I’m not going to sugarcoat it: A terrible season ended terribly for the Buccaneers Monday, and it was completely deserved.
The Dallas Cowboys waltzed into Raymond James Stadium, kicked the tar out of the home team, 31-14, and moved onto the Divisional Round while the Bucs are left to ponder what exactly their road forward should look like. Will Tom Brady stay? Does this coaching staff somehow convince ownership they deserve another chance despite showcasing their mind numbing incompetence over and over again? How do they navigate cap hell?
As frustrating as it all was, some stalwart players still did well and deserve some form of shout-out for trying their best despite having a lead anchor tied to their ankles. For the final time until September, let’s run through the night’s “best” performances.
Offensive Top Performer: C Ryan Jensen
No matter what, nobody can deny the grit and determination of Big Red. Ryan Jensen partially tore multiple knee ligaments on the second day of training camp in July, yet he refused to give in.
He rehabbed like a mad man and somehow made it back to start at center in the Wild Card round, and he honestly did as well as anybody could hope. He was far from the weak link, and he showcased the tenacity that has become his trademark.
Ryan Jensen and Micah Parsons pic.twitter.com/RrBibaJZYb— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 17, 2023
With a full offseason to re-condition, Jensen should hopefully return to his elite form.
Chris Godwin became the first Buccaneer to ever record double-digit receptions in a playoff game, logging 10 catches for 85 yards. It was hardly dynamic, but Godwin has pushed through a rough year post-knee injury and should — like Jensen — look a little closer to his prime next season.
Defensive Top Performer: Antoine Winfield Jr.
Winfield Jr. played like an All-Pro throughout the season and likely would’ve garnered those honors had he missed fewer games due to injury, and it was no different Monday night.
He flew around the field and generally looked like the only person in the secondary who wasn’t routinely lost play after play. He made seven combined tackles and was solid in coverage. He’s eligible for an extension this off-season, and he should top the team’s priority list just behind Tristan Wirfs.
If Lavonte David played his final game as a Buccaneer, he gave it all he had. The prospective free agent capped his elite season with 14 total tackles, flying around and never giving up despite the cavernous deficit the team faced. An exemplary human on and off the field, David deserved a better send-off but he’ll be a Bucs legend forever.
Special Teams Top Performer: P Jake Camarda
Camarda is a young stud who got his number called more often than what should’ve been necessary in his rookie year, but he largely delivered after a shaky first few games. He finished as the 6th best-graded punter according to Pro Football Focus, and he capped his season with two punts pinned inside the 20 and a robust 49-yard average against Dallas.
Gio Bernard also played well as a gunner in his first real action on special teams. He made a very strong tackle early on, and he even recovered the last-ditch onside kick near the end of the game. His signing never lived up to the hype as a strong 3rd down option, but he carried himself as a true professional and never complained. Respect.