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Buccaneers of the Week: at Panthers

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 32-6 NFC South-clinching win over Carolina?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

One week after a brutal 9-0 loss at home to the Saints, the Buccaneers got right and took down the Panthers on the road by a score of 32-6, clinching their first NFC South championship since 2007.

Now at 11-4, Tampa Bay will go to work on its playoff positioning. The Bucs currently sit as the NFC’s No. 4 seed, but if they can take advantage of their favorable remaining schedule (away against the Jets and home against the Panthers) while getting some help elsewhere, they very well could rise as high as the No. 2 seed before the NFC Wild Card Round in January.

Before we move on to the team’s regular season road finale against the Jets in Week 16, we have some Bucs of the Week points to hand out.

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 was very good on Sunday, perhaps even better than his numbers indicated. He completed 18 of his 30 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, plus he had another electric 11-yard scramble… Ronald Jones II did well enough to step in for the injured Leonard Fournette, rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while catching two of his three targets for 16 yards… Ke’Shawn Vaughn also stepped up in a big way on Sunday with Fournette out, breaking off a big 55-yard touchdown run to open the scoring for Tampa Bay… Ryan Succop was perfect on the afternoon, going 4-of-4 on field goals and 2-of-2 on extra points…

Kevin Minter, Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea and Anthony Nelson all tallied sacks in the game, while Steve McLendon picked up a half-sack of his own… In addition to his sack, Barrett also totaled two passes defended, with one of them leading to an interception… The Buccaneer secondary was excellent against the Panthers, with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean both having strong games and Sean Murphy-Bunting contributing as well.

OK, on to the top five.

5. Cyril Grayson Jr. (One point)

With Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman and Jaelon Darden sidelined this week, the expectation was that Scotty Miller or Tyler Johnson would step in as WR2 behind Antonio Brown. Instead, they combined for one target and Cyril Grayson Jr. stepped up as one of Tampa Bay’s biggest contributors. He caught all three of his targets for 81 yards and ran for 14 yards on one carry. He didn’t score, but to total 95 yards on four touches and directly contribute to two touchdowns was big-time from a guy who has spent most of the season on the Bucs’ practice squad. He had a key block on Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 55-yard touchdown run and later caught a 62-yard pass late in the first half to set the Bucs up for another big score before the break. It wasn’t the first time Grayson came through in the clutch for Tampa Bay, scoring a massive 50-yard touchdown earlier in the year against the Saints. That earned him two Bucs of the Week points back then and now, he gets another.

4. Antonio Brown (Two points)

In his first game back from injury and suspension, Antonio Brown proved why the Bucs have chosen to stick by him after his latest incident. No matter what you think of that decision, it’s impossible to deny that Brown makes a significant impact on the field and Tampa Bay is better with him out there. His presence was especially crucial this week, as the Bucs were without Chris Godwin (who will miss the rest of the season) and Mike Evans. The 33-year-old receiver was the driving force behind the offense, racking up 15 targets from Tom Brady and catching 10 of them for 101 yards. He played something of a Godwin role, picking up key first down after key first down to extend drives for the offense. Sunday was Brown’s third 100-yard performance in six games played this season, and he’ll need to continue putting up that kind of production if the team has any hope of surviving without Godwin through the regular season and the playoffs. Brown’s two points give him 12 in the season standings, which is good for the No. 6 spot with two games left to play.

3. Offensive Line (Three points)

As great as some of the Bucs skill players have been in 2021, they wouldn’t be where they are right now without the play of the offensive line. With key players missing all over the offense on Sunday against the Panthers, it was the big guys up front who took charge and controlled the line of scrimmage—and the game. The Tampa Bay rushing attack, even without Leonard Fournette, was still solid against Carolina. Whether it was Ronald Jones II or Ke’Shawn Vaughn breaking off big runs, it was the offensive line opening holes and creating space. And in the passing game, the unit kept Tom Brady clean, holding the Panthers to zero sacks and just one quarterback hit. It was fitting for the Buccaneer offensive line to put this kind of performance together the same week that three of its members were named to the Pro Bowl. Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet and Tristan Wirfs were all more than deserving of their nods, and Donovan Smith was a major snub. Alex Cappa had a case of his own. Nonetheless, the offensive line gets three points this week to reach seven for the season, pulling the group into a tie for the No. 9 spot.

2. William Gholston (Four points)

Tampa Bay has seen plenty of “next-man-up” scenarios this season in its quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But one guy who has been there all along and served as an unsung hero has been William Gholston. This week, finally, he took center stage as one of the Bucs’ key stars on defense. Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul were both absent from the lineup from the start and Shaquil Barrett went down right around halftime, but Gholston got things going for the team’s pass rush. He totaled a career high 2.5 sacks against the Panthers. His first one set the tone early, then he split one with Anthony Nelson in the fourth quarter before putting the finishing touches on his big day with another quarterback takedown late in the fourth quarter. In a game that saw the Bucs total seven sacks—their most in a single game since 2013–it was Gholston leading the charge. For the majority of his career, the Michigan State man has been a quiet contributor. But over the last two seasons, he’s been quite the force. And with four points in the standings this week, he pulls even with Vita Vea for the No. 11 spot in the season standings.

1. Jordan Whitehead (Five points)

From pretty much the outset of Sunday’s game, it was clear who would take home the full five Bucs of the Week points this week. Jordan Whitehead was playing like a man possessed at Bank of America Stadium, totaling a team-high seven tackles (six solo), three passes defended and an interception. Again, with the aforementioned injuries on the defense, there were some big presences missing. Antoine Winfield Jr. was out as well, leaving what could’ve been a huge hole in the back half of the Buccaneer secondary. Enter Whitehead. He was phenomenal in run support—as usual—making some excellent open-field tackles, with a couple on Cam Newton that proved to be significant. He also contributed to William Gholston’s first-quarter sack, flying in on a blitz to create pressure and lead to the sack. Not to mention, Whitehead was great in coverage as well, capping off what was truly a complete performance. And with the full five this week, he gets himself into a tie for the No. 8 spot in the Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 16:

  1. Tom Brady — 41 points
  2. Mike Evans — 24 points
  3. Leonard Fournette — 22 points
  4. Chris Godwin — 21 points
  5. Rob Gronkowski — 15 points
  6. Antonio Brown — 12 points
  7. Shaquil Barrett — 9 points
  8. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka/Jordan Whitehead — 8 points
  9. Antoine Winfield Jr./Devin White/Lavonte David/Offensive Line — 7 points
  10. Mike Edwards— 6 points
  11. Vita Vea/William Gholston — 5 points
  12. Jason Pierre-Paul/Tyler Johnson — 4 points
  13. Ryan Succop/Cyril Grayson Jr. — 3 points
  14. Giovani Bernard/Ndamukong Suh/Ronald Jones II — 2 points
  15. Carlton Davis — 1 point