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Buccaneers of the Week: at Saints

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 36-27 loss in New Orleans?

NFL: OCT 31 Buccaneers at Saints Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buccaneers lost a football game on Sunday afternoon for the first time in over a month, falling 36-27 to the Saints. It was an extremely avoidable loss, and Tampa Bay will now have its entire bye week to think on it and come back better in Week 10.

Turnovers and penalties put the Bucs down 23-7 by the midway point in the third quarter before a furious comeback gave them a 27-26 lead with 5:44 left in the game. But then those penalty problems reared their ugly head again, allowing the Saints to take a late lead. And just when the offense was trying to put together another late-game winning drive, a third turnover of the day erased all doubt. So, instead of widening the gap atop the NFC South standings, Tampa Bay (6-2) now only leads New Orleans (5-2) by a half-game as it heads into its week off.

Before we take the bye week to reflect on the first eight games as a whole and prior to shifting focus to a Week 10 contest against the Washington Football Team, we have 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

Mike Evans typically has a tough time with the Saints and while he wasn’t dominant on Sunday, he still managed to make an impact. After beating Marshon Lattimore deep early in the game only to be overthrown, he later beat Lattimore again, fighting through pass interference to catch a 41-yard touchdown. That brought the Bucs within 23-21 late in the third quarter... Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t have its best day, but Ali Marpet graded out fairly well with Pro Football Focus, earning a 76.8. That was good for the second-highest grade on the team...

Jordan Whitehead was one of the few Buccaneer defenders to have a solid afternoon, racking up nine tackles (all solo), with one tackle for loss and a pass breakup... Ndamukong Suh registered Tampa Bay’s only sack of the game and picked up an additional quarterback hit... Jason Pierre-Paul got in the backfield a couple of times to knock down passes from both Jameis Winston and Trevor Siemian... Vita Vea totaled two quarterback hits in the game.

OK, here we go.

5. Antoine Winfield Jr. (One point)

Tampa Bay’s defense certainly had a day to forget. It struggled to contain Jameis Winston early on and even after he left with what turned out to be a season-ending ACL injury (prayers up to Winston, by the way), third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian hung in there and led the Saints to an unlikely victory. But despite the frustrating play from much of the Buccaneer defense, Antoine Winfield Jr. had himself another solid game. Finishing with four tackles (two solo), a pass breakup and a quarterback hit, the second-year safety was PFF’s highest-graded Buc in the game, earning a grade (90.2) more than 13 points higher than the player with the second-highest grade (Marpet). Not to mention, Winfield should’ve had a key red-zone interception in the second quarter, but it was negated by a roughing the passer call that came after William Gholston had his helmet ripped off by Terron Armstead. Nonetheless, Winfield earns his third Bucs of the Week point of the year in his second game back from his concussion.

4. Cyril Grayson Jr. (Two points)

Very rarely does a player earn Bucs of the Week points off of one impact play in a game, but Cyril Grayson Jr. deserves a spot in this week’s top five. With Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller both sidelined, Grayson was elevated to the active roster for the second straight week. His speed is undeniable, but he’s not a guy with much NFL experience. In fact, the Louisiana native was a track star at LSU and didn’t even play college football. But stepping in and stepping up on Sunday, he made one of the game’s biggest plays, getting wide open for a 50-yard touchdown with 5:44 left in the fourth quarter. At the time, it was the go-ahead score for the Bucs, who took a 27-26 lead and set themselves up to get a defensive stop and escape with the comeback win. Instead, New Orleans put together a winning drive of its own. But that can’t take away from what was a special play for Grayson, who waited around all afternoon and was able to come through when his number was called with the game on the line. And for that, he takes home two Bucs of the Week points.

3. Tyler Johnson (Three points)

On Sunday, second-year receiver Tyler Johnson had the biggest game of his career in the same building where he made a spectacular and crucial catch to help the Bucs advance to the NFC Championship Game last January. Targeted six times, the former Minnesota man caught five passes for 65 yards on the afternoon, with his longest catch of the game going for 31 yards. He averaged 13 yards per catch, putting in a fantastic performance in the absence of Antonio Brown. With a lot of the defense’s attention on Mike Evans, Johnson had an opportunity and he took advantage of it. He clearly has earned the trust of his quarterback despite typically being WR5 on the roster, and his performance against the Saints was just the latest example of the next-man-up theme that we’ve seen the Bucs have to employ all season. This certainly won’t be the last time this season that Tampa Bay will have to turn to its 2020 fifth-round pick, and with a day like this, coaches, teammates and fans can all feel confident whenever his number is called again. He gets three Bucs of the Week points to reach an eighth-place tie for the season.

2. Tom Brady (Four points)

Weirdly enough, the man responsible for three costly turnovers in Tampa Bay’s loss earns the No. 2 spot in this week’s top five. Why? Because without him, the Bucs likely never get back into the game. A fumble and an interception in the first half turned the tide and led directly to nine New Orleans points, but even after the home team went up 23-7 halfway through the third quarter, it didn’t feel like the Bucs were out of the game. That’s the type of confidence that Tom Brady instills in a locker room. The 44-year-old quarterback was fantastic for much of the second half, first hitting Giovani Bernard for a seven-yard touchdown to get within 23-14 before finding Mike Evans for a 41-yard touchdown to bridge the gap to two points late in the third quarter. Then came the aforementioned 50-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson Jr. to give the Bucs a late fourth-quarter lead. If the defense had gotten the stop it needed, that would’ve been the winner and we wouldn’t have any more to talk about. But the lasting memory from this game will be Brady’s pick six that killed any comeback hopes. Even still, the reigning Super Bowl MVP threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in the game, becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in games with three-plus passing touchdowns in the process. It wasn’t Brady’s best, that’s for sure. But, oddly enough, he still did enough to warrant four big Bucs of the Week points.

1. Chris Godwin (Five points)

Recently, some outside narratives have pegged Chris Godwin as the Bucs’ forgotten man. Mike Evans and Antonio Brown have grabbed a lot of the headlines as of late, but that didn’t seem to affect Godwin on Sunday afternoon. He almost single-handedly kept Tampa Bay in the game, serving as a catalyst for an offense that often struggled to get it going. He led the team in targets (12), catches (8) and yards (140) while also catching his 28th career touchdown. In addition to giving the Bucs an early lead, that receiving score tied him with Joey Galloway for the fifth-most in franchise history. After his second straight 100-yard game, Godwin now has a team-high 660 receiving yards on 50 receptions, which is also a team high. While there may be an odd man out from week to week, it’s pretty clear that Tom Brady has distributed the ball well. Behind Godwin is Evans, who has 544 yards and eight touchdowns, while Brown has posted 418 yards and four touchdowns of his own. There seems to be plenty of football to go around, and Godwin made the most of his targets on Sunday. For that, and for a menacing stiff arm on Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Godwin gets the full five points this week. As a result, he jumps up into the No. 4 spot in the Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 8:

  1. Tom Brady — 28 points
  2. Mike Evans — 14 points
  3. Leonard Fournette — 13 points
  4. Chris Godwin — 11 points
  5. Antonio Brown — 10 points
  6. Rob Gronkowski — 6 points
  7. Shaquil Barrett — 5 points
  8. Mike Edwards/Joe Tryon-Shoyinka/Vita Vea/Jason Pierre-Paul/Tyler Johnson — 4 points
  9. Ryan Succop/Antoine Winfield Jr. — 3 points
  10. Giovani Bernard/Cyril Grayson Jr. — 2 points
  11. Carlton Davis/William Gholston/Offensive Line — 1 point