Antoine Winfield Jr. deserves to be the face of the Buccaneers franchise

Antoine Winfield Jr. has fueled Tampa Bay's strong defense and its crucial four-game winning streak

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

Led by the phenomenal play of Baker Mayfield and a season-best performance by their defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the Jaguars 30-12 in Week 16. The 18-point win marked the Bucs fourth straight victory and has seemingly canceled out the Buccaneers' midseason slump.

In addition, Tampa Bay now can clinch their fourth straight NFC South Division title this Sunday. All the Buccaneers need to do is to defeat the Saints on New Year's Eve to secure a winning season and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.

It's been the improved play of Mayfield and the defense that has powered Tampa Bay's resurgence. Across their last four games, Mayfield has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 1,010 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns, one interception, and a 107.4 passer rating. For the season, Mayfield has completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,598 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 96.2 passer rating.

Similarly, the Buccaneers' defense has been the best it's been all season during the four-game win streak. To clarify, Tampa Bay has allowed just 18.8 PPG, 335.5 YPG, 254.0 PYPG, and 81.5 RYPG, while forcing 13 sacks, four interceptions, and three fumbles, all season best marks in any four-game stretch.

Throughout the year -- not just this most recent winning streak -- multiple defenders have emerged to turn in solid seasons. Take, for example, Calijah Kancey, who has recorded 22 tackles, seven stuffs, four sacks, and ten tackles for loss, which leads all rookies. Similarly, 2023 third-round pick YaYa Diaby has impressed with 31 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, six stuffs, and two fumble recoveries, with his tackles for loss and sack totals ranking first among all rookies.

Antoine Winfield Jr is the new face of the Buccaneers franchise

As good as everyone has been, including Baker, no Buccaneers player deserves flowers more than safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who has been the Buccaneers' Swiss army knife amid a sensational fourth season. Winfield Jr. has recorded career-highs in total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, QB hits, passes defended, interceptions, and fumble recoveries, all career-highs.

Talk about having a career year at the right time. Winfield is due for a massive contract extension this offseason and there doesn't seem to be a price point where the Bucs aren't getting a bargain.

Against Jacksonville, Winfield Jr. notched six tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, one interception, and one fumble recovery. With that, Winfield Jr. became just the second player in the NFL to record a sack, interception, and fumble recovery in the same game, joining Buffalo OLB Terrel Bernard. Similarly, Winfield Jr. becomes the first Buccaneer to accomplish this feat since MLB Geno Hayes in 2009.

“Great game, and we executed all-around. We just got to continue to do that more,”Winfield told reporters in the locker room after the game. “But that really starts with your preparation and practice and things like that.”

Since 1999 when fumble data started being regularly tracked, Winfield Jr. is the first player in NFL history to have at least five sacks, at least five forced fumbles, at least four fumble recoveries, and at least three interceptions in one season. To top it all off, Winfield Jr. is the first defensive back to post a season with five sacks and five forced fumbles and still has two games left in the season.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. “It doesn’t matter whether he’s playing nickel or he’s the safety, he’s a guy you better account for on every play. He’s a very smart football player. Very instinctive. Very physical, it’s not a shock to me that he’s made the impact he’s made in this league. He’s one of the better safeties in the league.”

Throughout his four-year career, Winfield Jr. has thrived at blitzing the QB from all over the field. Dating back to the 2020 season, he leads all defensive backs with 14 sacks ranging to today, with Seattle Jamal Adams ranking as the next closest defensive back with nine sacks. Furthermore, Winfield Jr.'s 14 sacks are already the most by a safety in Tampa Bay's franchise history and he leads all safeties in sacks this year.

With his three tackles against the Jaguars, Winfield is the first Tampa Bay defensive back to record 110 or more tackles in a season since Hall of Fame safety John Lynch had 117 in 1999. Dating back to 1999, Winfield is the first player to surpass 100 tackles and have at least three sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. “It doesn’t matter whether he’s playing nickel or he’s the safety, he’s a guy you better account for on every play. He’s a very smart football player. Very instinctive. Very physical, it’s not a shock to me that he’s made the impact he’s made in this league. He’s one of the better safeties in the league.”

With divisional matchups remaining against New Orleans and Carolina, the impact of Winfield Jr. will be key for Tampa Bay to win the 2023 NFC South Division title and host a playoff game for the fourth straight season.

More Tampa Bay Buccaneers news and rumors

feed