There were plenty of individual stars in the Tampa Bay Buccaneer's thrilling 38-31 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
Ndamukong Suh jolted the Bucs into a higher gear with one of the biggest defensive plays of the season. Carlton Davis made sure precocious rookie quarterback Justin Herbert couldn't muster up one more round of heroics. Ronald Jones had the best rushing day of his career while breaking one tackle after another. Mike Evans caught a touchdown pass for the fifth straight game, collecting roughly his 8,000th franchise record. Lavonte David did Lavonte David things.
Is there anybody I'm forgetting? I'm pretty sure those were the main standouts from Sunday's win, and one of them probably deserves the game ball. Maybe I'm missing another worthy candidate, but I doubt it. Oh well, if I'm wrong, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali will correct me below.
It is, in fact, Carmen's turn to go first in this week's nominations for the Game Ball. After each Buccaneer victory this season, Carmen and I are going to put one player each up for a vote by the fans as to who deserves that honor. 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 Carmen gets the honors after the big comeback against Los Angeles.
Carmen Vitali: WR Mike Evans
This was an extremely tough choice due to all the aforementioned heroics. I don't think there is a wrong answer here but let me plead my case for one the NFL's most elite receivers. Not only did Evans surpass 100 yards receiving for the second time this season, catch a touchdown pass for the fifth-consecutive game, thereby setting a new franchise record, and now leads all NFL receivers with five touchdowns this season so far – he did it all injured.
In the first quarter, after already catching three passes for 52 yards, Evans sustained an ankle injury that took him out briefly as he went back to the locker room to get it taped up. He said after the game that Bucs' trainer Bobby Slater 'got him right' early on and Evans then proceeded to play the rest of the game. In fact, he played 71% of the team's offensive snaps in total. Evans caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for a total of 122 yards, a touchdown and a 17.4 yard-per-catch average. In addition to the touchdown, Evans moved the chains four times, including on a second-and-20 situation following a Bucs penalty in the fourth quarter. It set up the Bucs' go-ahead touchdown from Tom Brady to rookie running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. The Bucs would not relinquish the lead after that.
Plus, before the game, I had noticed Evans gathering his teammates at midfield before they went into the locker room after warmups. He rallied the guys long before they needed to and in my mind, was the total 'it' factor in this game.
Scott Smith: QB Tom Brady
Man, I feel like I lobbed an alley-oop pass and Carmen just ignored it. Evans is an excellent selection and I actually made the Game Ball case for him after his first 100-yard game in Week Two. But Captain Comeback did it again – for the first time as a Buccaneer – and I just don't know how I can choose anyone else after his five-touchdown performance.
Let's start with the one negative: Chargers cornerback Michael Davis jumped an out in the first quarter and ended up with a 78-yard pick-six that gave the visitors a 14-7 lead. That contributed to the 24-7 hole the Buccaneers found themselves in with a minute left in the first half.
But Ali Marpet on Monday said that Brady remained positive on the sideline throughout the entire game, and his presence surely had to bring confidence that a comeback was possible to everyone on the offense. After all, nobody in NFL history has lead more comeback wins from 10-plus point deficits than Brady. After the game, Head Coach Bruce Arians said the 2019 Buccaneers would have lost that game by 20 points. What do we think is the biggest difference in the 2020 Buccaneers team?
After Ndamukong Suh made the momentum-swinging play of the game, forcing a fumble by running back Joshua Kelly inside the Chargers' 10-yard line, Brady caught fire. He made sure the Bucs got seven points out of that turnover and not three by scrambling up in the pocket and improvising a back-of-the-end-zone throw to Evans. He then threw touchdown passes to O.J. Howard, Scotty Miller and Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the second half. Brady led four straight TD drives, followed by a field goal drive, twice taking back the lead after the Chargers pulled ahead.
I'm going a little long here, so let me bullet-point out the rest:
• Tied a team-record with 5 TD passes
• Tied for the second-most games in league history with 300+ yards and 5 TD passes
• Became the winningest player in NFL history, passing Adam Vinatieri with 222 victories
• Led his 34th career comeback win from 10+ points down
• Led the second-biggest comeback in franchise history (tied)
• Threw for 263 yards in the second half alone
• Was Tom Brady
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win over the Chargers in Week Four? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below.