The Buccaneers have lacked a statement victory over a legitimate football team over the last few months.
For the most part, all of their wins have gone as expected — a drubbing of Atlanta, a conquering of Miami, a decimation of Chicago, etc. They’ve missed opportunities to re-cement their elite status against better opponents, falling short against the likes of the Los Angeles Rams and rival New Orleans Saints.
For the first half of Sunday’s tilt against the streaking Indianapolis Colts, it looked like Tampa once again would be disappoint. But with some critical plays from a bevy of stalwarts, the Bucs charged ahead in the third quarter after trailing 10 points at halftime and outlasted for the 38-31 win.
Let’s recognize the biggest contributors who helped the Bucs get to 8-3...
Offensive Top Performer: RB Leonard Fournette
The artist former known as Playoff Lenny and Lombardi Lenny, Lucas Oil Lenny came to play against Indy with a career-high four touchdowns and 131 yards on 24 total touches. That included his walk-off 28-yard TD with less than 30 seconds remaining to put the Bucs ahead for good.
Put whatever title you want in front of Fournette’s first name, but the truth is that he has indisputably turned a corner, both on and off the field, with the Bucs since the last month of the 2020 season. While Tampa’s run game took a while to get going this year, Fournette has been fairly consistent in his production.
He has now produced 975 yards from scrimmage thus far to go along with 9 touchdowns. If he stays healthy and productive, he’s got a chance to become Tampa’s first 1,000 yard rusher since Doug Martin in 2015. He’s also on pace for 79 receptions, which would be second-most in franchise history behind James Wilder’s 85 in 1984.
Without those four Lenny scores, Rob Gronkowski absolutely would’ve claimed the crown this week. Gronk looks to officially be back, as someone on here expected him to be, as he led all Bucs receivers with 7 catches for 123 yards. It was his best game since coming to Tampa Bay, and it was his 30th career game with 100+ receiving yards. His presence is vital to the balance of this offense, and that will only grow more important as playoffs draw closer.
Defensive Top Performer: EDGE Shaq Barrett
Let’s make this perfectly clear: if the Barrett did not strip sack Carson Wentz early in the third quarter with the Colts driving already up 10, this comeback would not have happened. Period, put it in Sharpie.
FINAL - #Buccaneers 38, #Colts 31— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 28, 2021
Shaquil Barrett's strip-sack fumble recovery early in the third quarter goes down as the turning point in the game. Prior to the play, the Bucs had just a 12% chance of winning, the team's lowest at any point in the contest.#TBvsIND | #GoBucs https://t.co/edbgwITU2C pic.twitter.com/OCpryiEdXL
Those types of plays are exactly why Barrett got paid, and he gets his due respect. Overall, he produced an excellent game with two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and some nice stops in run defense. You’d like to see this version of Shaq show up a little more often, but it pops up often enough not to be overly concerned. Dude is still great.
We also shout out Antoine Winfield Jr. for his incredible interception over Michael Pittman, who got Moss’d by someone 6 inches shorter than him. This turnover led to Tampa’s go-ahead score and putting them in control of the game. Winfield also chipped in 7 total tackles.
Lavonte David also logged a vintage performance, which was pivotal in a game where a quad injury inhibited Devin White for most of it. He recovered a fumble, notched 7 total tackles and created a key pass breakup toward the end of the contest.
Special Teams Top Performer: WR Scotty Miller
Scooter didn’t make an impact in the most conventional ways in his return from a months-long absence, but he was important nonetheless. After drawing a huge defensive pass interference penalty on offense earlier in the game, he recovered a Nyheim Hines muffed punt late at Indy’s 19-yard line.
That heads-up play led to the Bucs kicking a field goal (shout out, Ryan Succop) and putting the team up a full score, 31-24. That played a huge role when Indy drove right down the field and tied the game on the following drive.
While he’d probably like to have plays that more closely resemble his iconic NFC Championship highlight, I’m sure he’s just glad to be helping out for the first time since Week 3.