Antoine Winfield Jr. named NFC Defensive Player of the Month

TAMPA — A day after hoisting the wrestling-style championship belt earned for his astounding body of work this season, Antoine Winfield put another notch in it.

On Thursday, the prominent Pro Bowl snub was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month, becoming the first Bucs defensive back to win the honor. On Wednesday, Winfield entered the AdventHealth Training Center media studio brandishing the belt sent to him by “Good Morning Football” co-host Jason McCourty, who declared Winfield the best defensive back in the country on the NFL Network show.

All of which begs the question: Could a defensive player of the year honor soon be looming?

“I think he should (be considered),” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said Thursday.

“I mean, from the plays he made this year, just from the way he’s played, week-in and week-out. Big play after big play, be it a sack, be it a fumble, be it an interception, be it a tackle, he’s made play-in and play-out. He’s been consistent all year. ... I’m sure there’s a lot of guys that’s deserving of that award, but in our minds, he should be.”

A two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Week between Weeks 13-18, Winfield amassed 41 tackles (four for loss), 4.0 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in that span.

Highlighting that collective effort, of course, was the forced fumble he created in last Sunday’s win-or-go-home game against Carolina, when he punched the ball from Panthers receiver DJ Chark just before he crossed the goal line following a long pass play early in the second quarter. Tampa Bay’s Jamel Dean recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

“That’s the thing about ‘Tweeze’ (Winfield), since I’ve been here, he’s not going to stop until that whistle’s blown,” Bucs outside linebacker Devin White said.

“And man, just thankful to have a middle-field safety like him that don’t give up, because that game could’ve gone in another direction if they got that touchdown. But having players like Antoine, being disciplined and just being a hard playmaker, he went out there and made a play, and it just shows everybody why he’s the best doing it right now.”

Mayfield still sidelined

While quarterback Baker Mayfield — dealing with rib and ankle issues — appeared to take part in the Bucs’ walk-through workout late Thursday morning, Bowles said he would not have participated had it been a conventional practice.

“Hopefully we’ll see him (Friday),” Bowles added.

Others listed as non-participants on Thursday’s official injury report were left tackle Tristan Wirfs (illness) and inside linebacker K.J. Britt (calf).

Mayfield said Wednesday he has worked with the same “body-work guy” for six years, enabling him to answer the bell throughout the season. He added that he expects the ankle injury he sustained early in the Carolina game will “feel better and better” as the week progresses.

“I’ll get some good rehab and work done on it and see how it goes,” he said. “Luckily, the blessing is we play on Monday night, so an extra day of rest and recovery for me.”

Bowles on Belichick

Bowles said he’s uncertain if the NFL will ever see another tenure like Bill Belichick’s 24-year reign in New England, which ended Thursday when the 71-year-old coach and Patriots mutually agreed to part ways.

Belichick collected 296 wins (including playoffs) and six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots, and owns 333 career victories as an NFL coach — 14 shy of Don Shula’s all-time record. Bowles is 1-8 against Belichick as a coach, with seven of those losses coming during his four-season tenure (2015-18) with the Jets, and one occurring during his three-game stint as Dolphins interim coach in 2011.

His lone win: a 26-20 overtime triumph on Dec. 27, 2015.

“They beat us pretty good quite a few times,” Bowles said.

“Great coach. I mean, you just watch him and you watch him go through his everyday routine, and the way he handles things and everything else, a true professional, a grinder. He knows talent, knows how to play to all facets of the ball game. You can learn a lot from him. There’s a couple of guys — Pete Carroll as well — you can learn a lot from those guys.”

Odds and ends

Receiver Chris Godwin was presented the Tampa chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America’s “Good Guy Award,” given annually to the player who best deals with the media. ... Since 2020, the Bucs’ total playoff points margin (plus-41) is highest in the NFL; the Eagles (plus-36) are second. ... Mike Evans, when asked how he explains playoff intensity to younger players compared to the regular season: “It’s the same to me, so just play hard.”

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