The Tampa Bay Buccaneers doubled up the Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon, 46-23, and in the process they produced the best net-yardage differential in any game in franchise history. While the offense was piling up 544 yards, the defense was holding Teddy Bridgewater and company to 187 yards, including just 35 in the entire second half.
That alone should tell you that there were a lot of excellent individual performances on both sides of the ball (and on special teams) in Sunday's win. Five different Bucs scored touchdowns; Tom Brady threw for three and ran for another; three different Buccaneers recorded a sack, including a wide receiver. Yes, a wide receiver. Cam Brate made a couple of enormous catches and moved into fourth place in team history in touchdown receptions. Rob Gronkowski had his Gronkiest moment yet as a Buccaneer. Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack and an interception.
Oh, and you may have heard about a little something that Ronald Jones did that only three other players in NFL history have ever done. That's always going to stand out on a player's Game Ball resume.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 10 matchup against Carolina.
So if you had to choose one player to get that Game Ball from Sunday's win, who would you choose? Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I will make it easier for you by narrowing the field of candidates a bit. After each win this season, Carmen and I are nominating one player each for a vote by the fans as to who deserves that week's Game Ball. The fans will then determine the winner in a poll at the bottom of this page, voting either for Carmen's choice or my choice…or if you aren't satisfied with the candidates we put forth, you can choose "other." Since we have decided not to duplicate picks in any given week, we're alternating the order of selection and it's Carmen's turn to go first.
Carmen Vitali: RB Ronald Jones
Let me start by just saying how tempted I was to list Justin Watson here given that he was the aforementioned wide receiver that got a sack in Sunday's game. I always joke about how good of a tackler Watson is with all his usage on special teams, but boy did he prove it as Carolina decided to try another punt fake. It worked out abysmally for punter Joseph Charlton as Watson laid a textbook tackle on him for the sack.
It was a big day for the 2018 draft class as former second-round pick Ronald Jones made Buccaneer history on Sunday. He recorded the longest offensive touchdown by a Buccaneer on a 98-yard run in the third quarter. The Panthers had pinned the Bucs at their own two-yard line and quarterback Tom Brady I'm sure was just looking for some breathing room to get the drive going with the Bucs up 20-17. A couple key interior blocks by both fill-in center A.Q. Shipley and left guard for the day Ryan Jensen sent RoJo off to the races. Pause for recognition of those two, who made up for left guard Ali Marpet's absence nearly seamlessly. It's not easy to pull a guy out of his natural position and then sub in a center to play with a new quarterback on a week's notice. We should talk about that more.
Back to Jones. Panthers rookie safety Jeremy Chinn was hot on his tail as Jones streaked down the field, but Jones looked up at the scoreboard for guidance on how he should maneuver: the literal definition of a 'heads up play.'
He had been running well all game, too. Jones finished with a career-high 192 rushing yards and an 8.35 yard-per-carry average. His 192 yards are tied for the fifth-most by a Buccaneer in a single game and are the most by a Tampa Bay running back since Doug Martin rushed for 235 yards against Philadelphia in 2015. Jones' performance was also the third-best in the NFL this season, behind two games from the Titans' Derrick Henry. His 8.35 yards per carry were the fourth-best yards per attempt average in franchise history among running backs with at least 20 carries in the game.
Scott Smith: The Offensive Line
I wanted to do this once earlier this season, and I know it's a little gimmicky but it's not unprecedented. Did you know that in Week Five of the 1989 season the NFC Offensive Player of the Week was "The Buccaneer Offense?" True story. I don't think it would move the needle in today's NFL, but that Bucs team rolled up 415 yards of offense in a 42-35 win over Chicago and I guess the league just didn't want to choose between Lars Tate, Vinny Testaverde, Bruce Hill and Mark Carrier, all of whom had big games.
So if they can do that, I can give the Game Ball to the Bucs' entire offensive line if I so desire. (And hope that Jason Pierre-Paul doesn't read this because the Tampa Bay defense ought to be represented here and he would be the choice with his sack-INT combo.) Carmen mentioned the great blocking by Shipley and Jensen on Jones' 98-yard run, and, as noted, both were in new positions in the absence of Marpet. But all five of the guys up front – those two plus left tackle Donovan Smith, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Tristan Wirfs – had fantastic games.
For the first time in team history, the Buccaneers topped 300 net passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same game. That simply can't happen without the offensive line being dominant, and as much as linemen play a stat-free position, there are still team numbers from Sunday that make them look awfully good. Such as 5.7 yards per carry for the team despite three kneel-downs and one end-around that lost three yards. Such as only one sack allowed of Brady in 40 dropbacks. Such as, well, simply put, 544 yards of offense.
Both Jones and Tom Brady showered the offensive linemen with praise after the game. Jones called them "the big boys up front" but Brady made a point of going through and listing each one by name and how they had played on Sunday. I bet you Brady would like to give the Game Ball to his blockers after this one. And so do I.
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win in Las Vegas in Week Seven? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below.