A clutch drive in the waning minutes of Monday Night Football and a game-winning field goal by rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers something invaluable as they begin their bye week: A little piece of mind.
A look back at Jameis Winston during the first five games of the 2016 Season.
After a rousing win at Atlanta to open the season, the Buccaneers dropped three straight amid an ever-growing rash of injuries. Tampa Bay took on Carolina on Monday night, with the loser facing a three-game deficit in the NFC South race; in the Bucs' case, they would have also had two weeks to stew in that knowledge. Instead, the 17-14 win in Charlotte keeps the Bucs within two games of the first-place Falcons and positions them as the only one of the four NFC South teams that is still undefeated in division play.
The Bucs also believe they will be much closer to a healthy bunch when they return to action in Week Seven. If so, they could be primed for a midseason run that would make the division race much more exciting.
In the meantime, however, let's take a moment during this bye week, catch our breath and look back at what has happened over a very swift first five weeks. In roundtable format, Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and I will give our own answers to the following four questions, in terms of where the Bucs are at the bye week:
- Thursday: Who is the team MVP at the break?
- Friday: What has been the biggest surprise of the Bucs' season so far?
- Saturday: Which player returning from injury will make the biggest difference?
- Sunday: Who is the Bucs' unsung hero so far?
We'll start alphabetically and then rotate, so Joe you get the first crack at today's question and Andrew, you're second. Take it away, Joe!
Who is the team MVP at the break?
Joe Kania: LB Kwon Alexander
For the past four seasons, Lavonte David has been the Buccaneers' leading tackler, but Alexander is on pace to take the title this year. Through five games, he's got a team-high 43 tackles, 37 of which are solo. At the rate he's going, he will finish the year with 150 tackles. Alexander is also the Bucs' sack leader with two. I had considered Mike Evans for this award as well, but Alexander's role as the quarterback of an improving Buccaneer defense was enough for me to give him the honor.
Andrew Norton: WR Mike Evans
Well, if Joe is going to pass him up, then I'm going to take Mike Evans.
Evans has 32 catches, 449 yards and four touchdowns. I'm always hesitant to write about "on pace for" too early in the season, but five games in and Mike Evans has been solidly consistent in his numbers, so I'm going to do it… Mike Evans is on pace for 102 receptions, 1,436 yards and 12 TDs. These numbers would be number two in Bucs history, number one in Bucs history and tied for number one (with himself) in Bucs history, respectively. That's good.
His 62 targets are the most on the team right now by 30 and he is the most targeted receiver in the NFL at this point. Oh, and he has accounted for over 25% of the Buccaneers points this season. This offense would look a whole lot different without #13.
Scott Smith: Head Coach Dirk Koetter
Okay, yes, I'm getting a little gimmicky here, as this question was obviously meant to pinpoint the most valuable player on the team. But we've only so far used the "MVP" abbreviation, so I think I'm safety to interpret the "P" as person. Besides Andrew took the obvious answer with Evans and I think it's hard to pick out the top performer on defense at this point.
The Buccaneers' 2-3 start is not exactly what Koetter wanted at the break, but let's not forget the incredible number of injuries to which his team has had to adjust. I think Koetter has done a very nice job of keeping the team focused and on track, and I think it takes an emotionally-motivated bunch to win two road games against heated rivalries. The Bucs just won a Monday night road game for the first time since 2003! If the roster returns to decent health after the bye, I think you're going to see how fully this team is behind Koetter.
If I have to pick a player, I'll break the tie and go with Evans.