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Buccaneers of the Week: at Rams

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the Rams?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, the Buccaneers did something they hadn’t done since last November—they lost a game. Injuries and mistakes were too much to overcome in Tampa Bay’s 34-24 loss to the Rams, which ended the defending champions’ 10-game winning streak.

Early in the game, it looked like we were going to get a defensive battle. It was scoreless after the first quarter and 14-7 in favor of the Rams at halftime, but the second half was a struggle for Tampa Bay’s defense. The absence of Jason Pierre-Paul and the loss of Jamel Dean certainly didn’t help matters, plus the Buccaneer offense couldn’t find enough of a rhythm to keep up with the Los Angeles passing attack.

Now at 2-1 on the young season, the Bucs are back on the road again next Sunday for a big one. They’ll be up north as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski make their return to Gillette Stadium for a matchup with the 1-2 Patriots. It’s sure to be an emotional night for those two, but getting a win to return home at 3-1 will remain the priority. Before we get there, let’s give out some Bucs of the Week points for Week 3!

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.

Honorable Mentions

With Antonio Brown on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week, Cameron Brate was one of the guys getting more targets and he did well with them, catching four of his five targets for 35 yards... Vita Vea was once again an impressive force in the middle of the Buccaneer defensive line. Despite the lack of overall pressure from the front seven, he continued his solid start to the season and finished the day with two tackles and a quarterback hit... Joe Tryon-Shoyinka got his first career start with Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined and got close to the quarterback a couple of times. Officially, he finished with two tackles and a pass defended... William Gholston picked up the Bucs’ lone sack in the game.

OK, now let’s see who took home the points this week.

5. Tyler Johnson (One point)

Considering the absence of Antonio Brown, the Bucs were needing someone to step up behind their top two receivers and Rob Gronkowski on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. While it was assumed that Scotty Miller would be the next man up, it was actually second-year receiver Tyler Johnson getting a bigger role (with Miller’s toe injury perhaps being a reason for that). The Minnesota product got six targets and brought in three of them, totaling 63 yards. His biggest impact came on what ended up being a Buccaneer field goal drive that cut the Rams’ lead to 31-17 late in the third quarter. Right after Los Angeles made it a 17-point game, it was a bit of a surprise to see Johnson so heavily targeted on the next possession. But he made the most of it, catching a 23-yard pass to start the drive before bringing in a 31-yarder later on to set the offense up with a 1st & Goal. It wasn’t a banner day for the Bucs, but it was good to see the young receiver stepping up when needed. He gets a point in the season standings for his efforts.

4. Giovani Bernard (Two points)

When it comes to running the football, Tampa Bay’s backfield is a mess. But thanks to Giovani Bernard, the running back position is a bit more involved in the passing game nowadays. He was brought in to be the third-down/pass-catching back and he had his biggest role of the season so far in Sunday’s loss. He was targeted 10 times (tied for the team high), bringing in a team-high nine catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. His longest catch of the day was a 32-yarder that came near the end of the first half as the Bucs were trying to get into field goal range. They eventually did and, though the kick was missed, Bernard proved his worth in a big way to set that scoring chance up. He also found the end zone late in the fourth quarter to make the final score look a little more respectable, though he had to be helped off the field with what looked to be a knee injury. If he can come out on the other side of that feeling healthy, he might begin to see an even bigger role given the recent struggles of Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette. But for now, he’ll get two points to debut in the Bucs of the Week Standings.

3. Chris Godwin (Three points)

The team’s second-leading receiver in Sunday’s game, Chris Godwin continued to be a steady presence for the Buccaneer passing game. He caught six of his seven targets for 74 yards, averaging 12.3 yards per catch. By no means was it an all-time classic game for Godwin, but he was reliable force through the air and even became a threat on the ground when his number was called early in the game. Just like he did to seal the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay back in January, Godwin took an end-around handoff in a key moment. Against the Packers, he worked his way around for a game-icing first down. But this time around, he punched it in the end zone from two yards out to bring the Bucs even in the game (after Ryan Succop’s PAT). His rushing touchdown capped a key 15-play, 76-yard drive that lasted 8:19, which was a big response at the time after the Rams had gone 95 yards in 14 plays on the previous drive. With three points, Godwin works his way into the top three in the season standings.

2. Mike Evans (Four points)

For the second straight week, Mike Evans was the No. 1 man in the Buccaneer receiving corps. Whatever worries about his role that existed in Week 1, those should be firmly in the past by now. After his 75-yard, two-touchdown day against the Falcons last week, the seven-time 1,000-yard receiver caught eight of his 10 targets this week for a team-high 106 yards. The 100-yard day marked the 29th of his career and his first since the NFC Wild Card Game against Washington back in January. He was a major part of the Bucs’ touchdown drive in the third quarter that, at the time, brought the game back within 21-14. On that possession, he made two key first-down catches, with one being a 20-yarder that helped the offense recover from a 1st & 15 that came as a result of a false start penalty. Despite not finding the end zone, it was clear that Evans was the go-to guy against Los Angeles this week. He was arguably more effective against the Rams this time around, considering he caught just five of his nine targets for 49 yards against them last year, though he did find the end zone in that game. With four big points this week, he’s up to No. 2 in the season standings.

1. Tom Brady (Five points)

Three weeks into the 2021 season, Tom Brady has been the only Buccaneer who has really been consistently on top of his game. While the Tampa Bay offense wasn’t at its best on Sunday, that was hardly on the quarterback. Without a run game and playing from behind for much of the day, Brady was asked to throw the ball 55 times. He completed 41 of those 55 passes for 432 yards and a touchdown, plus he finished as the team’s leading rusher (going for 14 yards) and added a score on the ground. The 44-year-old signal-caller may be last on the list of people to blame for the loss. Maybe the offense wasn’t as strong as it has been, but Brady endured a career first, as he threw for 400 yards and no interceptions in a loss for the first time in his 22-year career. He also became the oldest player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in a game, surpassing Brett Favre (who did it at 41 years old in 2010). You would usually expect to win a game in which your quarterback throws for 432 yards, scores two touchdowns and doesn’t turn the ball over. But that’s how football works sometimes. Brady gets the full five points anyway, which is the third time he has done so in three games this season, giving him a sizeable lead in the Bucs of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 3:

  1. Tom Brady — 15 points
  2. Mike Evans — 7 points
  3. Rob Gronkowski/Chris Godwin — 6 points
  4. Mike Edwards — 4 points
  5. Antonio Brown/Giovani Bernard — 2 points
  6. Vita Vea/Carlton Davis/Tyler Johnson — 1 point