For the majority of Tampa Bay’s narrow 19-17 escape against the New England Patriots Sunday night, Buccaneers fans likely felt some level of déjà vu from a game played nearly one year ago.
In Week 5 of 2020, the Bucs traveled to Chicago on a windy evening as heavy favorites against a Bears squad with some fluky wins. Tampa struggled with the weather, basic execution, and capitalizing on scoring opportunities. At its end, we all saw Chicago make a late field goal and Tom Brady infamously forget the downs as the game ended with a 20-19 loss.
While all those same issues largely persisted, Brady’s short-term memory didn’t need to be tested this time as Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt ended with a robust doink off the left upright with less than a minute left. Brady and Bill Belichick served as the nucleus of conversation leading up to kickoff, but it’s largely a persistent running game and key defensive plays that secured the win.
Let’s look at this week’s top performers.
Offensive Top Performer: RB Leonard Fournette
To say Tampa’s rushing attack has been woefully inefficient through three games would be an understatement. On a night that featured persistent rainfall from start to stop, Fournette responded to the desperate need for a consistent presence in the backfield.
Lenny totaled 138 yards (91 rushing, 47 receiving) on 23 touches, and he even drew a critical defensive pass interference penalty that set the Bucs up for their go-ahead field goal attempt.
Leonard Fournette played on 81% of the #Buccaneers snaps — the highest percentage for a Tampa Bay RB since Bruce Arians took over as head coach in 2019.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 4, 2021
Fournette outgained his expectation for the first time in a game this season (+6 RYOE).#TBvsNE | #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/V59yV5NYUY
On a day where it felt like Brady played a little too jazzed up at times, finishing just 22 of 43 for 269 yards and no scores, Fournette picked the offense up in key moments.
We’ll give a shout out to Mike Evans as well, who recorded 7 catches for 75 yards against one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in J.C. Jackson.
Defensive Top Performer: LB Lavonte David
Some good candidates emerged after a generally terrible outing against the Rams, but we’re making David a back-to-back winner for his pass deflection on the 3rd and 3 prior to New England’s final field goal attempt.
Based on looks, Jones had a receiver open. Without that deflection to guarantee 4th down, the Patriots likely could’ve converted the first down, burned the clock down, and got a much better look at a field goal or maybe even put it in the endzone.
David added 7 tackles (2 assisted) as well while helping to generally limit New England’s two tight end approach. (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith combined for 6 catches, 46 yards, and two touchdowns — neither of which David allowed.)
We’ll also give a shout out to Antoine Winfield, Jr. for his 7 tackles (2 assisted), interception, and forced fumble. Him allowing the one touchdown to Henry hurt his otherwise strong performance.
Shaq Barrett bounced back from a forgettable Week 3, and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka recorded his first two career sacks — largely thanks to Vita Vea bowling through New England’s offensive line all night.
Special Teams Top Performer: K Ryan Succop
It’s never how you want to draw it up, but Succop massively stepped up for the Bucs by scoring 13 of their 19 points, including the game-winner from 48 yards out.
He made us all quickly forget about his missed chip shot from 33 yards early on, which nearly cost them the game. Ultimately, in the toughest of kicking conditions, he picked up the offense when the unit struggled to produce touchdowns inside the red zone.
The misses are always frustrating, but games like tonight are why the team paid Succop a generous amount of money to stick around. They’re not flying home 3-1 without him.