Well, at least no one can ever accuse the 2021 Buccaneers of being boring after they clinched the NFC South, right?
Tampa Bay came into its Week 17 game against the New York Jets at 11-4 with nothing other than playoff seeding on the line. The team was obviously still wanting to win and give itself a chance to play for the NFC’s No. 2 seed next week, but no one could’ve imagined what we’d see at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The shorthanded 4-11 Jets took it to the defending Super Bowl champions early on and led 24-10 late into the third quarter before things got even weirder. As everyone knows by now, something happened on the Buccaneer sideline that led to Antonio Brown tossing his jersey/pads onto the bench, chucking his undershirt and gloves into the crowd and jogging off to the locker room while giving fans in the end zone the deuces. It was a bizarre scene that led to the end of the troubled receiver’s time as a Buc.
From that point on, the Bucs outscored the Jets 18-0 and won 28-24. It was a late game-winning 93-yard drive that the offense conducted in 1:57 with no timeouts that won the game with 15 seconds to go. The victory moved Tampa Bay to 12-4 on the season ahead of next Sunday’s regular season finale against the Panthers.
Before we move on to that first-ever Week 18 contest at Raymond James Stadium, we’ve got some 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...
Le’Veon Bell, just recently signed off the street to fill in as a depth piece for the Bucs, was forced into more action on Sunday afternoon. He didn’t do much in the run game, but he made three key catches on three targets for 30 yards, converting two third downs. He also punched in the two-point conversion after the go-ahead touchdown with 15 seconds left... Tyler Johnson had some rough moments on Sunday, but he stepped up big-time down the stretch. Without Antonio Brown, the second-year receiver had to produce on the game-winning 93-yard drive—and he did. He caught passes of eight, six, and 27 yards on that drive, finishing the game with four catches on six targets for 50 yards... Mike Evans made a solid return to the field, catching four passes for 47 yards and his 12th touchdown of the season... Breshad Perriman made a big 32-yard catch just after Brown departed the game, and it set up a big Buccaneer touchdown... Cameron Brate caught a huge fourth-down touchdown late in the third quarter to get the Bucs within 24-17... The offensive line collectively didn’t have its best game, but the group had Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded player on the team (Ali Marpet, 85.4) and the fifth-highest-graded player (Alex Cappa, 80.4)...
Carlton Davis was solid in the game, racking up eight tackles (seven solo) and a pass defended... Joe Tryon-Shoyinka did an admirable job with Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul out, helping to make a huge fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter that led to the team’s game-winning drive.
OK, let’s get on to the top five.
5. Antoine Winfield Jr. (One point)
The Buccaneer defense is different with Antoine Winfield Jr. out there. The second-year safety has consistently been one of the unit’s best players over his first two NFL seasons, and he made a significant impact in Sunday’s win over the Jets. He tied for the team lead in tackles with eight (seven solo) and made two of the game’s biggest tackles in the fourth quarter. The first came with under seven minutes to go and the Jets looking to put the game away. Braxton Berrios, who gave Tampa Bay problems all day, took an end-around pitch and weaved his way through the defense and looked to break free for what would’ve been a game-sealing touchdown, but Winfield was there to make a touchdown-saving shoestring tackle. That 11-yard gain felt damaging at the time, but that tackle loomed large given the way the game ended up. Just as impactful of a tackle was the one Winfield made later in that drive, with the Jets lining up to go for the win on a 4th & 2. If New York had converted, the game would be over. Instead, Winfield and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka teamed up to stop Zach Wilson short of the line to gain, giving the ball over to the Buccaneer offense on downs. With those two clutch tackles alone, Winfield did enough to earn a point this week.
4. Anthony Nelson (Two points)
Tampa Bay’s defense was largely frustrating against a bad Jets offense that was missing a number of impactful players. However, one player on Todd Bowles’ unit stood out as the key playmaker throughout the afternoon, and that was Anthony Nelson. The reserve edge rusher was forced into a starting role with Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined, and he made a big difference. He broke up a pass on the game’s first drive, made a key third-down sack early in the fourth quarter and recovered a fumble as time expired to seal the victory. On the whole, Nelson racked up three tackles (three solo), a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass defended and a fumble recovery. That’s quite the day for the 2019 fourth-round pick, who played 58 snaps (95% of the team’s defensive snaps). Tampa Bay needed its edge rushers to step up in this game, and Nelson answered the bell. There’s a reason he was PFF’s highest-graded Buccaneer defender in the game, scoring an 82.9—the third-best grade on the team. The former Iowa Hawkeye is up to four sacks on the season and this week, he gets his first two Buccaneers of the Week points. He may very well continue to play a huge role on the Tampa Bay defense into the playoffs, and Bowles likely needs him to.
3. Rob Gronkowski (Three points)
The Bucs came into Sunday’s game with limited options at receiver. Of course, Chris Godwin is out for the season, but the team started the afternoon with Mike Evans and Antonio Brown on snap counts due to injuries they were dealing with. With that in mind, Rob Gronkowski’s performance was massively needed. When you factor in Brown’s strange departure that came later, the future Hall of Fame tight end’s efforts were magnified. He was targeted 10 times, catching seven of them for 115 yards—all team-highs. His 16.4 yards per catch were desperately needed, as he had two 21-yard catches, three 14-yard catches and 24-yard catch, constantly coming up with big plays for the Tampa Bay offense. While he surprisingly didn’t factor into the Bucs’ game-winning drive, he was a big reason they were even in position to win it in the end anyway. Heading into Week 18 and into the playoffs, the team will be without Godwin and now Brown as well, meaning we may see more and more come Gronkowski’s way. He’s shown throughout his career that he can be a mismatch. Remember Super Bowl LV? The Bucs will need that Gronkowski over the next month for a chance to repeat. For now, he gets three more Bucs of the Week points.
2. Tom Brady (Four points)
Given that he threw for 410 yards and three touchdowns on 34-of-50 passing and led a game-winning 93-yard drive in 1:57 with no timeouts, Tom Brady probably should’ve gotten the full five points here, right? It’s perhaps unfair, but performances like these are simply what we’ve come to expect from the seven-time Super Bowl champion. Even with things looking dire, Brady can come through. He linked up with Rob Gronkowski for much of the day and found Mike Evans a few times, but perhaps his best work came on that final drive. With just over two minutes left and 93 yards to go, the 44-year-old went to work. He drove Tampa Bay down the field without throwing to any of his top six targets. It started with the short passing game, as he found Tyler Johnson for eight yards, Cyril Grayson Jr. for three, Grayson for six and Johnson for another six. At the 30 with just over a minute remaining, it took Brady just three more throws to get the Bucs on top. He hit Johnson for a gain of 27 and found Grayson for 10, then went for it all and connected with Grayson for a 33-yard game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds to go. It was a vintage Brady performance and perhaps one of his most impressive performances as a Buc, especially given the circumstances. Having already wrapped up the top spot in the 2021 Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings several weeks ago, Brady pads his lead with another four points this week.
1. Cyril Grayson Jr. (Five points)
When the Bucs lost 9-0 to the Saints two Sundays ago, the game was crying out for the next man up on Tampa Bay’s offense to do something. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette all exited that game early, Breshad Perriman was on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Antonio Brown hadn’t returned from his suspension, so the cupboard was largely bare for Tom Brady. As it turns out, that game was crying out for Cyril Grayson Jr., but we just didn’t know it at the time. The former track star, who didn’t play football in college, had one catch all season—a 50-yard touchdown catch on Halloween—before Week 16. He made three big catches for 81 yards against the Panthers in the Bucs’ Week 16 win, but his Week 17 performance was on another level. it wasn’t just that he topped his season total for catches in one game—grabbing six against the Jets. And it wasn’t only him finishing second on the team with 81 yards. It was the fact that the 28-year-old came through when he was sorely needed. One of the game’s biggest plays came through him, as he caught a 20-yard pass on 3rd & 20 to extend a drive that eventually got Tampa Bay within 24-17.
Then, on the game’s final drive, Grayson was the guy. He moved the chains once. Then, he did it again in New York territory. And then, the big rewarding moment came as he made an excellent play to bring in the game-winning 33-yard touchdown pass from Brady with 15 seconds left. Bruce Arians said after the game that Grayson has earned his quarterback’s trust. Brady wants him on the field, and now he’s going to need him on the field in big moments this January. With another five Bucs of the Week points under his belt, Grayson appears ready to be the next man up that this offense badly needs with Godwin and Brown missing for the playoffs.
2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 17:
- Tom Brady — 45 points
- Mike Evans — 24 points
- Leonard Fournette — 22 points
- Chris Godwin — 21 points
- Rob Gronkowski — 18 points
- Antonio Brown — 12 points
- Shaquil Barrett — 9 points
- Joe Tryon-Shoyinka/Jordan Whitehead/Antoine Winfield Jr./Cyril Grayson Jr. — 8 points
- Devin White/Lavonte David/Offensive Line — 7 points
- Mike Edwards— 6 points
- Vita Vea/William Gholston — 5 points
- Jason Pierre-Paul/Tyler Johnson — 4 points
- Ryan Succop — 3 points
- Giovani Bernard/Ndamukong Suh/Ronald Jones II/Anthony Nelson — 2 points
- Carlton Davis — 1 point