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Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Bears

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 38-3 victory over Chicago?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The banged-up Buccaneers continued to roll on Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, dominating the Bears by a score of 38-3. After getting out to a 35-3 lead in the first half, Tampa Bay coasted to its fourth straight win and improved to 6-1 for the first time in franchise history.

Coming off of a 10-day break after their win in Philadelphia on Oct. 14, the Bucs put together one of their better performances of the 2021 season against Chicago. The defense forced five turnovers and the offense took advantage of some short fields to complement the effort from Todd Bowles’ group, plus the special teams unit was a big positive. This one was truly never in doubt, which says a lot about the team’s depth given that Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, Richard Sherman, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting were all missing from the lineup.

Now, Tampa Bay will renew its rivalry with the Saints in New Orleans on Halloween before hitting its bye week. But before we get to Week 8’s NFC Divisional Round rematch from January, we have some Bucs of the Week points to award!

A reminder of how this works: 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. In 2020, Tom Brady was the Buccaneer of the Year and, for the first time ever, we had a Buccaneers of the Playoffs series that ended with Devin White earning the top spot. OK, let’s get it going. But first...

Honorable Mentions

Leonard Fournette continued to run the ball well on Sunday, totaling 81 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in addition to catching two passes for nine yards... Ronald Jones II looked the best he has all season, rushing 10 times for 63 yards... Chris Godwin is admittedly a tough person to leave out of the top five this week, as he led the team in targets (11), catches (eight) and receiving yards (111), plus he caught a touchdown... Jaelon Darden helped set the tone early, returning his first career punt return chance for 43 yards to set the offense up with a short field...

Devin White led the Buccaneer defense with 10 tackles (eight solo) and picked up a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. He also recovered a fumble... Vita Vea finished with a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss and a pass defended... Jamel Dean stepped up and served as the Bucs’ No. 1 corner, looking the part and racking up seven tackles (all solo) and a tackle for loss... Dee Delaney and Pierre Desir were both asked to fill in and play significant snaps at corner, and both players paid that off with interceptions... Antoine Winfield Jr. made a triumphant return to the field and immediately made an impact on the Bears’ first offensive possession by blitzing and sacking Justin Fields, jarring the ball loose to set up a 3rd & 16 that Chicago couldn’t convert. For the game, the second-year safety posted three tackles (two solo) and the sack-fumble... Jordan Whitehead was another Buc who intercepted Fields, plus he added two tackles (two solo), with one going for a loss.

OK, now let’s see who took home the points this week.

5. Offensive Line (One point)

Coming into Sunday’s game, much was made about the matchup between second-year right tackle Tristan Wirfs and All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack. Of course, the clip of Mack beating Wirfs for a sack and hip-tossing him after the play was talked about plenty last year and again on Sunday. There wasn’t a lot of clarification that, actually, that was the only sack allowed by Wirfs in his rookie year—and he has yet to allow one in 2021. Well, coming out of Sunday afternoon, more attention should be paid to Wirfs and the Tampa Bay offensive line shutting Mack and the Chicago pass rush down completely. The Bears failed to register a sack and totaled just one quarterback hit. It was the type of display that fans have gotten used to from Wirfs, plus the rest of the group played exceptionally well. Donovan Smith had a great day, even going as far as saying he made Chicago’s Trevis Gipson his “son” after the game. And the other three linemen were just as solid, with Alex Cappa (84.5) and Ali Marpet (83.4) being among the highest-graded Bucs by Pro Football Focus and Ryan Jensen mixing it up as usual, drawing a punch from Bilal Nichols that got the defensive lineman disqualified from the game. The unit as a whole gets its first point in the season standings.

4. Tom Brady (Two points)

No one would mistake Sunday’s game for Tom Brady’s best of the season. He threw for just 211 yards and completed only 55.6% of his passes, even matching the longest incompletion streak of his career (six) at one point. But even with all of that, he still threw for four touchdowns in the first half and blew the Chicago defense away. The Buccaneer defense gave him short field after short field to work with and he did his job wonderfully, taking advantage to help Tampa Bay to 35 points in the first 30 minutes of the game. He threw a four-yard touchdown to Chris Godwin in the first quarter before connecting with Mike Evans for touchdowns from nine, two and eight yards out to help the Bucs put the game away early. Brady’s second passing touchdown was the 600th of his career, too, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to reach that mark. It was just the latest milestone for the legend, who may have missed some throws, but he hit on plenty as well. After snapping his streak of incompletions in the second quarter with a pass to Godwin, he hit Evans with a 46-yard dime down the sideline to set up a two-yard touchdown pass that put the Bucs up 28-3. It just further proved that if Brady ever loses it, he doesn’t take long to find his stride again. With two more Bucs of the Week points this week, he extends his lead for the top spot.

3. Shaquil Barrett (Three points)

Tampa Bay’s defense was really the story of the afternoon, as it dominated Justin Fields and the Chicago offense. It was quite the collective effort, but one of the standouts was Shaquil Barrett. A key cog in the Buccaneer pass rush, Barrett followed up his strong night in Philadelphia on Oct. 14 by making life miserable for the Bears’ rookie quarterback on Sunday. He totaled three tackles on the day, with one being a strip sack. The forced fumble was recovered by Vita Vea, and it set up a 35-yard scoring drive for the offense. That strip sack was Barrett’s second of the season and 10th since joining the Bucs in 2019, which gives him the most in the league during that span. It was a huge play that continued to swing the momentum in Tampa Bay’s favor early in the game, as that turnover and subsequent scoring drive made it a 21-0 lead. Barrett later recovered a fumble as well, though he ended up fumbling it away himself before Devin White recovered it. That turnover didn’t result in any points, but it was still another massive stop for the defense in a long line of them. After what felt like a slow start to the season, the league’s 2019 sack leader has been picking up steam in recent weeks. Earning three more Bucs of the Week points lands him in sixth place of the season standings.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul (Four points)

While Barrett’s day was spectacular, it was the pass rusher on the other side of the Buccaneer defense that gets the No. 2 spot in this week’s top five. Jason Pierre-Paul has been fighting through injury after injury this season and has looked a little worse for wear because of it in terms of performance. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday against Chicago. Despite missing practice all week and playing through a fractured finger and a torn rotator cuff, the veteran out of USF was dominant against the Bears. He tallied two sacks, with one being a strip-sack and the other coming on a 4th & 4 near midfield. The latter gave Tampa Bay’s offense a chance to score late in the second quarter and, sure enough, it did to make it a 35-3 game going into halftime. After the game, Bruce Arians called Pierre-Paul “a warrior” and said he hasn’t been around too many guys like him. At 32 years old, it’s been a weekly battle for the two-time Super Bowl champion to work through his injuries. But when he puts up performances like he did on Sunday—especially when it’s in conjunction with the type of performance that Barrett put up—the Tampa Bay defense is at its best. When the pass rush is getting home, it surely helps the injury-riddled secondary. As Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Buc (91.9) on Sunday, Pierre-Paul takes home four points to get on the board in the season standings.

1. Mike Evans (Five points)

On Sunday, Mike Evans did something that has only been done one other time in franchise history: He caught three touchdowns in one half. Of course, the other time that happened, it was also done by Evans (Sept. 19, 2019), which only further speaks to where he ranks all-time among the franchise’s receivers. In the first quarter, the eighth-year veteran caught a nine-yard touchdown from Tom Brady to put the Bucs up 21-0. That touchdown was the 600th of Brady’s career and, as you know by now, Evans unknowingly gave the ball away (the team later got it back and the receiver’s reaction was fantastic). A short while later, he caught a 46-yard pass—while being interfered with—to set up a two-yard touchdown catch on the next play. And just for good measure, he made an eight-yard touchdown catch with nine seconds left in the first half to make it a 38-3 game. Overall, Evans caught six passes for 76 yards and the three touchdowns, giving him 496 yards and seven scores through seven games this season. His unstoppable performance against Chicago earns him the five full points this week, getting him up to second in the Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 7:

  1. Tom Brady — 24 points
  2. Mike Evans — 14 points
  3. Leonard Fournette — 13 points
  4. Antonio Brown — 10 points
  5. Rob Gronkowski/Chris Godwin — 6 points
  6. Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
  7. Mike Edwards/Joe Tryon-Shoyinka/Vita Vea/Jason Pierre-Paul — 4 points
  8. Ryan Succop — 3 points
  9. Giovani Bernard/Antoine Winfield Jr. — 2 points
  10. Carlton Davis/Tyler Johnson/William Gholston/Offensive Line — 1 point