Pay Antoine Winfield Jr. all of the money.
If anyone told you before the season that the Bucs would be 3-1 entering their bye week on top of the NFC South, just about everyone would be equally surprised and ecstatic.
Well you needn’t daydream anymore, Bucs Nation, as that notion is now reality after a dominant 26-9 road victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday. For the first time in series history, the Bucs have won 3 straight games over the Saints.
The entire team put together a resounding response to getting beaten up by the Philadelphia Eagles not even one week ago, as Tampa came out focused and resilient from the jump. Despite key injuries continuing to weigh the Bucs down (add Mike Evans and Ryan Neal to the list), other members keep answering the call.
Let’s shout out some of these overachievers:
Offensive Top Performer: QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield baked the Saints with such proficiency it put even the best beignet places in the Big Easy to shame.
Cut out one bad throw that turned into an interception (which went unpunished thanks to another top performer on the list), Mayfield’s line looked like this: 25 completions, 246 yards and three passing touchdowns to go along with 8 carries for 31 yards.
— Tampa Bay Bucs (@Bucs) October 1, 2023
Not only have Baker’s legs been useful, they’ve been a straight-up asset. Third down conversions, a heads-up decision to tuck the ball and get closer for a critical field goal attempt, buying time to make spectacular throws…you name it, Mayfield has been doing it routinely this year and especially on Sunday.
— The REF (@KREFsports) October 1, 2023
There will be other obstacles approaching for him, like the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills later this month, but every Bucs fan should be tickled with what they’ve seen from No. 6 through a quarter of the season.
Chris Godwin gets attention as well. After Mike Evans experienced what is frustratingly his annual hamstring tweak, Godwin became the No. 1 guy and he delivered to the tune of 8 catches for 114 yards. It was a strong reminder of why the team paid him, and he should continue to be more involved as the unit gels in Dave Canales’s offense.
Before moving on, Deven Thompkins has to be addressed as well. The diminutive second-year pro out of Utah State cut his teeth on special teams but now he’s getting a real chance on offense, and he’s rewarding that faith. He made 4 catches for 45 yards and a spectacular touchdown catch that put the game on ice. He added a carry for 11 yards as well. His speed is a weapon and the team would be wise to keep folding him into the gameplan.
WOW!! Diving TD catch by Deven Thompkins
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 1, 2023
Defensive Top Performer: S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
If there was a better game in Antoine Winfield’s career thus far, I’d like to be reminded of it. The 25-year-old relentlessly exerted his will upon the Saints offense all day. With 9 total tackles (2 for loss), a sack, a forced fumble and recovery, and a picture-perfect pass breakup on a bucket throw to Chris Olave in the endzone, Winfield was superb.
He’s been so excellent this year, in fact, that he’s making NFL history.
Antoine Winfield Jr. becomes the first player since Justin Houston in 2018 to record multiple games with 5-or-more tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a single season. It’s Week 4.
Since @pfref data is available, no one has done it three times in a season
— Ben Yarrington (@benyarrington) October 1, 2023
This is special stuff, folks, and it’s time for the Bucs to break out the checkbook for their star safety sooner rather than later. He’s everything you want as producer and leader on defense, and he needs to be made a Buc for the long-term.
Others made their impacts known, too. Vita Vea thrashed through yet another offensive line as part of his torrid start, tallying two sacks, making a tackle for loss, and forcing a fumble. The big man already has 3.5 sacks this season despite linemates Logan Hall and Mike Greene being largely ineffective.
Finally, Zyon McCollum has taken a much-needed leap in his sophomore year. The 24-year-old athletic marvel was going to be project when Tampa drafted him in the fifth round, but he’s taken encouraging steps forward after being forced into early season duty because of injuries to Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis.
With 4 total tackles and a screeching pass breakup on Saints star Chris Olave (who had one catch for 4 yards), McCollum held up his end of the bargain. While the primary duo hopefully gets healthy and plays to its potential, it’s good to have reliable depth like McCollum.
Special Teams Top Performer: K Chase McLaughlin
Don’t worry, Jake Camarda, you still hold my heart. But today, let’s give McLaughlin his due praise.
The 27-year-old remained reliable, nailing both of his field goals and both of his extra point attempts. He improved to 7-of-8 on the year for field goals (and the only miss was a block), with two from 50+ including Sunday. In a best-case scenario, McLaughlin has provided the consistency of Ryan Succop with the far superior range of a younger leg, and it’s paying dividends.
One quick Camarda quip before we get out of here and enjoy the bye week: Camarda nailed two more punts inside the 20, keeping him amongst the league leaders in that category. This was probably his worst game of the year, and he was still very good. Love to see it!