When you score 38 unanswered points and take down one of the NFC's last two undefeated teams by a four-touchdown margin, there is going to be a lot of praise to pass around. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers certainly had no shortage of stars shining bright on Sunday, particularly on defense, when they shut down a Green Bay Packers' offense that had been averaging 38 points a game and won going away, 38-10.
Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards each snagged picks off Aaron Rodgers, who hadn't thrown a single interception in his first 153 passes of 2020. Carlton Davis broke up four passes, including one that led to Edwards' interception. Lavonte David and Devin White weren't literally all over the field, but it sure felt that way at times. Ndamukong Suh sacked Rodgers and engaged in some friendly conversation with his former NFC North buddy along the way.
On offense, Chris Godwin returned and immediately made an impact in the passing game with five catches. Rob Gronkowski had his biggest day as a Buccaneer. Tyler Johnson scored his first NFL touchdown. Ronald Jones became just the fourth Tampa Bay running back to rush for over 100 yards in three consecutive games. And Tom Brady directed the whole thing like a maestro. The offensive line didn't allow a sack and blocked for a rushing attack that rang up a season-high 158 yards.
Wow, there are more options than I even realized!
After each Buccaneer victory this season, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are going to put one player each up for a vote by the fans as to who deserves this 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 (that would make for a pretty bad poll at the bottom), we're alternating the order of selection and it's my turn to go first.
Scott Smith: CB Jamel Dean
Given how thoroughly the Buccaneers shut Rodgers down for three quarters, I have to go defense here. I'm sorely tempted by several players who filled up more robust stat lines than Dean, but I can't look past the one big play that completely turned the game around. At this point, it's the Buccaneers' defensive play of the year.
For two drives and almost the entirety of the first quarter, Rodgers repeatedly extended plays, escaping what would become a full 60 minutes of heavy pressure to make improvised plays, often on third down. The Bucs got the Packers into four third downs in the first period, three of them of seven or more yards, and Rodgers converted three of them to keep two drives alive that resulted in a field goal, a touchdown and a 10-point lead.
Things changed in the second quarter, and Dean got it started. On the first third down of Green Bay's third drive, Dean cut in front of Davante Adams along the left sideline, intercepted Rodgers' pass and returned it untouched for a 32-yard pick six. Here's how Dean described the play, with glee evident in his voice:
"When I saw the formation, then I saw how everything started to develop, I'm like, 'I have to make this play, because I know what's coming. Once I saw him throw it, I'm like, 'Yeah, it's mine.'"
Dean finished the game with two tackles to go along with his gigantic interception. Yes, you can find Buccaneer defenders with more impressive overall stat lines, and they will definitely be worthy, too, but I have to go with the man who turned it all around and started the 38-point landslide.
Carmen Vitali: ILB Devin White
Dean is an excellent choice - and it's the choice Bruce Arians made after the game so I'm going to have to make a pretty strong case here, I guess. Luckily, that's not hard with White. And actually, I could have just as easily put Lavonte David here and probably used the same description. These two were everywhere, as Scott alluded to above, but only one of those guys said 'unleash me' to the media and called his shot as a second-year player. You can argue that David can call his shot on any given day, but I want to get live for 45 finally getting home. Not only did White record his first sack of the season, he also had yet another double-digit tackle game and made it hard to choose anyone but him for this, even though that means two defensive players when the offense put up 31 points of their own.
I'll be honest, even I was skeptical about White wanting to be 'unleashed' on a quarterback that had only been sacked three times coming into Sunday's game. The odds were just against it, right? Well, White shut me up with all that odds talk in a hurry. So did David, for that matter. And Suh. And Jason Pierre-Paul, though his solo sack came on backup quarterback Tim Boyle once the Packers had pulled Rodgers for his own protection. Yeah, the Bucs made the Packers do that. In fact, White may have been the nail in the coffin there, getting his 11-yard sack on Rodgers in the fourth quarter. Rodgers didn't come back in after that.
White also had two hits on the Green Bay quarterback and three tackles for loss in the game, too. Going into the game, White knew a lot of responsibility would fall on his shoulders in containing the Packers' top-five run game and their dual-threat running backs. Lead back Aaron Jones was held to just 15 yards on 10 carries and he only got 26 yards receiving, to boot. It was a well-rounded team win, yes, but it was a well-rounded defensive effort, too. How can you not like a guy that says this following an individual performance like that:
"Yeah, I mean we always pride ourselves – you know we have great stars on the offensive side of the ball, but like I said in the beginning of the season, we want this team to be a defensive team because at the end of the day we want to be the guys on the field when it's crunch time," said White. "We want to be the ones to be able to make that play or get us off the field and get our offense the ball back. I think we showed just that. It's just a win. We just have to build off of it. We have to go back to work, because, you know, we have another great opponent coming up that has been doing great things. I think our whole thing is just communication and just playing our ball because we have a lot of guys that can get after it everywhere whether it's in the passing game, or the run game or getting after the quarterback."
And White did all three and more.
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win over the Packers in Week Six? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below.