There was no bigger story in the NFL in Week Four than Tom Brady's return to Gillette Stadium to take on his former team. And that story had a happy ending when the Buccaneers came back for a 19-17 win over the New England Patriots and Brady's long-time partner-in-dynasty, coach Bill Belichick.
Brady's numbers from the game weren't overwhelming but he did lead the Bucs on the crunch-time drive that put Ryan Succop in position for a 48-yard field goal and the game's final points. It was the 50th game-winning drive of Brady's career and a fitting way for him to get the win against Belichick's hard-battling squad. Given the backstory and the end result, he's an obvious candidate for the Game Ball from Sunday's win.
But as Head Coach Bruce Arians stressed late Sunday night, the game was about much more than Brady and Belichick, and there were plenty of other key contributors to the Bucs' narrow win. Arians mentioned 22 players on each side "fighting their ass off," a nod to how many starters there are in a game, but it was really more like 45 per team, and on the Bucs' side some of them were definitely not starters when the night, or the season, began.
Rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka had his first two sacks and led a pass-rush that was much more effective than it had been in the first three weeks. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. had a hand in both of the Bucs' takeaways before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion. On offense, the Patriots dared the Bucs to run the ball and Leonard Fournette responded with 91 yards on 22 carries as well as 47 more yards on three receptions. Mike Evans and Antonio Brown had seven catches each. The offensive line allowed just one sack of Brady and blocked for a rushing attack that averaged 4.0 yards per tote. Succop made four of five field goals, including that game-winner.
So there are options besides Mr. Brady for the Bucs' Week Four Game Ball, even if he is the sentimental choice. As we do after each Buccaneer win, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are going to sift through those options and present the options that we consider most deserving for the award. We alternate the picking order after each win and are not allowed to duplicate the other's pick. This week, Carmen has the honors. You can follow the link below to vote in this week's Game Ball poll…and possibly win some prizes if you do!
Carmen Vitali: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
It was hard not to go with the sentimental choice in Brady here but if this is performance based, I can't say enough about how impressive Tryon-Shoyinka was on Sunday night. Even going back to the preseason – the rookie continues to make steady improvements each week. Remember how his first sack was called back on a (questionable) roughing the passer penalty? Well, he corrected his technique, learned from it as he said he would, and came up with a preseason sack the next week.
In the first two games of the regular season, he played around a quarter of the team's defensive snaps (while also playing special teams, mind you) but then with the injury to outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, he's had to step into an increased role. That began last week in Los Angeles against a tough Rams' offensive line where he had a couple tackles and managed to break up a pass.
Fast forward to New England Sunday night and with a full week of preparing to be the starter under his belt, Tryon-Shoyinka managed his first (and second) NFL sack on a fellow 2021 classmate becoming the first Bucs' rookie to have a multi-sack game since Devin White in 2019. Tryon-Shoyinka had a total of four quarterback hits and then added two tackles for loss just for fun, apparently, too. More than that, you can see his understanding of the defense improving – he was lined up very creatively as part of a an aggressive attack by the Bucs' defense, even rushing from a box safety spot at one point.
In perhaps the most impressive move of the night, he then got to the podium after the game and gave his second sack to defensive lineman Vita Vea, saying Vea deserved all the credit on the play for absolutely bull-dozing the left side of the Patriots' line in order for Tryon-Shoyinka to have a path inside to quarterback Mac Jones. If you watch, it was a stunt by the line that pretty much only works if you have a guy like Vea, who can take on multiple blockers. The Bucs were in a four-man front, with Vita Vea in the three-tech and Tryon-Shoyinka aligned outside in the five. Vea then occupies the left guard and tackle as Tryon-Shoyinka stays patient before bouncing behind Vea to the inside gap with no one in front of him but the quarterback. Tryon-Shoyinka also talked about what he saw all week studying the New England offense and knew the Bucs' defense would have an opportunity against a pocket passer like Jones. So yeah, he had a pretty good idea Jones was going to be there by the time he got inside. Former Washington 'Dawgs' working together – you love to see it.
And if you still need more convincing, more than the pass rush was Tryon-Shoyinka's play against the run as part of a collective that allowed -1 yards rushing. That's right. The Patriots had negative rushing yards in Sunday night's game and that's a franchise record for rushing yards allowed.
Not bad for a guy playing in his fourth NFL game ever, I'd say.
Scott Smith: Tom Brady
Yeah, I'm not going to overthink this.
This is not an argument that you try to make with numbers. There was nothing remarkable about Brady's stat line on Sunday night, especially considering some of the absolutely huge games he has already put up in about 25 games as a Buccaneer. His 267 passing yards tie for his 147th-best total in the regular season. His 51.16% completion rate was the 280th-best single-game mark of his career. He didn't throw a touchdown pass for just the second time since joining the Buccaneers. Most weeks, we'd look at Brady's line and quickly move on to two other candidates.
But you know what Brady DID do? He went into the most anticipated regular-season game the NFL has seen in years, he went up against his former fellow dynasty builder, Bill Belichick, and he came out on top. Belichick didn't make it easy, but when the game was on the line, Brady came through with his 50th game-winning drive. It's what he does.
Forget the stats. Think about what a Game Ball is, what it means. It's a keepsake to memorialize a special game. Sometimes, that's as simple as a guy getting four sacks or rushing for 200 yards. Other times it's because everybody in the NFL and everybody following the NFL is watching you to see how you will do in an ultimate showdown like the league has never seen before and may never see again. Alright, maybe that only happens once, but Brady was up for the challenge, physically and emotionally.
Let me put it another way: We just witnessed the Brady vs. Belichick Game that the entire league has been waiting for since the schedule came out in the spring…actually since Brady left the Patriots after a 20-year, six-championship run. And Brady's side won. Can you imagine NOT giving him the game ball after this one?