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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Buccaneers of the Week: at Broncos

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s win over Denver?

After picking up their first win of 2020 in a Week 2 home matchup against the Panthers, the Buccaneers stuck to their winning ways in Week 3, beating the Broncos 28-10 on the road to improve to 2-1 on the year.

With the victory and the Saints’ loss on Sunday night, the Bucs now find themselves in sole possession of first place in the NFC South through three weeks of the season. It’s still early, but there are plenty of encouraging things happening for Tampa Bay. And while there are a few question marks here and there—injuries and penalties, mostly—the team is set up well to keep its current run going over the next couple of weeks, with games against the Chargers and Bears ahead.

But before shifting focus to the Week 4 matchup against Los Angeles at Raymond James Stadium, it’s time to see who took home Bucs of the Week points from Sunday’s win in Denver.

A reminder of how this works, for anyone who is new around here: 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

Patrick O’Connor gets the first honorable mention this week, as he set the tone in Sunday’s game with a blocked punt that set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. Despite being held, he broke through and disrupted the punt and managed to recover the ball at Denver’s 10-yard line... Chris Godwin was solid in his return to the lineup, though he eventually left with a hamstring injury. He caught five passes for 64 yards and a touchdown... Scotty Miller once again showed big-play ability, averaging 27.7 yards per catch on the day. He hauled in three passes for 83 yards... O.J. Howard had a nice role in the offense on Sunday, catching three passes for 49 yards. His highlight catch of the day was a beauty, as he fought through pass interference to catch a 30-yarder... Rob Gronkowski had his best receiving game of the season, bringing in six of his team-high seven targets for 48 yards... Ali Marpet was once again a standout on the offensive line, continuing his strong start to the 2020 season...

Lavonte David barely missed out on the top five this week, as he had four tackles (two solo), two passes defended and his 12th career interception... Vita Vea picked up his first sack of the season in addition, while Jason Pierre-Paul added his third in three games... Anthony Nelson saw a bigger role this week, and he stepped up with a nice pressure on Jeff Driskel to force a bad throw that ended up being intercepted by David.

5. Jordan Whitehead (One point)

The Buccaneer defense as a whole was impressive on Sunday, taking advantage of the fact that the Broncos were without both Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton, among others. Todd Bowles’ group has been the highlight of the season’s first three games, with guys stepping up at all levels. The safeties in particular have been outstanding, and Jordan Whitehead continued his strong start to the year on Sunday. Coming in at No. 5 on this list for the second straight week, Whitehead was a big part of Tampa Bay’s defensive effort in Denver, racking up five tackles (four solo), a sack and two quarterback hits. Despite Sean Murphy-Bunting’s injury forcing his usual safety partner to the slot, Whitehead played just as well.

Coming into 2020, the safety position may have been one of the team’s bigger questions. It was understood that the Bucs had a lot of talent at safety, but there seemed to be uncertainty about whether it could all come together this year, especially given the collective youth of the group. Well, it has certainly come together already, with Whitehead playing a significant role in that. He has managed to make plays consistently in all facets, whether in coverage, coming up in run support, or on blitzes like we saw in the first half on Sunday when he picked up his first career sack.

4. Tom Brady (Two points)

Tom Brady had to crack this list eventually, right? Admittedly, I’m surprised it took the GOAT this long to appear on Bucs of the Week, as he was only an honorable mention in the first two weeks. But Sunday was his best game as a Buc, thanks to his big first half. In the first two quarters of play, Brady completed 15 of his 24 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns. And while he only finished with those three scores after what was a quiet second half, his place on this list is definitely warranted. His three first-half touchdowns helped Tampa Bay build a comfortable lead, and he and the offense did enough to keep it the rest of the way. A big help was that, for the first time in three games, he didn’t turn the ball over.

On the surface, TB12’s first half was impressive. But when you look even deeper at it, it gets better. He completed passes to seven different receivers, and those were completions of differing varieties. He was finding LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette on the checkdowns, hitting Chris Godwin on slants and intermediate routes and connecting deep with Scotty Miller. Not to mention, he had two goal-line scoring passes to Mike Evans AND he got his tight ends—Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard—involved more than they were in the first to weeks. With a couple of catches in the second half, Ronald Jones II was the eighth receiver to catch a pass from Brady on the day. There may still be some issues for Brady to work out with this new offensive system, but he was great on Sunday, landing him his first two points in the Bucs of the Week Standings.

3. Mike Edwards (Three points)

Mike Edwards’ special teams blunder was one of the low points of the season’s first three weeks, but he worked hard to make up for that in Sunday’s win over the Broncos. Forced into consistent action due to Sean Murphy-Bunting’s injury, the second-year safety was remarkably good. He stepped into Antoine Winfield Jr.’s role seamlessly, as the rookie shifted to Murphy-Bunting’s position in the slot. Edwards was solid all afternoon, and he was rewarded late with his first career interception. He made an outstanding one-handed grab to bring a Denver scoring threat to a halt.

A 2019 third-round pick, Edwards didn’t really find his footing as a rookie. He was slowed by an injury for part of the year and eventually split time with Andrew Adams at the second safety position, working alongside Jordan Whitehead. And the emergence of Winfield may have shifted Edwards out of a starting safety role, but he proved on Sunday just how valuable he can be to this defense. Even without an injury forcing him into a bigger role, Edwards certainly has his place. Todd Bowles will be able to take advantage of Winfield’s versatility all he wants if he knows that the safety position is being held down by No. 32. For stepping in and stepping up—and for a beauty of an interception—Edwards takes home three points in this week’s standings.

2. Antoine Winfield Jr. (Four points)

Has there been anyone on the Tampa Bay defense that has been a bigger breath of fresh air so far in 2020 than Antoine Winfield Jr.? Of course, the entire group is playing well, with the front seven doing its thing and the corners playing solid ball. Of course, Jordan Whitehead has been great at the other safety spot too, plus we just talked about Mike Edwards. But man, Winfield has been an absolute stud through the first three games of his NFL career. He definitely hasn’t looked like a rookie that didn’t have the benefit of a preseason, that’s for sure.

On Sunday, things looked a little different for the 2020 second-round pick, as he had to slide into a slot role due to Sean Murphy-Bunting leaving the game with a hamstring injury. it didn’t matter, though, as Winfield made a huge impact anyway. He came up with six tackles (four solo), a pass defended and his second sack in two weeks. Todd Bowles has to be loving what he can do with the Minnesota alum, as he can use him on blitzes to put some pressure on the quarterback just as well as he can rely on him to excel in coverage and run support. The rookie’s versatility was on full display in Sunday’s win, and he continued to impress. If he keeps making plays and mixes in some more splash plays, it has to at least be possible that he gets some Defensive Rookie of the Year buzz, no? For now, he’ll have to settle for leading the Buccaneers of the Week Standings through three weeks.

1. Shaquil Barrett (Five points)

When Shaquil Barrett was wreaking havoc in opposing backfields last year, it had to have people wondering: “How could Denver not have a spot for this guy?” Of course, the Broncos do have some talented pass rushers, but seeing Barrett lead the NFL in sacks last year had to be tough for their front office and fans, right? If so, Sunday may have been even harder to watch, as the 2019 Pro Bowl selection made a triumphant return to Denver, picking up his first two sacks of the year—one of them for a safety—and three tackles for loss in total. It was a big game for Barrett, one that the Bucs are hoping can spark the kind of run he went on last season.

Prior to Week 3, Barrett had failed to pick up his first sack of the season. That’s not to say he wasn’t making plays, because he was. He did a great job in the first two games when it came to creating opportunities for other members of the defense’s front seven, and the Bucs had the sacks to show for it. Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston had all picked up sacks and everyone figured it was only a matter of time before Barrett got in on the fun. He did so on Sunday, making life difficult for Broncos backup quarterback Jeff Driskel. Barrett—and the Bucs’ pass rush as a whole—was a nightmare of a matchup for Denver’s struggling offensive line coming into the game, and things played out exactly as they were projected to. Barrett’s happy homecoming not only included his first two sacks of the season but also his first Bucs of the Week points this season.

2020 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 3:

  1. Antoine Winfield Jr. — 8 points
  2. Devin White — 7 points
  3. Lavonte David/Leonard Fournette/Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
  4. Scotty Miller/Mike Edwards — 3 points
  5. Chris Godwin/Mike Evans/Jordan Whitehead/Tom Brady — 2 points
  6. Sean Murphy-Bunting — 1 point

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