Jordan Whitehead made the first big play of the game and Leonard Fournette clinched at the end. Tom Brady was sharp in his first win as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and his favorite target was Mike Evans, who recorded his 25th career 100-yard receiving game and 50th career touchdown catch.
Ndamukong Suh had his first two-sack game as a Buccaneer, Devin White is the NFL's leading tackler after another very active outing and Carlton Davis swung the momentum one final time with his interception at the 10-minute mark.
All of these players and more made big contributions to the Buccaneers' 31-17 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. But which one deserves the Game Ball?
After each Buccaneer victory in 2020, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are going to make our nominations for the player who should be awarded our (virtual) Game Ball. After we've each stated our case for one player, we'll let you vote at the bottom to determine the winner. We cannot pick the same player, obviously, so the order of selection matters and we will be alternating that from win to win all season. Carmen, you have the honor of the first nomination this week.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 2 matchup against Carolina.
Carmen Vitali: S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
This was extremely difficult. We saw a lot of really good individual performances on Sunday, including all those things you mentioned above, Scott.
That being said, there were three things Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said the defense needed to get better at following Week One's still-solid performance against New Orleans: tackling, pressure on the quarterback and creating turnovers.
Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. did all three.
Tackling? Winfield recorded the second-most tackles behind only Devin White with 11 of his own.
Pressure on the quarterback? Winfield strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater in the first quarter earning himself a quarterback hit and a forced fumble, which leads us quite nicely into our last box to check…
Creating turnovers? Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul recovered that fumble Winfield forced to give the Bucs their second turnover of the game. It led to a quick Bucs' score on that beautiful 23-yard backshoulder throw from quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans, giving Tampa Bay its second touchdown within 64 seconds.
And Winfield did all this in his second-ever NFL game.
"You wouldn't even know he's a rookie," said fellow safety Jordan Whitehead after the game. "Every play, he says something before the play. He'll tell me something. We communicate. We're on the same page. He's a professional. He plays like one. He practices like one. Every day he comes to work, and he doesn't complain at all. He just focuses on what he has to do and does his job. It's fun. It's easy to play with a guy like that. He takes it serious and you know he's going to make plays."
Scott Smith: WR Mike Evans
Since this felt like a win that had equal contributions from offense and defense (and a perfectly solid afternoon from the special tams), I'm going to take my nominee from the offensive side to balance Carmen's pick. But, even after eliminating half of the team, I still find myself faced with a difficult choice.
Do I take the player who was the driving force behind the Bucs' building a 21-0 lead, which they never fully relinquished? Or do I take the player who finished it off at the end and scored two of the Bucs' four touchdowns?
Evans and Fournette both finished with 100-yard games in their respective areas of expertise, Evans with 104 on seven catches and Fournette with 103 on just 12 carries. They were responsible for the two longest plays of the day, Evans with a 50-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter and Fournette with a 46-yard touchdown sprint with two minutes to play. Together, they were responsible for 220 of the Buccaneers' 339 yards in the game.
It was a difficult choice, but in the end I had to go with Evans. Carmen mentioned Winfield's sack and forced fumble in the first quarter; on the very next play, Evans ran down the left sideline and turned just at the right momentum to haul in a perfect back-shoulder throw from Brady for a 23-yard score. In addition, that 50-yard catch I noted above was the big play in a 78-yard drive that turned Whitehead's interception into a Ronald Jones touchdown.
Evans had 91 yards by halftime and the Bucs had that three touchdown lead. He did all of this without the usual presence of Chris Godwin on the other side of the field or in the slot drawing away coverage. Godwin missed the game due to a concussion and no other Buccaneer had more than 48 receiving yards. Those belonged to Justin Watson, who got 36 of them on a nifty flea-flicker trick play. Beyond that, the one and only player making big plays in the passing game on Sunday was Mike Evans. He should get the game ball.
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win over Carolina in Week Two? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below