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Buccaneers of the Week: at Saints

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 34-23 loss to the Saints?

The Tom Brady-led Buccaneers failed to deliver on high expectations Sunday afternoon, losing their season opener to the Saints by a score of 34-23.

In a lot of ways, it was another case of the Bucs beating the Bucs, with penalties, blown assignments, turnovers, and a blocked field goal leading to their downfall. Not to take anything away from the Saints, who are very talented, the Bucs could have—and perhaps should have—won this game without the self-inflicted wounds. They were just too sloppy to come away with the victory in New Orleans.

So, the Bucs are 0-1 heading into their home opener next Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. But before we get there, let’s take a look at which players were Tampa Bay’s best in Week 1...

A reminder of how this works, for anyone who hasn’t been around in 2018 or 2019: 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

Despite a largely disappointing effort from the Bucs on Sunday, there were still a fair share of guys who deserve some praise outside of the top five. Jason Pierre-Paul picked up his—and the team’s—first sack of the 2020 season and finished with 1.5 tackles for loss... Antoine Winfield Jr., getting the start in his first NFL game, fared pretty well. There were no obvious issues with his game, plus he came up with a nice diving pass breakup in the end zone. He also picked up six tackles (three solo) and a quarterback hit... William Gholston was excellent against the run on Sunday, racking up two tackles for loss... Carlton Davis had a couple of key penalties, but he still played a large part in locking down Michael Thomas, who caught just three passes for 17 yards on five targets...

Ronald Jones II quietly had a decent day, racking up 66 yards on 17 carries (3.9 yards per carry), with a long of 21 yards... O.J. Howard caught four of his six targets for 36 yards and a touchdown, making for a nice season debut... And finally, Tom Brady was unspectacular in his debut, but he wasn’t as bad as everyone is making him out to be. In fact, Pro Football Focus gave him the highest game grade of anyone on the Bucs (84.3). Only one of his two interceptions was on him, though the second was rough. Overall, he was 23-of-36 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had a rushing score.

OK, now let’s get it going.

5. Sean Murphy-Bunting (One point)

Much was made this offseason about the Tampa Bay secondary needing to continue the rise it started in the second half of the 2019 season. Despite a couple of broken coverages in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans, the group as a whole was pretty good. Drew Brees had just 160 passing yards (5.3 yards per pass), while Taysom Hill added 38 yards through the air on a double pass. So, yeah, the unit was pretty strong against a formidable passing attack. But one player stood out from the rest, and that was second-year man Sean Murphy-Bunting.

Early on in the game, he showed off exceptional tackling ability, coming up with a couple of big stops. That included a tackle for loss on a short pass to Alvin Kamara that brought up a key third down on the Saints’ opening drive. Overall, Murphy-Bunting totaled five tackles (four solo), including the one for loss. His 75.9 grade from PFF places him in the “above average” category in Week 1, while his No. 5 spot on this list gives him a point in the standings.

4. Chris Godwin (Two points)

In a lot of ways, the Tampa Bay offense was disjointed on Sunday. The offensive line struggled, the run game was inconsistent and the passing attack was just about decent. A run-heavy first half seemed strange, as Tom Brady wasn’t really able to find a rhythm considering he threw just eight passes before the final drive of the first half. By the time the game was over, the Bucs’ talented group of receivers was underwhelming for the most part, but Chris Godwin came away as one of the two who played well enough to warrant a spot on this list.

Godwin was the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching six of his seven targets for 79 yards. That was good for an average of 13.2 yards per catch, and on a day when Mike Evans was a non-factor, the new No. 14 stepped up as the team’s No. 1 guy. He seems to already have a solid connection with Brady, and that’s something that will only improve as the season progresses. Despite failing to find the end zone on Sunday, it was still a good 2020 debut for Godwin, who is due to get PAID before next season rolls around. While he may not have that new contract just yet, what he does have is two points in the standings.

3. Scotty Miller (Three points)

As mentioned above, the Bucs didn’t get a massive performance from any of their receivers on Sunday, but two stood out. Godwin may have led the way in receptions, yards and targets, but it was Scotty Miller who seemed to come up even bigger for Tampa Bay. It was very evident that Brady already trusts him, as he looked his way pretty often throughout the game. And again, with Evans dealing with a hamstring injury/not producing like he normally does, the Bucs needed someone to step up. As it turned out, that someone was Miller.

Overall, Miller caught five of his six targets for 73 yards, averaging 14.6 yards per catch. He didn’t find the end zone either, but he looked dangerous throughout the game. His speed is deadly, as evidenced by his 37-yard catch in the fourth quarter. This was a significant step forward for Miller, who flashed a bit of promise late last year. The key will be maintaining that connection with Brady and carving out a nice role in the offense. Based on Sunday, he seems primed to do that as long as he stays healthy.

2. Devin White (Four points)

The Bucs have the best middle linebacker duo in the league and it’s possible that it’s not close. One half of that duo broke out down the stretch of the 2019 season, earning NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in both November and December. Of course, that was Devin White, Tampa Bay’s No. 5 pick out of LSU. He returned to his home state on Sunday and had a heck of a game, playing a big part in what was quietly a good day for the Buccaneer defense. He juuuust missed out on the top spot this week, really.

White was flying around on Sunday, as he usually does. He tied for the team lead in tackles with 11 (six solo), including two that went for a loss. He also came up with a pass defended, and he was a key reason for Alvin Kamara racking up just 16 yards on 12 carries. All that was missing from White’s 2020 debut was a huge splash play, which we got used to seeing from him at the end of last year. There are surely even bigger games ahead for the 22-year-old this fall, but for now he gets a much-deserved four points in the weekly standings.

1. Lavonte David (Five points)

The top spot on this list for Week 1 goes to the other half of the league’s best middle linebacker duo. Lavonte David, like White, was all over the field on Sunday. The 30-year-old got his ninth NFL season off to a great start, making plays from the opening drive until the very end. While the youngster in the linebacking corps is perhaps flashier right now, David proved on Sunday that he is still very much at the heart of the Tampa Bay defense. His play stood out to anyone who watched, including former teammates Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers Jr.:

David will never say it himself, but he has been overlooked for far too long. And with more spotlight on his team this year, he’s going to benefit. He took advantage of playing in one of the games of the week on Sunday, totaling 11 tackles (seven solo), with 2.5 going for a loss. He also had a quarterback hit on a nice blitz of Drew Brees. That came on the veteran’s standout drive of the game, which came in the third quarter. He teamed up with Jordan Whitehead and White for tackles in the backfield to force a 3rd & 15, then came through to force an incompletion by Brees. At the time, that stop led to the Bucs getting back within 24-17—it was a big one. For his effort on that series and in the game as a whole, he takes the full five points this week to take an early lead for Buccaneer of the Year.

2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 1:

  1. Lavonte David — 5 points
  2. Devin White — 4 points
  3. Scotty Miller — 3 points
  4. Chris Godwin — 2 points
  5. Sean Murphy-Bunting — 1 point

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