The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Miami Dolphins, 45-17 in Week Five, in the process rolling up 558 yards of offense, the fourth-highest single-game mark in team history. They scored their most points in any game this year and allowed what was tied for the fewest in any game this year, tying for the eighth-best scoring differential in team annals. So, yeah, things went well pretty much all over the board.
And so we are faced with a very good problem to have: Too many potential candidates for just one Game Ball following the win over the Dolphins. Head Coach Bruce Arians gave us no help in the locker room after the game, essentially telling the players they needed to wait until next weekend to celebrate this one, given the quick turnaround before a Thursday night game in Philly. He didn't bother to hand out a game ball.
Now, you might be currently screaming at the screen, "Tom Brady!" and I feel you. He's the odds-on favorite to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week, so shouldn't he be the game ball recipient too? Can't argue. Brady finished the game with…well, I'm not going to spell it out because I don't want to steal all of Staff Writer Carmen Vitali's thunder if Brady is her pick this week. Suffice it to say, she will have plenty of ammunition if she goes that route.
After each Buccaneer win this season, Carmen and I will be making one nomination each for who should win the Game Ball for that contest. You then get to vote – with four total choices, actually – and you'll even qualify to win some cool prizes if you do. See the bottom of this article for all of that. We are not allowed to pick the same player, so the order in which we make our selections is sometimes important. This week, I'm in the pole position…and I'm not nominating Brady. Ridiculous? Possibly. But I picked Brady last week and I have my reasons for veering left this week. Read on!
Scott Smith: WR Antonio Brown
Tom Brady was great on Sunday. No, wait, "great" doesn't even come close to describing it. He was sublime. In fact, to my utter disbelief, the 44-year-old, 22-season veteran with seven Super Bowl rings actually accomplished something he had never done before when he…oh, wait, sorry. Encroaching on Carmen's potential territory again. Let's try this again.
Tom Brady was great on Sunday, but do you know who the subject of the first two questions he was asked at his post-game press conference was? Antonio Brown. Who was the first person that Arians was asked about after his opening statement? Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown was the story on Sunday.
We can start with the numbers. Brown led all players in Sunday's game with 124 receiving yards and tied Chris Godwin for the Bucs' most receptions. He scored twice, one on a 62-yard catch-and-run, the other on a high-level of difficulty snag of Brady's absolute laser for a four-yard touchdown. Those scores came on back-to-back drives as the Buccaneers took what had been a back-and-forth 10-10 game and broke it open. Miami would never get within closer to seven points again.
Brown had the single biggest offensive play of the game. After each team had scored a field goal and a touchdown on its first two drives, Tampa Bay's defense got the game's first stop and Miami's punt came to rest at the Bucs' 30. Three plays later, on third-and-two, Brady threw to Brown working right to left on a drag route. At the point of catch, the play was enough to move the sticks, but Brown then exploded upfield, split two defenders and outran everybody for the long TD that gave the Bucs a lead they would never relinquish.
After the game, Arians said it wasn't "a fair fight" to have Brown, nominally the Bucs' third receiver, matched up against the opponents' third-best cover man. What we are seeing now is the impact of adding a player of Brown's caliber – assuming he's somewhere close to his 2013-18 peak – to a passing attack that already features Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. This was perhaps the best example we've seen of that dynamic before, and it doesn't bode well for the Buccaneers' remaining opponents. Brown was only one part of Brady's big night, but he was probably the most encouraging part for the season going forward, and for that reason I want to give him the Game Ball.
Carmen Vitali: QB Tom Brady
Scott may not be picking Brady but I sure as heck am. I can't believe it's still possible after 22 years in the league, but Brady is still managing firsts. Sunday marked the first time he threw five or more touchdowns while also throwing for over 400 yards as he completed 30 of 41 pass attempts for 411 yards, five touchdowns against zero interceptions and a 144.4 passer rating on the afternoon. And here's the kicker: he didn't even play the whole game. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert came in with just over seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter with the Bucs up 45-17.
Brady has had nine career games with five or more touchdowns, second only to Drew Brees in NFL record books. His 12 games throwing for over 400 yards tie for fourth all-time. His pace so far this season is truly unprecedented. Through Sunday's 1 p.m. games, Brady led the league in passing yards with 1,767 as well as passing touchdowns with 15. He's currently on pace for 6,008 passing yards and 51 touchdowns this season and if you think that's unsustainable, you haven't paid attention to a Bruce Arians offense. Those 6,000 yards would handedly break Peyton Manning's single-season passing yards record of 5,477. The 51 touchdowns would be a career-best for Brady and would fall just four shy of the single-season NFL record.
During the game, Brady connected with Antonio Brown, who made some history of his own on Sunday becoming the fastest player to 900 career receptions, on a 62-yard touchdown for Tampa Bay's longest touchdown of the season, thus far. Incredibly, Brady has 4_5_ career touchdowns of 50 yards or more, which ties Drew Brees and John Hadl for third-most in league history. Only Johnny Unitas (51) and Peyton Manning (46) have more.
And perhaps most impressively, Brady apparently maintains his sense of child-like wonder when it comes to the game of football.
"Every day he comes to practice, he's 12 [years old]," Arians said following Sunday's game. "I think it's [son] Jack out there. He's like a little kid every day."
A little kid with more experience than any active player, the mental processing power of a supercomputer when picking apart opposing defenses and accuracy straight out of a video game. In fact, Brady set a new Buccaneer record of 203 consecutive passes without throwing an interception. I guess that's what happens when you're comfortable in the offense you're running and more importantly, with your weapons.
Throughout the game, Brady hit 10 different receivers. The Bucs had two receivers go over 100 yards on the day and both of those players, Brown and Evans, had two touchdowns apiece. Brady engineered productive drive after productive drive, proven by the fact that the Bucs only punted once and scored on all but two of their drives all game as they cruised to 558 total yards of offense.
We may have finally witnessed exactly what this offense is capable of and spoiler alert: it's a lot. That all starts with Brady.
Who deserves the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's Week Five scuttling of the Dolphins? Click here to vote now!