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Mike Evans or Antoine Winfield Jr.? | Week 13 Game Ball

Brianna Dix and Scott Smith make their nominations for who should get the Game Ball after the Bucs 21-18 win over the Panthers on Sunday…Fans will vote to pick the winner


When one player accounts for half of his team's offensive output, turns in perhaps the single biggest play of his team's season and establishes a number of NFL standards in the process, it's not hard to pinpoint who the star of the game was.

But you know what? Mike Evans wasn't the only player to get a Game Ball from Head Coach Todd Bowles in the locker room after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 13 win over Carolina. Bowles handed out two Game Balls, also calling attention to safety Ryan Neal, who stepped up and played linebacker when the Bucs were all out of them. So this matter is still up for debate.

There was running back Rachaad White, who once again counted for more than 100 yards from scrimmage, scored a touchdown and had the game-sealing run on third-and-one. There was Yaya Diaby, who recorded his fifth sack in the last six games. Antoine Winfield Jr. also had a sack…not to mention an interception and three passes defensed. J.J. Russell made his first career start with both Lavonte David and Devin White out and acquitted himself nicely, even notching his first career sack. You could even get cute and give it to the offensive line as a unit, considering the team ran for a season-high 128 yards and Baker Mayfield was sacked just once.

So, even though there seems to be an obvious answer, we ask you to reserve your vote until after Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I have debated the issue. After every Buccaneer victory this season, we are asked to nominate two players for the honor of receiving our (fictional) Game Ball. Those two are then included in a list of four candidates…and then the final decision is up to you. After you review the cases we make for two of those players, you will find a link at the bottom of the page to cast your ballot.

Since we can't duplicate votes and getting the first pick could be, uh, sort of important in certain weeks, we are alternating the order of our choices from win to win. It's Brianna's turn to go first. So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions.

Brianna Dix: WR Mike Evans

Well, as you alluded to above Scott, I am going to go with Mike Evans on this one. His 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown energized the team and sparked the victory over the Panthers. The score came one play after the Panthers had taken the lead on a Chuba Hubbard one-yard touchdown rush. Evans used a stutter-step maneuver to bait the defensive back into believing he was going to run a corner route, then cut inside at the stem, gaining leverage. From there, Evans turned on the jets and raced to the end zone, going airborne in a Superman-esque motion to cross the pylon.

Evans finished the game with highs in receptions (seven), receiving yards (162) and receiving touchdowns (one). His 162 receiving yards put Evans at 1,012 yards on the season, extending his own NFL record of consecutive seasons with 1,000-or-more receiving yards to begin a career to 10. His streak of 10-consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards became the second-longest such streak in league history, trailing only Jerry Rice (11).

Evans is in rare air and has cemented his legacy in the modern era with a first-ballot Hall of Fame resumé. His sensational play against the Panthers ignited the offense and provided the home team with momentum. Evans was also willing to make the dirty, contested catches in the ballgame to move the chains. He accounted for over half of the Bucs' 322 total yards of offense and reached another career milestone in the process. The touchdown catch was the 91st of Evans' career, moving him into a tie with Davante Adams and Isaac Bruce for the 13th-most in the NFL record books. He is not only one of the greatest Buccaneers who has ever stepped foot on the field but one of the best receivers in NFL history. On Sunday in Week 13, Evans put on a vintage production between the hash marks. With deceptive speed, physical dominance, strong hands and subtle separation, Evans set the tone.

Scott Smith: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

I think there's a good chance that Mike will win NFC Offensive Player of the Week for those aforementioned exploits, and that's a real award that probably comes with a certificate or something. Given that, can't we use this Game Ball to celebrate another player who, in just about any other game, would be a slam-dunk choice? At least think it over.

Let me point this out: Even with everything Evans did to contribute to the Bucs' much-needed win, the final margin of victory was still just three points. The Panthers had the ball with three-and-a-half minutes to play and a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. Think of the Houston game. Who stopped that from happening this time around? Antoine Winfield Jr. On fourth-and-one from the Carolina 40, Bryce Young broke out of the pocket and scrambled right, in the process motioning for Adam Thielen to turn upfield and get open for a deep shot that probably would have put the Panthers in field goal range. However, Winfield saw what was happening and dashed over from his safety position to leap in front of Thielen for the interception, tapping his toes to stay inbounds.

That wasn't the only time Winfield ended a Panthers drive. He did it all day. In the second quarter, he combined with Yaya Diaby to stop running back Milers Sanders for a two-yard loss on third-and-one. On Carolina's next drive, he combined with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to drop wide receiver Jonathan Mingo 10 yards short of the sticks on third-and-19. Right before halftime, he broke up another deep pass intended for Thielen on fourth-and-10 (the Panthers didn't punt after that one but they did just throw the ball away to kill the last three seconds of the half). In the third quarter, he blitzed and dropped Young for a nine-yard sack on third-and-two. Later in that period he broke up a pass intended for wide receiver D.J. Chark on third-and-10.

Are you getting the picture here? Almost every time the Buccaneers needed a drive-ending sack, it was Winfield who took care of business. Take away even one or two of those plays and the outcome could have been much less satisfying.

Winfield finished the game with a team-leading eight tackles to go with his sack, interception, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and three passes defensed. He was the first player in the entire NFL to have a sack and an interception and three passes defensed in a single game in almost three years.

Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' win over Carolina? Click here to cast your vote.

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 13 matchup vs. the Carolina Panthers.

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