Missed red zone opportunities and some costly defensive lapses made it closer than it needed to be, but the Buccaneers still secured their home opener against the Chicago Bears, 27-17, to improve to 2-0.
Baker Mayfield looked comfortable and confident, the defense harassed Justin Fields all day, and the Bucs head into their biggest test thus far with a head of steam next week against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
Big-time stars and unheralded pieces both stepped up big on Sunday, so let’s give some shoutouts:
Offensive Top Performer: WR Mike Evans
It’s a virtually a tie here, but we’ll give the nod to Evans this time since Mayfield took home the honors last week.
Evans absolutely crushed a depleted Bears secondary all day for 171 yards on 6 catches, including a massive 70-yard catch and run that showed the 10-year vet can still scoot (top speed of over 20 mph, per Next Gen Stats). Through two games, Evans already has 12 receptions for 237 yards and two scores as Mayfield’s No. 1, further showcasing that this future Hall of Famer is quarterback-proof. The Bucs need to pay this man yesterday.
That’s not to diss Mayfield, who looked fantastic all day. Finishing 26 of 34 for 317 yards and a score to go along with 6 carries for 17 yards, he’s doing everything expected of him in this offense. He was especially clutch on third down, completing 12 of 13 passes for 141 yards and pulling off several impressive plays off the cuff.
The heat will be turned up next week against a vicious Eagles front, but there’s been a lot to like two weeks in.
We’ll also tip a feathered cap to Rachaad White, who paced a much more effective ground game to the tune of 100 total yards from scrimmage (17 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown; 5 catches for 30 yards).
Defensive Top Performer: EDGE Shaquil Barrett
Barrett endured what most people would likely call the worst year of their lives. After tearing his Achilles last season and then tragically losing his young daughter this spring, Barrett deserved something heartening.
Well, he generated some instant joy for everybody in red and pewter Sunday when he secured a fantastic one-handed pick six to seal the victory. It was the first touchdown of his 9-year career, and it couldn’t have come at a better moment for him or the team. Add in his sack, multiple pressures, and two tackles, and he easily nets our prestigious top performer honor.
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Vita Vea also beared down on Fields, as the former produced two sacks and the latter collected 1.5 in addition to commanding several double teams. All in all, an impressive day for the front 7.
In the secondary, UDFA Christian Izien continued to impress after logging his second career interception on an Antoine Winfield Jr. pass breakup. Izien is just the fourth undrafted rookie in NFL history to have 2 or more interceptions in their first two weeks. He’s looking like a keeper.
Former Rutgers star Christian Izien clinches Tampa Bay’s win over the Bears with his second interception in as many games.— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) September 17, 2023
Heck of a start to the undrafted rookie’s NFL career: pic.twitter.com/JAowm2XsUW
Special Teams Top Performer: P Jake Camarda
Camarda once again impressed after blasting multiple punts and flipping field position, keeping the Bucs defense in favorable positions throughout a sweltering afternoon in the Florida sun. He, as the holder, even recovered a blocked Chase McLaughlin field goal to prevent any advancement from the Bears, which ended up mattering significantly.
His four kicks for 211 yards (included a massive 72-yarder) yielded a net average of almost 53 yards per boot — a truly fantastic number — and three of those kicks were downed inside the 20. His final punt was touched down at the 6, which pinned Chicago back and eventually led to Barrett’s interception.
Jake Camarda punts the ball 72 yards, good for the third-longest punt in team history. Camarda owns two of the three longest punts in franchise history.— Buccaneers Communications (@BuccaneersComms) September 17, 2023
It’s hard to recall the Bucs having a weapon in the kicking game, but it sure looks like they have one now.