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Mike Evans or Rob Gronkowski? | Week 18 Game Ball

Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski each had record-breaking games to finish off the regular season...Carmen Vitali and Scott Smith make their suggestions for this week's Game Ball vote

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Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' Week 18 thrashing of the Panthers? Vote now!

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw some improbable heroes emerge in critical victories down the stretch in 2021, such as Breshad Perriman with his overtime game-winner against the Bills and Cyril Grayson with his stunning touchdown catch to beat the Jets. In the regular-season finale against Carolina on Sunday, however, it was three well-established stars who led the way, as quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Mike Evans all had record-setting performances.

They weren't alone in driving the Buccaneers to a runaway 41-17 victory over the Panthers, however. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Le'Veon Bell and Scotty Miller all contributed to the scoring. The offensive line allowed a sack on Tampa Bay's first play of the game…and then no more the rest of the way. Andrew Adams and Antoine Winfield, Jr. were responsible for the Bucs' two takeaways, the former on an interception and the latter on a recovery of a fumble caused by Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Winfield and Anthony Nelson had the Bucs' two sacks of Sam Darnold.

Still, it was the long-time stars who shined the brightest Sunday and I have a feeling that one of them will win this week's fan vote for the Game Ball following the win over Carolina. As we have all season, Carmen and I will be offering our suggestions for that award. You then get to vote – with four total choices, actually – and you'll even qualify to win some cool prizes if you do. See the bottom of this article for all of that. Since we are not allowed to pick the same player, the order of selection sometimes matters and it's Carmen's turn to go first.

So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions.

Carmen Vitali: WR Mike Evans

You can't really go wrong here but I'm going to go with the homegrown guy that we've all watched succeed year after year. Evans has been the staple of this Buccaneers offense while going underrated on a league level for most of his eight seasons in the NFL. But he is one-of-one and that is indisputable.

On Sunday, Evans surpassed 1,000 yards for his eighth straight season to begin his career. That's extending his NFL record after he surpassed Hall of Famer Randy Moss's six last year.

His eight-straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more is the third-longest consecutive streak overall at any point in a player's career. He's tied with two other Hall of Famers in Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison, along with Torry Holt. Seems that Evans is on his way for making his own case for a gold jacket, if you ask me.

He also finished with the second-most receiving touchdowns of any player this season with 14. That bests his single-season career-high, which also happened to be a franchise record that was previously held by, well, him. That goes for touchdowns of any kind in team annals, by the way. Not just receiving touchdowns.

He scored two touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Panthers, which gave him his 16h multi-touchdown game of his career. That's tied for the second-most in the NFL since he entered it in 2014 and it's tied for the 16th-most in NFL history.

And this man didn't make the Pro Bowl…

Evans also provided the spark that the Bucs' offense needed after a very slow start to get on the board in the first half. On third down and 10, he nabbed a pass from Brady over the middle at about the 20-yard line and fought his way to midfield as the second-quarter was winding down. It set up a touchdown drive to give the Bucs their first lead of the game – one they would not relinquish for the rest of it.

Add into it that Evans is just an all-around great human. He jumped into the stands after his first touchdown of the day, giving the ball away yet again to a fan. And the kind of teammate he is, is unmatched, too.

"He's the guy and he's been very, very unselfish this year," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "That's what makes our receiver room so special is the way Mike leads that room and Chris [Godwin] leads that room. It's all about winning and just happy – I knew he get his 1,000 [yards] but he's a big-time player and a big-time person."

Scott Smith: TE Rob Gronkowski

With Evans off the board, it's pretty hard to separate the other two top candidates for the Game Ball, as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski collaborated on some of the game's biggest plays. They also both hit significant personal milestones during the game, just like Evans. Basically, I'm breaking the tie in Gronkowski's favor because I already wrote a story with Tom Brady in the headline. (Read it here; it has lots of cool charts, including one that suggests Brady should be the leading MVP candidate.)

What Gronkowski did in Sunday's regular-season finale continues to suggest that the Bucs are going to get peak Gronk in the playoffs, which is something they very, very much need. The 32-year-old wrecking ball of a tight end started this season extremely hot, with a pair of two-touchdown games in the first two weeks, but got derailed for much of the first half of the season by fractured ribs suffered in Week Three. When he came back to full-speed action in November he immediately had 71 and 123-yard outings and then another two touchdown performance in Atlanta. However, he and Brady seemed to lose some of their connection over the next three games, in which Gronkowski had just over 100 yards combined.

That's ancient history now that Gronkowski has finished the regular season with the first back-to-back 100-yard receiving games by a tight end in franchise history. On Sunday, he dominated the Panthers over the middle of the field to the tune of seven catches for a game-high for 137 yards. That's the second most single-game receiving yards ever recorded by a Buccaneer tight end, and just six yards shy of Calvin Magee's record. That also made Gronkowski the NFL's all-time recordholder in terms of 100-yard games by a tight end, as he got his 32nd and broke a tie with Tony Gonzalez. If Carmen can invoke gold jacket owners in support of her candidate, so can I!

I think Carmen is dead on that Evans' 37-yard catch-and-run near the end of the first half was the play that swung the game in the Bucs' favor. And Head Coach Bruce Arians called Breshad Perriman's 24-yard toe-dragging grab at the Carolina four less than a minute later the biggest play of the game. But you know who caught the two passes for 27 yards in between those two plays? You guessed it – Rob Gronkowski. After the Bucs scored a touchdown on that drive to take a 10-7 lead into halftime, Gronkowski started the first drive of the second half with catches of 42 and 19 yards. That led to Ke'Shawn's scoring run and that elusive before-and-after touchdown double-up that can swing games in a hurry.

So it was a prolific and record-breaking day for both Evans and Gronkowski, making them both worthy Game Ball candidates. And if you think it should be Brady instead, he's included in the choices for which you can vote along with safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. So now it's up to you.

Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' Week 18 thrashing of the Panthers? Vote now!

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