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Buccaneers of the Week: at Patriots

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday night’s 19-17 win over the Patriots?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s disappointing loss in Los Angeles, the Buccaneers got back on track on Sunday night, narrowly escaping Gillette Stadium with a 19-17 win over the Patriots to improve to 3-1 on the season.

Leading up to Tampa Bay’s first Sunday Night Football matchup of the 2021 season, all of the talk was about Tom Brady returning to Foxborough for the first time as an opposing player. Hours and hours were spent on the idea of Brady playing against the Patriots and Brady squaring off with Bill Belichick, his former coach. But by the time Sunday night’s game was over, the story of what happened on the field included far more than just the 44-year-old quarterback and his performance. It wasn’t pretty, but the Bucs pulled out a tight team win to close the two-game road trip on a positive note. Now, they’ll return home for a Week 5 contest against the struggling Miami Dolphins.

Before we turn the page to this Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, we have Bucs of the Week points to award. So, let’s get to it.

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

Tom Brady wasn’t at his best on Sunday night, but that’s not to say he was in poor form. He completed just 22 of his 43 passes for 269 yards and no scores, but he still led the game-winning drive when the Bucs needed him. Not to mention, he made history by becoming the NFL’s all-time passing leader and the fourth quarterback in league history to beat all 32 teams... Ronald Jones II didn’t have a big role in the game, but he was effective when called upon, running for 25 yards and a touchdown on six carries... Mike Evans was Tampa Bay’s leading receiver once again, catching seven passes for 75 yards... Antonio Brown caught seven of his 11 targets for 63 yards... Chris Godwin played a sparse role in the game, but when Brady looked his way, he was reliable. He caught three of his five targets for 55 yards... The offensive line wasn’t necessarily dominant in pass protection, but its run blocking was outstanding, and that played a massive part in the win.

Vita Vea didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he was still the wrecking ball that he always is in the middle of the Buccaneer defensive line. He was a significant reason the team’s run defense held the Patriots to -1 rushing yard in the game, plus he was a constant force for the team’s pass rush, even singlehandedly creating a sack for Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in the third quarter... Devin White finished with a pass defensed and two quarterback hits, while Lavonte David notched a tackle for loss and the biggest pass breakup of the night, as it forced a 56-yard field goal try that doinked off the upright and allowed the Bucs to escape with a victory... Shaquil Barrett was unlucky to come away without any points this week, as he picked up a sack, a pass defended and two quarterback hits while also playing solid ball when dropping into coverage.

OK, now let’s see who took home the points. A fun note: Each player in this week’s top five earned their first points of the season.

5. William Gholston (One point)

One of the longest tenured Bucs, William Gholston has long gone under the radar. He’s always been a decent contributor, but in the last year and a half, he has played a pivotal role in Tampa Bay’s defense. His 2021 season has been fantastic to this point, and Sunday night was just another impressive game in a string of them for the 30-year-old. He finished with four tackles, a sack and three quarterback hits, causing consistent pressure on rookie quarterback Mac Jones. He, like Vea and the rest of the Buccaneer defensive line, also helped to shut down the New England ground game. For someone who has long been a bit of an unsung hero, Gholston has enjoyed something of a rebirth as of late. And it’s only fitting that he gets his due, especially considering he just tied Gerald McCoy for the 15th-most games played in team history (123). With a point this week, Gholston is on the board in the season standings.

4. Antoine Winfield Jr. (Two points)

Given the state of Tampa Bay’s secondary, it wasn’t a surprise to see Patriots quarterback Mac Jones put up a solid performance on Sunday night. Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean were missing from the lineup and Carlton Davis went down during the game, leaving a group of recent signings (and Ross Cockrell) to shore up the cornerback position. But where the Bucs did have some help was at the safety position, namely in the form of Antoine Winfield Jr., who made two significant splash plays in Tampa Bay’s win. First, it was Devin White creating pressure on Jones, Cockrell tipping the quarterback’s pass and Winfield coming down with his first interception of the year. Later on, it was the second-year safety coming through with the third forced fumble of his career. Unfortunately, neither turnover turned into points for the Buccaneer offense, but they were big turnovers nonetheless. But even more unfortunate was the fact that Winfield left the game late and is currently in concussion protocol. The Bucs will surely hope to have him back as soon as possible. For now, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher picks up his first two points of the season.

3. Ryan Succop (Three points)

When Ryan Succop missed a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter, it was hard to imagine him taking home any Bucs of the Week points this week. At the time, his miss kept it a 3-0 Buccaneer advantage and on the ensuing possession, the Patriots scored to take a 7-3 lead. But Succop’s night took off from there. He made a 29-yard field goal before the 36-yard miss, then went on to make kicks from 44, 27 and 48 yards out after the miss to help Tampa Bay to victory. The 48-yarder with 1:57 to go ended up being the game-winner, which was the second of Succop’s season. Despite the narrow miss in the second quarter, the end of Sunday’s game gave Bucs fans a perfect look at why they should be appreciative of the kicker they have. After Succop’s 48-yard kick was good, Nick Folk—who played for Tampa Bay in 2017—missed a potential game-winning 56-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Granted, the miss ended a streak of 36 consecutive field goals made by the veteran, but it did bring back memories of his misses costing the Bucs in 2017. Specifically, he missed three kicks against the Patriots in a 19-14 loss that year. To have Succop deliver a second game-winner in four weeks is something every long-suffering Tampa Bay fan can appreciate.

2. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (Four points)

With Jason Pierre-Paul out for the second straight week with a shoulder injury, Tampa Bay once again had to rely on 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step in and start. And in a game that needed the Bucs’ pass rush to show up, the rookie had something of a coming out party against the Patriots. He sacked Mac Jones to force a punt on New England’s first drive and later brought him down again in the third quarter to stop another drive, giving him the first two sacks of his career. He had four quarterback hits in total, showing the burst and pass-rushing ability that the Bucs saw when they drafted him. Of course, the team would love to have Pierre-Paul back as soon as possible, but having Tryon-Shoyinka put his talent on display has to ease any need to rush the veteran back. And when he does return from his shoulder injury, it’ll be good peace of mind for Tampa Bay’s coaches to have their rookie available to rotate in. For his big performance this week, he gets four points to establish himself in the top five of the season standings.

1. Leonard Fournette (Five points)

On a night that the passing game wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard, the Bucs had to lean a little more on their run game at times throughout the game. And most of the responsibility fell to Leonard Fournette, who made the most of his touches and put together his best game of the new season. He ran for 91 yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 47 yards to give him a total of 138 yards for the game. It was just the type of performance that Tampa Bay needed, as he helped to keep drives alive and keep the clock running when the Bucs needed to eat up some time for their banged-up defense to rest up. Not to mention, Fournette drew a 31-yard pass interference penalty on the team’s game-winning drive. Without that penalty—which came after he beat his man in coverage—it’s entirely possible the Bucs come up short and fall to 2-2. The team will need more of “Week 4 Lenny” going forward, especially if Ronald Jones II continues to play a minor role in the offense. Fournette gets the full five points this week, landing him fourth in the Bucs of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 4:

  1. Tom Brady — 15 points
  2. Mike Evans — 7 points
  3. Rob Gronkowski/Chris Godwin — 6 points
  4. Leonard Fournette — 5 points
  5. Mike Edwards/Joe Tryon-Shoyinka — 4 points
  6. Ryan Succop — 3 points
  7. Antonio Brown/Giovani Bernard/Antoine Winfield Jr. — 2 points
  8. Vita Vea/Carlton Davis/Tyler Johnson/William Gholston — 1 point