The Buccaneers started their 2023 underdog story on a promising note Sunday, as the offense overcame extreme malaise and built off a dominant defensive showing to secure the win, 20-17.
The Minnesota Vikings cultivated major success in the pass game during the first half, as Justin Jefferson went off for 7 receptions and more than 130 yards and rookie Jordan Addison grabbed an uncontested 39-yard touchdown. However, several QB hits, 2 sacks and three takeaways came up clutch for Tampa, which did a much better overall job in the second half.
Let’s take a look at some of the team’s top individual performers in all three phases of the game.
Offensive Top Performer: QB Baker Mayfield
He had us in the first half, not gonna lie.
Mayfield started off dreadfully, completing just 3 of his first 11 passes for 12 yards. He looked overwhelmed and jittery, with several misses of wide-open players (including Ko Kieft for a would-be touchdown).
However, he deserves a lot of credit for settling down and finding his groove in the second half, as he completed 15 of his last 19 passes for 110 yards and a score. He held up in spite of shaky pass protection, and he came up clutch twice on the game-clinching drive — first with a run on third down where he got clotheslined but still managed to cross the marker, and then again on the final third down of the game where he completed a pass to Chris Godwin to secure the win.
BAKER MAYFIELD STICKS HIS NOSE IN THERE FOR THE FIRST DOWN— JPAFootball (@jasrifootball) September 10, 2023
The stat line (21 of 34 for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns, 8 carries for 11 yards) is pedestrian, but the underlying performance was gritty and pivotal. Hopefully this victory will help Mayfield gain more confidence in both himself and offensive coordinator Dave Canales’s system.
#Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin had 14 receptions on 3rd down in the last 8 weeks of the 2022 regular season.— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 10, 2023
With ice in his veins, he makes another one to put the #Vikings away!
We’ll also shout out old reliable Mike Evans, who remains the consummate professional in spite of heavy roster upheaval and an uncertain financial future. He logged 6 catches for 66 yards and a score to lead all receivers on the team. They’ll continue to rely on him as he seeks his 10th straight 1,000-yard season.
Top Defensive Performer: LB Devin White
If White plays every week like he did Sunday, he’ll certainly be worth the big-time contract he’s seeking.
The fifth-year linebacker made his presence felt all over the field, as he collected 7 tackles in the first half alone and finished with a hefty 12 total. Several were for loss as well, as he provided vital in controlling Minnesota’s short and intermediate passing game, as well as the ground attack.
If White’s finally ready to stake his claim amongst the game’s elite consistently, that will make Lavonte David’s impending curtain call easier to swallow. Speaking of Lavonte, he mopped up in his own right with 8 total tackles.
Another player gunning for significant dollars is Antoine Winfield, Jr., and he also lobbied for that payday with an impressive performance that included a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery to go along with 4 tackles.
Antoine Winfield Jr. in a Todd Bowles defense is a poetic pairing pic.twitter.com/Uih6BHrV0W— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) September 10, 2023
Undrafted rookie free agent Christian Izien went through a couple hiccups — missing a tackle on the Alexander Mattison touchdown and getting called for a very questionable defensive pass interference penalty that preceded said score — but otherwise he showed up in his NFL debut. He made a key 3rd down stop early on, and he saved a late-first half touchdown by stealing a pass right out of K.J. Osborn’s hands for his first career interception. The team might have unearthed a hidden gem in the young defensive back from Rutgers.
Christian Izien with his first highlight play, RIPPING the ball out of KJ Osbourne’s hands for a TD saving interception. pic.twitter.com/nA35xEyTsC— Josh Hill (@jdavhill) September 10, 2023
Special Teams Top Performer: K Chase McLaughlin
The team made the difficult choice to trade steady veteran consistency in Ryan Succop for more youth and range potential in Chase McLaughlin. McLaughlin hasn’t been the steadiest kicker in his short career, but he’s been money since arriving in Tampa during free agency and that didn’t change in action that counted.
The 27-year-old most notably crushed a 57-yard field goal to give the Bucs the lead for good. He also made a 36-yarder and both of his extra points, and he made another kick that ended up not counting due to an offsides penalty on Minnesota.
Overall, a fantastic debut that signals a hopeful expansion of Tampa’s scoring potential if McLaughlin maintains his consistency.
Jake Camarda was also excellent in the punting game, averaging 54.5 yards per kick on 6 punts — two of which were pinned inside the 20. Camarda finished his rookie year as a top 10 graded punter per Pro Football Focus, and he continued to make good on his potential by flipping the field on a dangerous Minnesota offense several times.