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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Panthers

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 31-17 victory over Carolina?

The Buccaneers made a triumphant return to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon, taking down the Carolina Panthers by a score of 31-17 to claim their first victory of the 2020 season and even their record at 1-1.

Tampa Bay likely still isn’t fully satisfied with how things went, especially in the second half. But the win was the most important thing, and as head coach Bruce Arians likes to say, it’s better to learn from a victory than from a loss. The team will surely find things to correct on film this week before heading to Denver for a Week 3 matchup against the Broncos.

And before we move on to that game between 1-1 Tampa Bay and 0-2 Denver, we have Bucs of the Week points to give out! Which five players were the best for Arians’ squad in Sunday’s win over the Panthers? Let’s find out...

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

Tom Brady once again had a decent day, despite being charged with two turnovers (perhaps unfairly for one of them). Overall, he finished the afternoon 23-of-35 for 217 yards and a touchdown, though he also had two or three touchdowns dropped. With some help from his receivers, Brady would’ve likely gone over 300 yards at least, with three or four scores... Both Ali Marpet and Tristan Wirfs were impressive on Sunday, playing a key role in the offensive line allowing no sacks and just one quarterback hit... Donovan Smith was much better this week as well... With Chris Godwin out, Justin Watson was the one to step up with a couple of big catches for 48 yards. Ryan Succop once again converted on each of his extra point attempts, plus he added a clutch 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession lead for the Bucs.

Lavonte David was once again very good, racking up nine tackles (six solo) and a forced fumble/fumble recovery... Carlton Davis came through with a key interception in the fourth quarter while the Panthers were threatening to tie the game... Jason Pierre-Paul and William Gholston both notched sacks on the day... Ndamukong Suh juuuust missed out on the No. 5 spot this week, as he picked up two sacks and proved to be a problem for the interior of Carolina’s offensive line.

5. Jordan Whitehead (One point)

Tampa Bay’s safeties were outstanding in Sunday’s game, despite what the Panthers’ passing yards total might suggest. Jordan Whitehead stood out both in coverage and in stopping the run, making a number of big plays throughout the afternoon. He finished with five tackles (four solo), with 1.5 for loss. Plus, he helped the Bucs set the tone early, coming up with his—and the defense’s—first interception of the new season. With Carolina driving into Tampa Bay territory, Teddy Bridgewater sailed a throw and Whitehead was in the right spot to get the turnover. Off of that interception, the Bucs eventually drove down the field and scored.

Another one of Whitehead’s key plays came in the second quarter. Down 14-0 and struggling to get much going, the Panthers tried for a fake punt. They snapped it to the upback, but the Bucs weren’t fooled. Whitehead certainly wasn’t, as he stepped up to help make the stop. That gave the offense a short field, which it took advantage of to extend the lead to 21-0. In all of the talk about Tampa Bay’s young secondary, the 23-year-old can sometimes appear to be an afterthought. He shouldn’t be, though, and Sunday’s performance showed why. For his standout effort, he gets a point in this week’s standings.

4. Mike Evans (Two points)

You just know Mike Evans had to be fuming after being unusually quiet in Week 1’s loss to the Saints. He was held to just one catch—a late touchdown—in his 2020 debut, though he also drew a couple of key defensive penalties. He was also dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the week leading up to the opener, so it was a frustrating time all around for the best receiver in Bucs history. But he very quickly put that game behind him, putting up a 100-yard performance in Week 2’s win over the Panthers. He caught seven of his 10 targets for 104 yards and a score, showing a nice rapport with Tom Brady (especially on the touchdown catch).

Of course, there really was no reason to be too disheartened by Evans’ Week 1 output, given his status for that game was uncertain all week. But still, it was nice to see the 27-year-old bounce back right away in the Bucs’ second game. He was a big factor early, catching a 50-yard pass on the Tampa Bay’s first scoring drive. It was a nice throw from Brady, but it was the effort to get yards after the catch that truly stood out. On the drive after that catch, he scored the Bucs’ second touchdown of the game from 23 yards out. With Chris Godwin out of the lineup, it was huge for Evans to be Evans, and it was a big reason for the team’s first win of the season. He takes home two points this week to get on the board for the 2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

3. Devin White (Three points)

In the first two weeks of the 2020 season, Devin White has looked like a man on a mission. After a huge opener against the Saints in which he played a big part in slowing down Alvin Kamara, he had an even tougher task in Week 2: contain Christian McCaffrey. It’s something the Bucs did well in 2019, and while McCaffrey had a bit more success on Sunday, he still wasn’t prime McCaffrey. White was a huge part of that, displaying his speed in keeping the Carolina running back to 88 total yards on 22 touches. For the day, the second-year linebacker and first-year defensive captain had a team-high 15 tackles (11 solo), with one tackle for loss, one pass defended and a quarterback hit.

We can talk about it every week: Tampa Bay has the best inside linebacker duo in the league. White and Lavonte David both stood out again on Sunday and will continue to do so, which will be huge for the Buccaneer defense. As important as the pass rush is and as good as the secondary can be, that duo is the heartbeat of Todd Bowles’ unit. We’ve come to expect a lot from David, and it’s fair to expect plenty from White at this point too. The former LSU Tiger is playing with a ton of confidence and it’s translating to impressive performances. After a four-point week last week, his three points in this week’s standings give him the early-season lead.

2. Antoine Winfield Jr. (Four points)

Coming into the regular season, it seemed reasonable to think the lack of a preseason would hurt rookies across the NFL. For the Bucs, that was sure to mean growing pains for first-rounder Tristan Wirfs and second-rounder Antoine Winfield Jr., who both were presumably getting plugged into the starting lineup right away—or at least early on in the season. Well, both started right away and both have been impressive through two weeks. And on Sunday, Winfield sure didn’t look like a rookie at all, totaling 11 tackles (eight solo), including his first sack, which also happened to be his first career forced fumble.

Winfield appeared all over the field against the Panthers, looking like a seasoned veteran rather than a rookie playing in his second NFL game. Hearing his teammates talk about him after the game, it sounds like the guy just gets it. He has looked like a natural in his first two games, with Sunday giving everyone a look at exactly why Tampa Bay drafted him in the second round. The Minnesota product had the big sack-fumble early in the game before later adding another pressure to force an incompletion. It’s not just folks around Tampa noticing the rookie’s early impact, either, as he is Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded safety in the entire league through two weeks of the season. With four points this week, Winfield debuts in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings by making the top three.

1. Leonard Fournette (Five points)

For years, the Bucs simply have not been able to close out games. Losing late leads—whether due to defensive implosion or offensive stagnation (or both)—simply became Tampa Bay’s default most weeks. Not on Sunday, though. After Rob Gronkowski recovered Carolina’s onside kick attempt, it took just one play for the offense to finish the game. More specifically, it was Leonard Fournette—with some help from his offensive line—putting it away with a 46-yard touchdown run. Ball game. It was a huge moment for the newest Buccaneer running back, who was a huge factor late in the game. He was the team’s go-to back, and he paid it off by wearing down the Panther defense.

With the big game-sealing touchdown run, Fournette went over 100 yards on the day. He finished with 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Of course, that average was inflated by the late 46-yarder, but he still was effective earlier on in the game—and especially earlier in the fourth quarter. In addition to his big day on the ground, he also caught four passes for 13 yards. But it was his ability to carry the load late that made a big difference, and that’s what makes it so important for the Bucs to have more than one running back to count on. Ronald Jones II is still the starter, but with Fournette and LeSean McCoy taking snaps as well, it keeps everyone fresher. And the former LSU standout sure looked fresh by the end of the game, helping him to a full five points in the Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 2:

  1. Devin White — 7 points
  2. Lavonte David/Leonard Fournette — 5 points
  3. Antoine Winfield Jr. — 4 points
  4. Scotty Miller — 3 points
  5. Chris Godwin/Mike Evans — 2 points
  6. Sean Murphy-Bunting/Jordan Whitehead — 1 point

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