davis — 6 points
- Leonard Fournette/Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
- Chris Godwin/Jason Pierre-Paul — 4 points
- Mike Edwards/William Gholston/Jamel Dean — 3 points
- Jordan Whitehead/Vita Vea/Ndamukong Suh — 2 points
- Sean Murphy-Bunting/Offensive Line — 1 point