Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Many Happy Returns | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about the possibility of a Bucs-Patriots Super Bowl, Leonard Fournette's future in Tampa and more

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If you're like me, the first thing you did when you witnessed Leonard Fournette score his fourth touchdown of the game on Sunday in Indianapolis was think to yourself, "I sure hope I'm not playing against him in fantasy football."

Okay, that first thing I actually did in that moment was try not to cheer in the press box, because that's seriously frowned upon. There may have been a discreet high-five with the person next to me. You, on the other hand, presumably had no such restrictions and were cheering yourself hoarse.

The second thing I did after Fournette scored on that 28-yard power run was see how much time was left on the clock. The third thing was change the headline to the postgame report. And so on. I didn't really consider the fantasy football implications until much later, but my mind eventually came around to that subject. Specifically, I wondered where Fournette's 131-yard, four-TD outing ranked among the greatest fantasy football performances in Buccaneers history.

I knew right away it wasn't the best ever. Doug Martin very memorably had a four-touchdown game of his own in Oakland as a rookie and he also had about 250 rushing yards in that outing, so that one had to be better. How many other big games by Buccaneer standouts ranked ahead of the Fournette show on Sunday? That I had to look up, and the answer is: one.

And so I present to you the five greatest fantasy football games produced by Buccaneers players, with Pro Football Reference as the source and using PPR rules. Since stats from old games before the full explosion of fantasy football can be retroactively plugged into scoring formulas, this includes the entire 46-season history of the Buccaneers.

1. Doug Martin, at Oakland, Nov. 4, 2012

This was the greatest game by a running back in Buccaneers history and it's also the 16th best fantasy performance ever. Martin ran 25 times for 251 yards and four touchdowns, with three of those scores coming from long distance. He also caught four passes for 21 yards to push his final PPR point total to 55.2. It's the only plus-50 game ever for a Buccaneer player. The Bucs won the game, 42-32.

2. Mike Evans, vs. New York Giants, September 22, 2019

This one is recent enough that it is probably fresh in many of your minds. It didn't end well for the Buccaneers, as Matt Gay's missed field goal from 34 yards out as time expired preserved the Giants' 32-31 victory. But Evans certainly did his part to keep the Bucs in the game, catching eight passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on passes for 21, three and 20 yards, all in the first half as Tampa Bay built an eventually-doomed 25-10 lead. Those catches, yards and TDs added up to 45.0 PPR points.

3. Leonard Fournette, at Indianapolis, November 28, 2021

Fournette's combined total of 131 yards was very good but not really elite in fantasy terms. What put this game so high on the Bucs' list was not just the four touchdowns but the seven receptions, which is basically like adding another touchdown in PPR fantasy leagues. It all added up to 44.1 PPR points, and most importantly, the Bucs held on for the win.

4t. Warrick Dunn, vs. St. Louis, December 18, 2000

Dunn's biggest momentum in this unforgettable game is one that actually lost him fantasy points. This is the famous Monday Night Football shootout with Kurt Warner's Rams, eventually won by the Buccaneers, 38-35, on the last of Dunn's three touchdowns. The Bucs were trailing 35-31 with less than two minutes left when Shaun King gave it to Dunn out of the shotgun at Tampa Bay's 35-yard line. Kevin Carter figured out the play and trapped Dunn 14 yards deep in the backfield, spinning him around as he tried to get him to the ground. Dunn saw an opportunity as he spun and lateraled back to King, who took it and ran for 29 yards, with another 15 yards tacked on the end due to a late hit on the sideline. Dunn finished that drive with a one-yard touchdown dive. He also scored on runs of 52 and two yards, amassing 145 yards on the ground and adding five catches for 53 yards. That's a 42.8-point game in the PPR fantasy realm.

4t. Mike Evans, at Tennessee, October 27, 2019

Two of the five biggest fantasy games in Bucs history by the same guy in the same system. Safe to assume it was good to have Evans on your team in 2019 (Chris Godwin was pretty darn good that year, too). The Bucs lost this one too but Evans had 11 catches for 198 yards and two scores. That's a cool 42.8 points.

The names in that top five list are probably who you would expected. The next five are a little more unpredictable. Evans shows up once more in the top 10 and Godwin gets in there, too, but the other three are Jimmie Giles (4 TDs vs. Miami in 1985), Ryan Fitzpatrick (417 yards and 4 TDs in New Orleans in the 2018 opener) and Antonio Bryant (200 yards and two scores at Carolina in 2008).

And now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Would Brady want to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl?

@fr_oh_snap (via Instagram)

I mean, what do you think?

What do we know about Tom Brady, and I'm not talking about numbers here? He still works extremely hard at his craft, day after day. He puts just as much effort into maintaining his body and his health, which is why he is doing things at the age of 44 that no one has ever done in the NFL before. And, above all else, he's insanely competitive. I think we've all seen the TV broadcast shots of a very intensely pissed-off Brady on the bench at the end of the Buccaneers' losses this season.

When the Buccaneers went to Foxborough earlier this season for the Tom Brady Homecoming Game, Brady said all of the things you would expect. He was grateful for all of his time with the Patriots and all that he had learned while playing for Bill Belichick, but he was treating it like any other game. He said he didn't spend too much time in the week leading up to that game thinking about things like how he would be received by the Gillette Stadium crowd because he simply had too much to do in order to get ready for the game.

And did any of us completely believe him? I think he meant everything he said but I'm willing to bet that he was also very fired up to face Belichick and his old team. Brady had already won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, so there was no question that his incredibly successful career was tied solely to being a Patriot and playing for Belichick. But Bucs-at-Patriots was still seen by many as a referendum as to who was most responsible for building that two-decade dynasty in New England. Brady didn't have to agree with that concept, but he certainly couldn't escape the discussion.

Now imagine a regular-season Week Four game with not particularly high stakes for either team morphed into a Super Bowl. I'm not sure that there has been a game in NFL history that had the hype that a Brady-vs.-Belichick Super Bowl would get. I think you would need three weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl to get in all the buildup. It would be quite possibly the biggest and brightest stage that a player has ever competed on, and I think Brady would grab that moment and own it.

I mean, it seems to me that the only reason a player in Tom Brady's shoes would not relish a chance to face his former team and his former coach in the Super Bowl would be a fear of failure. Do you think Tom Brady fears failure? I don't.

Finally, there's one more reason I think Brady would want to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And this is it: If Brady and the Buccaneers are playing New England in the Super Bowl it means that they are in the Super Bowl. That's the whole goal. Who knows which AFC team the Bucs would match up best with, but they don't get to control that part of it.

*Chances of us being able to resign Lenny next season? *

@bucs_uk (via Instagram)

As luck would have it, Fournette was asked a question on Wednesday about possibly returning to the Buccaneers in 2022. Here's what he said:

"At the end of the day, I love it here. I made my own name for myself here. They love me back. So we'll see. Right now, my focus is trying to get back to the playoffs and win another ring with this squad. That's the reason why I came back and a reason why a lot of guys came back, too."

There's nothing binding in there, but it is important for the player to be comfortable where he's at if you're trying to get him to stay. The fact that he has clearly taken over as the lead back has to help, as well. Fournette would not have to find another team to make sure that he was in the number-one role. That wasn't quite so clear last offseason when he eventually chose to return to the defending champs. On the other hand, as he noted on Wednesday, it wasn't an ideal time to get a big free agency deal, with many teams dealing with difficult salary cap situations because of how the pandemic had affected league finances. There should be more money to go around in free agency next offseason, and Fournette should be an even more desirable target since he seems to be proving that his incredible postseason run was no fluke.

What's interesting about the Buccaneers' backfield situation heading into the next offseason is that the team only has one running back under contract in 2022. Fournette and Giovani Bernard both signed one-year deals and Jones is coming to the end of his rookie contract. Ke'Shawn Vaughn is heading into the third year of his own rookie deal, but so far the Buccaneers have not really had an opportunity to find out if he can be the central figure in their backfield. In a perfect world, they would be giving him some significant playing time this season to find out how good he is, but winning and chasing the playoffs has obviously taken priority. That's understandable but it leaves the second-year back as a big question mark.

Given that, the Buccaneers are going to have to do something about their running back corps next offseason, even with Vaughn returning. They could choose to address the position in the draft, but that's never a guarantee and waiting until after most of free agency is over, which would be risky. As I say this, I'm assuming that the Buccaneers are going to be viewing the 2022 season much as they have this one, believing their roster is still playoff-caliber and their window to chase Super Bowls is still open. At the moment, the 2022 season is the last one for which Brady is under contract, so it only makes sense that they will be going all out for another Super Bowl run.

And to me that makes a Fournette return more likely. You'd have obvious motivation on both sides. The Buccaneers would want to keep as much of the gang together, as they so memorably did last year, and they wouldn't want to start over in the backfield behind Brady. Fournette, presuming his well-earned financial goals are met, would want to stay where he's comfortable and where he truly believes he can win a championship.

Scott:

Injuries are obviously part of the game in the nfl and just something you've got to deal with. There are other teams around the league that probably have an even worse injury situation than the Bucs. I get that. But its the Bucs that I care about! That's why its frustrating that every time things seem to be getting better somebody else gets hurt. This last week it was Dean, just as we're hoping Carlton Davis gets back soon. So my question to you is, if you could magically heal just one of the Bucs injured players, who would you choose? It can be a guy on IR or a guy that's playing through issues or anything you choose. Whose the guy you want back ASAP?

Thanks and go Bucs!

- Tim S., St. Pete (via email)

Oh man, I wish I had that power! Think of the contract I could get. I might be the highest paid person in the entire NFL.

Well, you're right about a couple of things, Tim. Injuries are unavoidable over a long (and even longer now) NFL season, and there are plenty of teams around the league with issues as difficult or worse than the Buccaneers. The main problem for Tampa Bay this season is that so many of their injury problems have been concentrated at one position – cornerback. On Wednesday, Bruce Arians was asked what the Bucs needed down the stretch in order to get their defense to start playing at another level, like it did late last season. His answer: health. Because the Bucs have had to go so deep into the depth chart to put cornerbacks on the field from week to week, they haven't been able to play as much man-to-man coverage as they would prefer to do. And when you're playing a lot of zone and you're not getting pressure on the quarterback, you are susceptible to just about any quarterback in this league getting hot.

So you want me to pick one hurt guy and make him whole, right? Let's look at the options. On the injured reserve list are cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Richard Sherman and Rashard Robinson and offensive linemen Aaron Stinnie and Sadarius Hutcherson. Unable to play last week were wide receiver Antonio Brown and guard Ali Marpet. Clearly somewhat limited by injuries but still playing are Devin White and Vita Vea. New to the injury list this week and still uncertain are Jaelon Darden, Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards and Will Gholston. That appears to be the list.

Right off the top I'm going to narrow it down to Davis, Dean, Brown, Marpet and White. I didn't include Vea because I think he is less hampered by his knee injury than White is by his quad injury. I hope it goes without saying that I would wish full health on all of these men, regardless of what it means to the team.

The most tempting pick is Antonio Brown, because Davis seems to be trending in the right direction already and Dean had an encouraging start to the week. I don't think Marpet or Gholston are in danger of being out for a long time and the Bucs could weather a couple weeks without Edwards if their corners get healthy. Brown is the player whose return date seems the hardest to peg, and thus it would make sense to use my magical powers on him and get him back to 100% with a snap of the fingers.

But here's how I interpreted your question, Tim: Of all the Bucs' hurt players, who do I most want to guarantee is on the field this week and the rest of the way? There are A LOT of good answers to that question and Brown is very close to the top of the list. Especially with the way teams are defending the Buccaneers' offense this season, Brown's playmaking ability on quick passes would be HUGELY helpful. To me, he is answer 1B to this question.

But 1A is Carlton Davis. As much as Brown would (and hopefully very soon will) bring to the table, the Bucs' offense isn't exactly suffering. Tampa Bay leads the NFL in both points per game and passing yards per game. They are clearly better with Brown in the lineup, but if they have to go a few more weeks without him they should be able to manage.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense ranks 20th in passing yards allowed per game and the Bucs are giving up about two touchdown passes per game. Overall, those numbers aren't terrible, but they could certainly get better. And being able to play more man-to-man defense with your most trusted corners would certainly open up the playbook for proven play-calling genius Todd Bowles. In 2019 and 2020, Davis was the Bucs' most consistent cornerback, and he led the NFL in passes defensed over that span. Bowles occasionally employed him as a shadow corner on a particularly dangerous receiver, like DeAndre Hopkins, and those games almost always went very well for Davis. Tampa Bay's offense is in fine shape overall and the run defense is as good as ever. Let's see what can happen when the secondary is back to full health.

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