The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured their first Monday Night Football win since 2016, and it wasn't fully secured until rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. broke up an attempted two-point conversion pass with 28 seconds left at MetLife Stadium in Week Eight. Actually, even then the Buccaneers needed wide receiver Justin Watson to sure-handedly pounce on an onside kick attempt. The result was a 25-23 victory that gave the Buccaneers their first 6-2 season start since the Super Bowl season of 2002.
So should we give this week's Game Ball to Winfield or Watson for their clinching moments? Perhaps. Winfield also had seven tackles in the game. On the other hand, inside linebacker Devin White also had seven tackles plus his fifth sack in the last three weeks and another quarterback hit on Daniel Jones. Jason Pierre-Paul also celebrated his return to the Meadowlands with a sack and both Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting had critical interceptions.
On offense, Tom Brady shook off a tepid start to finish with 279 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 106.1 passer rating. Mike Evans found the end zone for the seventh time this season and Rob Gronkowski scored for the third week in a row. Jaydon Mickens pitched in with a career-high five catches playing in the Chris Godwin role. Leonard Fournette had 71 yards from scrimmage.
Are any of those players going to have to find new room in their virtual trophy case this week? After each Buccaneer victory this season, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali 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, my choice or "other" if they feel neither of us has made the right choice. Since we have decided not to duplicate picks in any given week, we're alternating the order of selection and it's my turn to go first.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 8 matchup against New York.
Scott Smith: OLB Shaquil Barrett
I hate to bring this up on an election day, but we may need a recount. I'm looking at Shaq Barrett's stat line from Monday night's win and I'm wondering where all the crooked numbers went. To be clear, I am nominating for the game ball a player whose entire stat register for the game is three tackles, one quarterback hit and two passes defensed. No sacks. No interceptions. No fumble recoveries.
Stay with me here. The Buccaneers escaped that game with a two-point victory and 10 of their last 13 points came on drives set up by takeaways. Davis picked off a Jones pass at the Bucs' 39 early in the third period and the offense took that free possession 34 yards for a field goal to make it 14-9. In the fourth quarter, Murphy-Bunting dived to snare another Jones toss at the Bucs' 34. This time, Brady and company went all the way for a go-ahead touchdown and a lead they would never relinquish.
What did those two plays have in common? Mr. Shaquil Akeem Barrett. On the first one, Barrett was credited with a quarterback hit as he grabbed Jones from behind and spun him a bit off target. On the second one, the statistical ruling was a pass defensed as Barrett arrived just as Jones was getting the throw off, causing it to come out short of its intended target.
That's it. That's my case. The Bucs very may well have come out of East Rutherford, New Jersey with a loss if they didn't get those two second-half takeaways. And they might not have gotten any takeaways without Barrett finding his way into Jones' personal space.
Carmen Vitali: CB Carlton Davis
Full disclosure, I'm going to probably do what Scott did last week and even though I'm making a (justified) case for another player, I'm probably going with Barrett for all the reasons Scott stated above. It's the perfect example of how a player can have a major effect on the game beyond what the stat sheet says.
Which actually brings me to Davis, whose greatest impact came both in the stats and in morale. Davis recorded his fourth interception of the season, which ties him for the league-lead ss he leads a unit that ties for the league lead in total interceptions this year. What can we say? This team is full of leaders in more ways than one. But when Davis' interception came was just as important as the play itself. The Bucs had a tepid, as Scott called it, first half, and went into halftime trailing 14-6. They needed to come out with a bang, but they weren't starting the second half with the ball. Davis' pick off Daniel Jones on the Giants' first drive was the catalyst for the Bucs getting back in that game. It led to a Tampa Bay field goal, which was then followed by Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the night: a throw from Brady to Gronkowski in the back of the end zone – on a tipped ball, no less. It was the spark that helped the Bucs keep fighting - and Tampa Bay now has the second-most points off takeaways in the league now with 65. Davis knew getting the ball back to the offense was imperative at that point.
Davis also finished the game with two more passes defensed on top of his interception. He even came in on a corner blitz at one point. In fact, I may have just changed my own mind. Vote for Davis for this week's game ball (and go vote for the President of the United States while you're at it if you haven't already).
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win in New York in Week Eight? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below.