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Mike Evans or Shaq Barrett? | Week Two Game Ball

Brianna Dix and Scott Smith nominate two stars from Sunday's win over Chicago but fans will make the final decision in a vote offering four candidates


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their 2023 home opener on Sunday, smothering the Chicago Bears by a 27-17 score, and it was the kind of game that is definitely a crowd-pleaser. There were shockingly-awesome plays in all three phases of the game, from Mike Evans's 70-yard catch-and-run to Shaq Barrett's one-handed pick-six to a Jake Camarda punt that may have gone over the moon.

The Bucs' offense rolled up 437 yards and didn't commit a single turnover (again), so it's clear the quarterback of that attack, Baker Mayfield, had a great day. Evans, now 10 seasons into his NFL career, still had one of his best days ever. Running back Rachaad White ran for a lot of tough yards, particularly on the Bucs' first touchdown.

Tampa Bay's defense held Justin Fields and company to 236 yards and sacked the quarterback six times. Rookie Christian Izien had an interception for the second time in as many games. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka burst around the end for two sacks. Jumbo defensive tackle Vita Vea showed off his pass-rushing skills. Antoine Winfield Jr. was once again all over the field.

That's the playing field that Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I must navigate as we debate our second "Game Ball" of the new season. After every Buccaneer victory this season, we are tasked with nominating two players for that singular honor. 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 place your vote.

Since we can't duplicate votes and getting the first pick could be important, we are going to alternate the order of our choices from week to week. Bri went first last week, so now it's my turn.

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

Scott Smith: WR Mike Evans

Ladies and gentleman, Mike Evans is feeling it in the Buccaneers' new offense. He spent all training camp just sort of dominating in practice and then gushing about how much he liked the team's new system and what it was asking him to do. In the first game of the season, a win at Minnesota, he led the team with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown but otherwise left a couple of possible big plays on the field.

There was nothing left in the tank on Sunday against the Bears, and it was clear on this swelteringly hot afternoon that Evans was giving it his absolute all. The result: six catches for 171 yards and a touchdown, which ranks as his eighth-highest single-game total ever. In the second quarter he made a leaping catch around midfield and then just ran through the rest of the defense to get all the way down to the seven. The 70-yard play was the second-longest of his career and it set up the touchdown that put the Bucs in the lead for good.

I actually think his 36-yard catch in the third quarter was more fun. He leaped to make the grab, came down and just short of spin-shrugged off an attempted tackle, barely staying inbounds and darting up the sideline for 36 yards. That same drive ended in his 32-yard touchdown catch on third-and-14. I would argue that his 70-yarder and his touchdown were the two most important plays of the game for the Buccaneers.

When you rack up 171 yards and it's only your eighth best game ever, then yeah, you've set the bar pretty high. Mike's got plenty of Game Balls, you might be thinking. I say he deserves another one, and that it is a harbinger of some very good things to come this season.

Brianna Dix: OLB Shaq Barrett

Vintage Mike Evans was certainly on display against the Chicago Bears, but I am going to go with the person who iced the victory at Raymond James Stadium: Shaquil Barrett. Barrett, who was one of the NFL's top sack producers from 2019-21, accumulated 3.0 sacks in 2022 before a midseason Achilles tendon tear prematurely ended his campaign. Barrett worked without limitations during training camp and reached a momentous milestone against the Bears. He recorded a sack on Justin Fields and a pick-six with just over two minutes to play in the Week Two contest.

On the aforementioned play, Barrett initially stunted inside. He dissected the play and read Fields' eyes, subsequently dropping back in the throwing lane. Barrett twisted and caught the ball one-handed. He returned it for a touchdown, as Bucs teammates rallied behind and pushed him into the end zone for the score. That stellar play put the exclamation mark on the win, capping off an impressive six-sack day by Todd Bowles' crew. Barrett played lights out and consistently disrupted at the line of scrimmage, keeping Fields contained. Through unimaginable tragedy suffered during the offseason to rehabilitation, Barrett showcased his mental fortitude through fast play against Chicago. Barrett sets the tone up front, and Sunday's matchup served as evidence. He is well-deserving of the Game Ball for many reasons and his Week Two play will likely prove to be the norm throughout the 2023 slate.

Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' big win in Minnesota? Click here to cast your vote.

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