Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Leonard Fournette or Shaq Barrett | Week 12 Game Ball

Leonard Fournette tied a team record with four touchdowns and Shaq Barrett produced the turning point in Sunday's win in Indy…Carmen Vitali and Scott Smith make their suggestions for the fans' Game Ball vote

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Head Coach Bruce Arians called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 38-31 high wire-act of a win on Sunday a "good team victory." Tom Brady echoed that sentiment, painting the Bucs' eighth 'W' of the season as a "really hard-fought team win." Leonard Fournette added, "It's a team sport; we came together, and we made it happen."

Indeed, it takes more than one standout performance to beat a red-hot team like the Colts in one of the NFL's loudest stadiums, especially when you spot the home team a 10-point halftime lead. But the Buccaneers caught fire on both sides of the ball after halftime and used five takeaways and four Fournette touchdowns to rally for their most impressive road win of 2021.

That goes right down to the 48th active player, who could quite reasonably be identified as first-year guard Nick Leverett. Leverett was active for the first time in 2021 only because left guard Ali Marpet was out for the game due to an abdomen injury. And when Marpet's replacement, Aaron Stinnie – who himself was making his first regular-season start – went down with a knee injury in the first quarter, Leverett found himself on the starting line for most of the game. Arians said Leverett would get a game ball for his emergency performance.

Statistically, though, there are some more compelling Game Ball choices for us to consider. Obviously Four(TD)nette played a big role in the win with four touchdowns, including his powerful 28-yard rumble to the end zone to break the tie with 20 seconds left. Tight end Rob Gronkowski provided most of the team's receiving production with 123 yards on seven carries and was central to almost every scoring drive on the afternoon. Ronald Jones scored and was a good complement to Fournette. The offensive line allowed just one sack, even with its first lineup change of the season.

On defense, Shaq Barrett had two sacks, including one that may have been the turning point in the game. Barrett, Antoine Winfield, Jr., Mike Edwards, Lavonte David, Pierre Desir and even Scotty Miller – yes, wide receiver – had a part in the team's five takeaways. Edwards also saved the Bucs' bacon when Isaiah Rodgers was streaking down the sideline for an apparent game-tying kickoff return touchdown in the game's closing seconds.

So, team win, lots of individuals to chose from. What do Carmen Vitali and I think about it all? As we have all season, Carmen and I will be offering our suggestions for the Game Ball after every victory. 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. Since we are not allowed to pick the same player, the order of selection sometimes matters and it's my turn to go first. And, yes, it definitely mattered this week.

Scott Smith: RB Leonard Fournette

As the Buccaneers were making their big second-half push on Sunday, I mused aloud to Carmen that I might actually be leaning towards Shaq Barrett as my choice, since we both knew I was going first. At this point, I believe Fournette had two touchdowns and Barrett was pushing around the Colts' linemen on what seemed like every other play. Then, you know, Fournette kept finding his way to the end zone and by the time he was bashing through two Colts for the game-winning score it was pretty obvious I only had one choice.

This was not just one of the most impressive and crucial performances by a Buccaneer running back in a long time, it was an historic afternoon in franchise history. Fournette's fourth score made him just the third player in 46 seasons of Tampa Bay football to score four touchdowns in a single game. It happened in 1985 when tight end Jimmie Giles put on a show in a wild shootout at Miami. Then it didn't happen again for another 27 years, with running back Doug Martin running wild in his Oakland hometown during the most prolific rushing day in franchise history. And now, nine years later, it has happened again.

Fournette deserved the flashy record because, as has been the case often the season, he spent much of the night doing all the dirty work. He was targeted eight times and caught seven catches for 31 yards and a score. He was the battering ram when the offense got inside the five-yard line, scoring on a pair of four-yard runs in the second and third quarters. And he was the chain move for an offense that somehow racked up 28 first downs despite only converting two of eight third-down tries.

By the time the night was over, Fournette had exactly 100 yards on the ground, plus another 31 in the passing game. He also, as I may have mentioned, had scored four of the team's five touchdowns. On the final drive, which covered 75 yards, he touched the ball four times for 60 yards. And that last touchdown run, an impressive blend of speed, power and sheer will, goes down as one of the best offensive plays for the Buccaneers all season. Enough said, I think.

Carmen Vitali: OLB Shaq Barrett

I agreed with your choice early in the game, Scott, while keeping Fournette in the back of my head and then I believe as Fournette scored his fourth touchdown, I lamented how I stole Mike Evans away from you last week so you had no choice but to steal Fournette from me. We don't make the rules, we just follow them.

And while Barrett is following Fournette in this article, and though [Four]nette lived up to his name in a way we hadn't really considered before, including using a very funny and relevant Tom Brady four fingers meme after the performance, I ask you to consider that Fournette got some of those chances thanks to Barrett.

In fact, to begin what Arians called their best half of football all season after the game, it was Barrett that got the ball rolling – literally. He stripped quarterback Carson Wentz of the ball and then subsequently recovered it for the trifecta of a defensive player: sack, strip, recover. You know how that next possession for the Bucs' offense ended? A Fournette touchdown, that then pulled the Bucs within three points of the Colts.

Barrett had two sacks in the game on Wentz, actually. The strip sack was his second after taking down Wentz in the series following a fumble by Chris Godwin that gave the Colts the ball back in the first quarter. The turnover was a non-factor thanks to the defense forcing Indy off the field almost immediately. 

In all, Barrett finished tied for the team lead in tackles with eight, one of which was a for a loss, along with 2.0 sacks, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. I guess the next challenge is to get him more involved in coverage because that's the only thing missing from that stat line.

Barrett was paramount in a defensive performance that, as Scott mentioned above, took the ball away five times from the Colts. This is a team that had been the best in the league at taking care of the football, coming into the game at a +15 turnover margin. Wentz had simply not turned the ball over for Indy, throwing only four interceptions prior to Sunday's game. The Colts were riding a three-game streak of zero turnovers to go along with the three straight wins they had. They also hadn't turned the ball over more than three times in a game all season. But the Bucs changed that and it ended up being the difference in the game.

So if Barrett was a big part of that, then by the transitive property, he made a big difference in this game, which I think deserves game ball. Never mind that Lenny actually put 24 points on the board himself…

Who deserves the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's thrilling win in Indy? Click here to vote

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