Mike Evans gave an important football away on Sunday afternoon. He could be getting a (virtual) replacement on Monday.
Evans' nine-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 38-3 evisceration of the Chicago Bears on Sunday just happened to be the 600th scoring pass of Tom Brady's seemingly-mythical career. Obviously, nobody else has ever thrown 600 touchdown passes. Obviously, Tom Brady would like to have the ball that represents that milestone.
Unfortunately, Evans – in his exuberance and generosity, and without knowledge of what particular score meant – tossed the ball to a young fan in the stands at Raymond James Stadium. That would not do. Unsurprisingly, the Buccaneers found a way to get the ball back for Brady, and everyone will end up happy in the end.
"Mike gave it away and said, 'I'm sorry man, I'll get it,'" said Brady, who did recover the ball and expects the fan to be well-compensated. "I said it's alright, I'm sure they'll figure out a way to get it back. I don't actually keep too many things, though in that circumstance I just felt like that might be a good one to keep. [The fan] is going to get something nice in return so we'll get him a helmet or a couple jerseys or some other stuff – it was really cool of him to do that."
Evans would later catch two more touchdown passes for the second three-TD game of his rather impressive career. Is that enough to make him the recipient of our Game Ball, which we give out after every Buccaneer win? Perhaps, but there are some other very strong candidates. Brady threw a total of four touchdown passes and was not intercepted. Leonard Fournette scored and led the Bucs' best rushing attack of the season. Jason Pierre-Paul shook of a week of not practicing to sack Justin Fields twice and force a fumble. There were five defensive takeaways and a lot of players involved in them. We definitely have options.
Once again, Carmen Vitali and I will be making one nomination each for who should win the Game Ball for the team's most recent win. 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 (spoiler alert: it did for me this week), and it's my turn to go first.
Scott Smith: WR Mike Evans
What's particularly remarkable about Evans' big night, which included six catches for 76 yards and those three scores, is that the Bears were trying to make sure it didn't help it. Evans faced double teams or bracket coverage on a good number of his routes on Sunday afternoon, including two of his touchdown catches, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians. It just didn't matter. On his second touchdown catch, Bears corner Jaylon Johnson essentially wrapped him up in a comforting bear hug but it wasn't enough to keep Evans from spinning away and making the catch.
Chicago was able to pay a little more attention (or a lot more attention) to Evans in part because wide receiver Antonio Brown – the team's hottest pass-catcher in recent weeks – was sidelined by an ankle injury. Evans stepped up anyway, as did Chris Godwin (eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown), as the Bucs made enough big plays to tear up a very game Chicago secondary. Evans scored three times in a 15-minute span to turn an early 14-0 lead into a 35-3 first-half thrashing, and the Bucs never looked back. Notably, he also turned in the game's longest play on a gorgeous 46-yard go-route that set up his own two-yard score in the second quarter.
But in assessing Evans' worthiness for this week's Game Ball, I also ask you to consider history. Bucs franchise history, that is. Once upon a time, Buccaneers legend Mike Alstott set the team record at 71 career touchdowns, a mark that looked impossibly distant for most of the pass-catchers and ball-carriers that followed him. Alstott will always remain that franchise legend, but it doesn't look he's going to remain the team's career touchdown leader for much longer.
Evans' three scores gave him 69 in his career. There are 10 games left in this season and he is now just two behind Alstott for the top spot. It's going to happen sooner or later, but Evans' huge day in Week Seven is what put him on the doorstep. Let's give him a little memento for that performance.
Carmen Vitali: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
I could have gone either way on Pierre-Paul or fellow defensive bookend Shaq Barrett – each had a tremendous impact on the Bucs' defensive effort that allowed the Chicago Bears just three total points, while forcing five takeaways on the stat sheet.
Yeah, the Tampa Bay defense tallied more than what the Bears put on the board in points in defensive turnovers.
And while Barrett was responsible for one forced fumble via strip sack, Pierre-Paul was responsible for one as well, while also throwing in an extra sack for what I can only assume was just for funsies. In reality, he was a menace all night, adding two quarterback hits on the Bears rookie Justin Fields and a tackle for loss. It was Pierre-Paul's first multi-sack game since Week 17 of 2019 and oh by the way did I mention he did it without practicing this week?
Following the game, Pierre-Paul came to the podium to confirm that he's not only playing with a finger broken in two places, which is the reason for the club on his right hand, but he is also playing with a torn rotator cuff. Do you know how hard it is to bring down a quarterback with one hand? Much less do it twice AND strip the ball?
I've said this before, the phrase 'he's different' is extremely overused, especially in the NFL. But when it comes to JPP, It's undeniably true.
"He's a warrior," said Head Coach Bruce Arians about Pierre-Paul. "I told him last week, you just get to Sunday. Whatever it takes, get to Sunday. You don't have to practice. I know what you're going to do. He almost knock [the ball out] over on the tight end and got around the quarterback a bunch. The energy he brings and the way he plays the game, I've never been around too many warriors like him."
Who deserves the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's Week Seven declawing of the Bears? Click here to vote now!