When you score 48 points in a football game, you're going to have a number of standout players. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did that on Sunday in a 23-point a win over the Atlanta Falcons, and since the last 13 points came courtesy of the defense, we've got an array of stars on both sides of the ball.
Tom Brady directed all the action for an offense that is now routinely scoring 30-plus points per game, as he tossed five touchdown passes against no interceptions. Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans caught two of those scoring throws each, and not to be outdone in the multiple-TD department, safety Mike Edwards pulled off a stunning feat of his own. More on that in a moment.
In other words, this would be a good week to give out multiple game balls. Unfortunately, that's not our task here. As we will be doing after every Buccaneers victory this season, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are here to nominate one player each for this week's Game Ball. Then we ask you to consider our suggestions and vote for the winner in a poll. And this year, if you do help us with the voting you will become eligible to win some cool prizes!
We are not allowed to pick the same player, so order matters. We're alternating who gets to go first win by win, and this week I'm leading off.
Scott Smith: S Mike Edwards
How do you choose between Brady, Gronkowski, Evans, Chris Godwin and all the other players who kept the Bucs' inevitable offense in high gear? You don't. Since you're going first, you pick the deserving defensive player and let Carmen sort through the offensive stars. (And you'll actually get to choose from between four options in the poll when you vote. These are just our two suggestions.)
My rule of thumb when assessing the impressiveness of a defensive feat is that if Ronde Barber is the only other player in team history to do it, it's got to be pretty amazing. Until Sunday, Barber had been the only Buc ever to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. He did so in a 23-21 win over Philadelphia in 2006, but since Matt Bryant memorably ended that one with a 62-yard field goal, it was Bryant who got the key to the city from the mayor of Tampa the following week.
This time around, let's give the reward to the man with two pick-sixes, Mike Edwards, whose name is rarely mentioned in a sentence these days without the accompanying words, 'ball hawk.' With his 31-yard and 15-yard pick sixes in the fourth quarter, Edwards became the first player in the NFL to achieve that feat since 2012. It has now been done a total of 27 times in league history.
And all they did was turn a tense game into a blowout, all in the span of about four minutes. After Matt Ryan and the Falcons had rallied in the third quarter from down 28-10 to within three points, the Buccaneers got a huge third-down stop from defensive linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches, setting up a short drive that ended in Brady's fifth touchdown pass, a 12-yarder to Godwin. At that point, it was 35-25 in the home team's favor but there were still nine minutes left in the game. If you were relaxed at this point, you're a better Bucs fan than me.
Thankfully, Mr. Edwards erased any lingering concerns. Three plays into the next drive, Edwards was playing the slot corner position, showing off his versatility with Sean Murphy-Bunting unavailable. He read a short pass out to the right and shot in front of the intended target, wideout Russell Gage. Edwards got to the ball first but didn't quite catch it cleanly, as he then had to grab the deflection while on the run. He wasn't touched on his way to the end zone. After the game, Head Coach Bruce Arians said Edwards "suckered" Ryan into that throw.
Then, with four minutes left and things pretty much in hand, Edwards made history just for the heck of it. Mad genius Todd Bowles sent a double-corner blitz on the first play of a new Atlanta possession and Carlton Davis got in quickly enough to bat Ryan's pass high into the air. Since the football is apparently magnetically attracted to Edwards, there he was as it dropped from the heavens, waiting to run it in for another score.
I've seen two games with multiple pick-sixes by one player in my time with the Buccaneers. I don't expect to see another. Let's make sure this one is properly rewarded. In contrast, I fully expect to see another five-touchdown game from Tom Brady, maybe next weekend.
Carmen Vitali: QB Tom Brady
For the record, my first choice would have been Edwards, too, because it seemed like all I talked about in training camp was that people were decidedly not talking about Edwards. And they should have been. And now they are.
So how do I sort through all the deserving offensive players now? Simple: I pick the guy that got the ball to those deserving players. In the end zone. Five times.
I thought it had been a while since Brady had thrown for five touchdowns in a single game. Turns out he did it in that Week Four game against the Chargers last year. What is special about this week's performance is that in conjunction with Week One, Brady has now set a franchise record of nine passing touchdowns through the first two games of a season. It's the second-most ever in the Super Bowl era, behind only Patrick Mahomes in 2018, who had 10.
Brady is now tied for the second-most games with four or more touchdowns with 35. It's second to only Drew Brees, who had 37. Brady is also second to Brees in games with three touchdowns or more, recording a whopping 95 of them to Brees' 97.
It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for Brady all game, either, which I thinks makes the feat even more impressive. Brady was sacked three times at the hands of Atlanta defenders. He took five hits. His first sack even caused him to lose a fumble for the first time since Week Two of last year. And it started earlier than that. On Brady's first touchdown pass to Gronkowski, he's patient and identifies that Gronk has escaped to a soft spot in the Falcons' zone look, despite the fact he has free safety Isaiah Oliver rushing unblocked on his blind side. He gets the ball off in time but Oliver runs right into him. That didn't even count on the stat sheet as a hit, either.
The Falcons were able to pull within three but Brady responded with a touchdown pass to Chris Godwin to give the Bucs some breathing room before Edwards went off for the aforementioned two touchdowns.
What I'm saying is that even when things didn't go perfectly according to plan, Brady pulled through and had a heck of a performance that earned him his second-straight FedEx Air Player of the Week nomination.
But it should still probably go to Edwards because he really went above and beyond the call of duty on Sunday…
Who deserves the Game Ball for Sunday's win over Atlanta? Click here to vote!