As relaxing and recuperative as a bye week can be for an NFL team, it goes by fast. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be back on the practice field, preparing for a trip to Cleveland to take on the Browns and, in a larger sense, for a stretch run in which they will need to play their best football to achieve their goals.
The Buccaneers went into the bye week on an encouraging note, having won two in a row to retake first place in the NFC South and having put together perhaps their most complete effort of the season in their downing of the Seahawks in Munich. If they can perform the way they did in all three phases of the game in Germany, the Buccaneers will have a good chance of hanging on to that division lead.
That win over Seattle was spurred by outstanding individual performances by such team leaders as Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Devin White and Vita Vea, all team captains. The Buccaneers will likely need those four and others such as Lavonte David, Carlton Davis, Antoine Winfield Jr., Chris Godwin, Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs to lead the way over the next seven weeks.
And perhaps one of those players will rise above the rest to be the team's top performer as the playoff race heats put. That's our topic for today as we wrap up our bye week Point-Counterpoint series, which has pitted Staff Writer Brianna Dix against me in a trio of debates. The premise here is simple: We choose a topic, one of us provides an answer and then the other offers a counterargument. We started the series on Wednesday by debating what was the biggest surprise of the season to this point, then on Thursday moved on to the toughest challenge of the remainder of the regular season.
For all three discussions we are going to treat the bye week as a dividing point between the first and second "halves" of the season, even though we're 10 games into the season with seven to go. It just flows better than "the last 41.176% of the season."
Our third topic is:
Who will be the MVP of the second half of the Buccaneers' season?
*Brianna: ILB Devin White *
For this topic, I am going to go with inside linebacker Devin White. Coming off recent criticism, he has stacked two back-to-back dominant performances, silencing narratives. Football is all about how a player responds to adversity and there is no better example of that than White's production against Seattle in Munich, Germany. Just three days after his father passed away, White led the Buccaneers in tackles with nine, recorded 2.0 sacks, snapped Tampa Bay's five-game skid without a turnover with a forced fumble and accumulated three quarterback hits. He spearheaded the defensive effort against the Seahawks in Week 10 and fortified the unit. White showcased elite closing speed and consistently pushed blockers into Smith's face. On his second sack, White diagnosed and re-directed course with no wasted momentum to drop Smith in the backfield. He was awarded the game ball following Sunday's thrilling 21-16 win in Germany and the NFL announced White is the NFC's defensive player of the week. Additionally, White received NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in September of 2022.
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2022 NFL season, White is the only player with 75-or-more tackles and 5.0-or-more sacks. His 5.0 sacks this season give him 20.0 for his career – the most among inside linebackers since he entered the league in 2019. Since 2000, White is one of _two _players with 400-plus tackles and 20-or-more sacks through their first four career seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher. White has built an impressive resume and as the quarterback of the Bucs' defense wearing the green dot, White sets the tone. His voracious mentality, sideline-to-sideline range and pursuit speed to close gaps make him a special player. White is off to a breakout start in 2022 and I believe the trend will continue, garnering MVP status for No. 45.
Scott: Tom Brady
You know what, Bri? I'm not going to get snarky this time, like I did on Wednesday. Devin White as second-half MVP is a perfectly reasonable prediction, and if he continues to play like he did in Germany, it might be hard to deny him this award we just made up.
But let me ask you this, Bri: What is that you want out of this season?
Do you want nine or 10 wins, maybe a division title over a weak field, perhaps a little taste of the playoffs, and then we move on to 2023? Or do you want it all? It's fair to say that for most of the past 10 weeks the Buccaneers haven't necessarily looked like the prime Super Bowl contenders they were expected to be. But that's still the goal, right? It's Lombardi Trophy or bust.
Well, if the Buccaneers have any chance of re-emerging as one of the teams that we can reasonably see playing in Glendale, Arizona on February 12, they will need Tom Brady to lead them there. In 2020, the Bucs came out of their bye week firing on all cylinders and won eight straight, including Super Bowl LV. Many players contributed to that hot streak – Devin White and Leonard Fournette were particularly toasty in the postseason – but no one was hotter than Brady. Over those eight games he completed 63.9% of his passes, averaged 299.3 passing yards per game, tossed 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 112.4.
So maybe this is more wishful thinking than a straight prediction, but if we want the Buccaneers to go on another roll like the one that ended 2020 – if we want a shot at another Lombardi Trophy – we're going to need Tom Brady to be at the peak of his powers. Actually, what we need is for him to play like he did in Munich. I'd gladly welcome eight or nine more performances like that.
Now, I get it, Brady isn't putting up those numbers by himself. He needs the offensive line to give him the sort of protection he had last Sunday and he needs his talented corps of pass-catchers – which is getting healthier by the minute – to step up with some big plays. It is undeniably a group effort. But if all that happens, the numbers that are going to look the shiniest are going to be Brady's passing statistics. And that's how MVPs are determined.