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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Buccaneers of the Week: at Falcons

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 31-27 comeback win over Atlanta?

Things looked extremely bleak for the Buccaneers after one half of football in Atlanta on Sunday, and they even faced a 17-point deficit as late as the four-minute mark of the third quarter. But things turned around from there, with Tampa Bay outscoring the Falcons 24-3 the rest of the way to earn a 31-27 win, getting to 9-5 on the year.

It was yet another slow start for Bruce Arians’ team, which was a troubling sign with the regular season dwindling down to its final weeks. There isn’t much time to get things corrected, with only a road trip to Detroit and a home rematch against Atlanta left on the schedule. However, as disappointing as it was for Tampa Bay to fall behind 17-0 after two quarters, its comeback effort was impressive. If the second-half version of this team shows up for the playoffs—which it can clinch a spot in with one more win—maybe a deep run isn’t off the table. But if the first-half Bucs show up, they’re one-and-done.

Before we look ahead to Tampa Bay’s day-after-Christmas road matchup with the Lions, we have Buccaneers of the Week points to award. So, let’s get into it and see who the team’s top performers were in the win over Atlanta.

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

Cameron Brate had some key catches in the game, finishing with four on four targets for 54 yards... Chris Godwin didn’t have much of a role early on, but he ended up catching four passes for 36 yards and a big third-quarter touchdown that got the Bucs back within 10... Ali Marpet finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Buc in the game, posting a 90.6 grade...

It might’ve been a struggle for Tampa Bay’s secondary at times, but Jamel Dean had a decent tackling game at least, coming up to make two big tackles for loss on the day... Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett both had 1.5 tackles for loss, while Barrett also had a quarterback hit... Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Ndamukong Suh, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Anthony Nelson all came up with a pass defended each... Ryan Succop once again connected on all of his kicks, going 1-for-1 on field goals and 4-of-4 on PATs.

5. Leonard Fournette (One point)

There’s no getting around it: The Bucs definitely missed Ronald Jones II on Sunday afternoon. Even still, Leonard Fournette ended up filling in fairly admirably. He averaged a respectable 3.5 yards per carry, totaling 49 yards on 14 carries. In the passing game, he caught three of his five targets for 16 yards. Now, those aren’t eye-catching numbers, but the former Jaguar picked up some big first downs, plus his contributions at the goal line made a major difference. He scored two 1-yard touchdowns, helping Tampa Bay cash in when it desperately needed to. The first of the two scores got the Bucs their first points of the game, while the second cut the team’s deficit to 24-21 late in the third quarter. It had to feel good for Fournette, especially after he failed to get it done with his goal line chances against Kansas City a few weeks ago. His ability to find the end zone twice was a great way to rebound, and it earns him a point in the season standings.

4. Antonio Brown (Two points)

Ever since his arrival in Tampa Bay, Antonio Brown has played a steady role. He’s been a solid outlet on third downs and has flashed signs of what made him great during his time with the Steelers. But as reliable as he had been, he hadn’t made the big play yet. Well, that changed on Sunday, as he caught five of his seven targets for 93 yards and the game-winning touchdown. The touchdown grab came on a deep ball from 46 yards out with 6:19 to go, and it was a huge response by the Bucs, who had just gone down 27-24 a couple of minutes earlier. Brown’s speed and playmaking ability was on full display against Atlanta, and his first touchdown as a Buccaneer proved to be the difference in the game. He very nearly found himself at No. 3 on this list, but instead he’ll have to settle for No. 4 and his first two points in the Bucs of the Week Season Standings.

3. Mike Evans (Three points)

Leading the way for Tampa Bay receivers against Atlanta was none other than Mike Evans, who continued his career-long success against the Falcons. Despite not finding the end zone to tie his own team record for receiving touchdowns in a single season, the seventh-year veteran was huge for the offense in the second half. He caught a team-high six passes on seven targets for 110 yards, marking his third 100-yard game of the season and his first since Oct. 4 against the Chargers. When the Bucs needed a big play, they were looking to Evans, who ended up averaging 18.3 yards per catch. He caught a 32-yard pass to set up the team’s first touchdown before later catching passes of 26 and 24 yards on another scoring drive. And to add to what he did that shows up in the box score, he also drew two key penalties on A.J. Terrell—on the same play—to contribute on a third scoring drive. Evans was prime Evans in this one, and he gets three big points for his efforts. Not to mention, averaging 110.5 yards over the next two weeks will put him past the 1,000-yard mark for a seventh straight year.

2. Devin White (Four points)

The Buccaneer defense—like the offense—was a mess in the first half. But it got better as the game went on and came up with some massive stops late in the game, first to keep Tampa Bay in the game and then to preserve the team’s lead. The biggest playmaker down the stretch was second-year linebacker Devin White, who ended up with a remarkable stat line. He totaled a game-high 12 tackles (10 solo), with 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two passes defended. After the Bucs had tied the game at 24, the Falcons drove right down the field and were threatening to find the end zone. But on a 3rd & 6 at the 27-yard line, White came flying in to sack Matt Ryan for a loss of seven. While Younghoe Koo still managed to give Atlanta the lead with a 52-yard field goal, the blitz by White kept it at just a three-point deficit. Then, after the Bucs took a 31-27 lead, No. 45 helped shut things down. He sacked Ryan again on a third down at Atlanta’s 23, forcing a punt with under five minutes to go. And to add to the late-game surge, he was credited with a third sack on the Falcons’ final drive, taking his season total to eight. It turned out to be a phenomenal day for White, who grabs four points to maintain his top-three spot in the season standings.

1. Tom Brady (Five points)

As much as Devin White may have deserved the full five points this week, they have to go to Tom Brady. He was off in the first half—as was the whole team—before turning it on in the second half to stun the Falcons again, something he is obviously familiar with from his days with the Patriots. Brady finished the day with 390 passing yards—his most in a single game since 2017—and two touchdowns on 31-of-45 passing. But perhaps more important than his final stat line was the leadership he showed in the third and fourth quarters with his team trailing. He stayed cool and led the offense on touchdown drives of 80, 75, 76 and 78 while also adding in a 42-yard drive that led to a game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter. The 21-year veteran was on fire down the stretch, finding Evans for some big gains before hitting Brown for the eventual game-winner from 46 yards out. Of Brady’s 390 yards, 320 came in the second half—marking the most by any quarterback in a second half this season. It was a masterful second half for the GOAT, and he helped his new team get one step closer to its first playoff berth since 2007. He was the best on Sunday, and he takes five points in the standings to close the gap on current leader Ronald Jones II.

2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 15:

  1. Ronald Jones II — 23 points
  2. Tom Brady — 21 points
  3. Devin White — 19 points
  4. Mike Evans — 17 points
  5. Jason Pierre-Paul — 14 points
  6. Lavonte David/Shaquil Barrett — 12 points
  7. Antoine Winfield Jr./Ryan Succop — 9 points
  8. Scotty Miller — 8 points
  9. Chris Godwin/Ndamukong Suh — 7 points
  10. Carlton Davis/Leonard Fournette — 6 points
  11. Jordan Whitehead — 5 points
  12. Rob Gronkowski — 4 points
  13. Mike Edwards/William Gholston/Jamel Dean — 3 points
  14. Vita Vea/Offensive Line/Antonio Brown — 2 points
  15. Sean Murphy-Bunting — 1 point

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