The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were tied, 3-3, with just under 13 minutes left in regulation on Sunday in the Superdome, and the New Orleans Saints were about to begin a drive with great field position, at their own 45. Seven minutes later, the Buccaneers had a 20-3 lead.
Cornerback Jamel Dean was the catalyst for what happened in this seven minutes, as he picked off Jameis Winston's attempt to have a 53-yard pass to Chris Olave in the Bucs' end zone. But Dean didn't fashion the Buccaneers' game-winning surge alone. A gaggle of heroes emerged in that frantic run to victory.
Tom Brady and Breshad Perriman hooked up for a stunning touchdown that turned the first of Dean's two picks into the game's first touchdown. Mike Edwards did what Mike Edwards does, picking off a pass and returning it 68 yards for a touchdown. Shaq Barrett and Devin White led a backfield onslaught on Winston, resulting in six sacks. Tampa Bay's reshuffled offensive line stood strong again, even down to its third left tackle in Brandon Walton. Ryan Succop was good twice from 47 yards.
That's not a comprehensive list of the Buccaneer players who may have deserved a Game Ball following Sunday's rousing victory in a venue that had recently given Tampa Bay fits, but it's an indication of how difficult the decision could be. Obviously, that's a good problem to have.
And right now, it's a problem for me and Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix. After every Buccaneers victory this season, Brianna and I are going to nominate two players for that week's Game Ball. Those two will be included in a list of four candidates…and then the final decision is up to you. After you review the cases we make for two of those players, you will find a link at the bottom of the page to place your vote.
Since we can't duplicate votes and getting the first pick could be important, we are going to alternate the order of our choices from week to week. To get us started this season, I cede the first vote this week to Brianna, to welcome her to the fun.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 2 matchup vs. the New Orleans Saints.
So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions.
Brianna Dix: CB Jamel Dean
As the Buccaneers' defense led an assault in the second half, several players could be considered for this week's Game Ball victor, as Scott alluded to above. I originally leaned towards Shaq Barrett for his disruption in the backfield in both stopping rushers dead in their tracks and crashing the pocket. However, in the fourth quarter as the Bucs desperately needed a momentum-shifting play, Jamel Dean accumulated TWO. He sparked the defensive surge that emboldened the team, culminating in a victory at Caesars Superdome.
The first interception came after Mike Evans was ejected from the ballgame, following an altercation at midfield with Saints' cornerback, Marshon Lattimore. Two plays into the Saints' next possession, Dean made a diving interception in the end zone. He recognized the Saints' formation and looked at Winston's eyes, reacted, and made a play on the ball. Dean's takeaway led to the Bucs' only offensive touchdown on the ensuing drive. On the next defensive drive, Dean struck gold yet again. He intercepted an overthrown pass by Winston, which resulted in a Ryan Succop 47-yard field goal. His acrobatic plays led to 10 points for the Buccaneers – half of the team's total output.
Dean won the starting job opposite Carlton Davis III following a stellar training camp/preseason performance and he continues to make splash plays in the secondary now that the regular season has begun. His physicality at the catch point and ball-tracking spurred a defensive resurgence, one that should be recognized with the esteemed Game Ball. Dean put up an impressive and crucial resume against the Saints, garnering attention from players and coaches postgame. He embodied the 'Gravediggers' mantra and that is enough said.
Scott Smith: ILB Devin White
The Buccaneers' defense has been nearly impenetrable through the first two weeks of the season, allowing just 13 points and not allowing a touchdown until 57 minutes into the second game. There is one thing in particular about that defensive dominance that has stood out to me: In his fourth season in the middle of the Bucs' defense, Devin White seems to be asserting his leadership and control over that aggressive squad.
Last week, Head Coach Todd Bowles lauded White for leading the excellent communication that led to a three-point defensive performance in Dallas, and that was on display again in New Orleans. Bowles and the Buccaneers dialed up a very aggressive game plan for Winston and the Saints and it resulted in a string of splash plays defensively and very few big plays allowed.
Of course, White was more than just a leader for that defense. He also had a hand in many of the game's biggest plays. White led the Buccaneers' with 11 tackles and also added a sack, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. In fact, he set the tone on the very first play of the game when he tracked down fullback Adam Prentice on a short pass and not only stopped him for a gain of just two but also forced a fumble. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the ball rolled out of bounds so there was no turnover as a result.
After the Buccaneers had taken a sudden 13-3 lead on two scores made possible by Dean, as Brianna noted, White immediately put the now-desperate Saints offense in a hole with a five-yard sack with six minutes to play. That drive would end in the pass that Edwards picked off and took to the house. As soon as the Saints got the ball back after going down 20-3, White broke up a Winston pass intended for tight end Juwan Johnson on first down.
Brianna's nomination is an excellent one and it's hard to vote against a guy who changed the game's momentum with two picks. Still, my vote is for White due to his combination of big plays and defensive leadership.
Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' win over the Saints in Week 2? Click here to cast your vote