The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 29-25, on Sunday when Baker Mayfield hit Cade Otton on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining. The game wasn't truly over, however, until slot corner Christian Izien tackled Drake London at the Buccaneers' three-yard line as time expired.
Those were huge plays, of course, by Mayfield, Otton and Izien. In contrast to narrow losses in the first Tampa Bay-Atlanta meeting of the season as well as contests in Buffalo and Houston, it was the Buccaneers who made the big plays at the key moments in Week 14. Carlton Davis had an interception at the Atlanta eight that set up the Bucs' first touchdown. Chris Godwin had an enormous 32-yard catch on third-and-10 to keep the game-winning drive alive. Antoine Winfield Jr's. strip-sack led to a Patrick O'Connor safety. Rachaad White took a little screen pass through the heart of the Atlanta defense for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Bucs a nine-point lead in the third quarter
Who had the most big plays, or the most impactful ones. That's what Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I will be debating 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 can be important in some weeks, we are alternating the order of our choices from win to win and it's my turn to go first. So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions:
Scott Smith: RB Rachaad White
To be honest, my heart says Antoine Winfield Jr., but I chose him last week and I don't want to go that well too often. Winfield seems to make a huge play every single week, so I'm sure I'll get another chance to sing his praises.
Instead, I'll go with Rachaad White, who was responsible for 46.6% of the Bucs' total net yardage in the game. He ran for 102 yards on 25 carries and also caught two passes for 33 yards, including the aforementioned 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown. As both head coaches attested to after the game, the Falcons' defensive strategy was clearly to take Mike Evans out of the game, and that led to a lot of two-high safety looks. As Todd Bowles noted, the Falcons essentially dared Tampa Bay and it's 30th-ranked rushing attack to run the ball, and White made sure the Bucs were able to do it.
What made White's efforts on Sunday particularly impressive, in my opinion, was his consistency from carry to carry. He gained at least four yards on 15 different carries, including one where he recovered a fumble on a bad snap. In the second half, he ran 16 times (including the fumble recovery) and got at least four yards on 10 of them. One of the six on which he did not was still a great and highly important play, as he burrowed for two yards on fourth-and-one on the game-winning drive.
White has now turned in three straight games with over 100 yards from scrimmage. Don't look now but he quietly ranks fourth among all NFL running backs in yards from scrimmage, with 1,164. I think it's time we give Rachaad White a little love. A Week 14 Game Ball ought to do it.
Brianna Dix: S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Hard to disagree with Scott's choice, specifically on the offensive side of the football. So, I am going to go with Bucs' safety Antoine Winfield Jr. on the defensive side. Against the Falcons on Sunday afternoon, Winfield Jr. was all over the field, making plays from sideline to sideline. I cannot even count how many times I jotted his name down in my notes or heard his name over the loudspeaker in the press box. Winfield Jr. set the tone on defense, recording a sack-fumble on Desmond Ridder in the end zone. His fumble resulted in a safety for defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor.
Winfield Jr.'s four forced fumbles in 2023 are tied for the third-most in the NFL. He is the first defensive back with at least four forced fumbles and at least three fumble recoveries in a single season since Marshon Lattimore accomplished the feat in 2018. The Bucs held the Falcons to just five-of-13 on third down (38.5%) in Sunday's game, marking the sixth-consecutive game that Tampa Bay has held their opponent below 40% on third down and Winfield Jr. has played a significant role in that accolade, stalling opponent's drives.
Winfield Jr. has been the Bucs' most consistent defender in 2023 and on Sunday, he showcased those talents once again. He also notched four tackles and a quarterback hit on Ridder to pair with the strip sack. The timely-play aficionado lit up the field with elite play recognition, anticipation of breaks in space, textbook tackling/ pursuit and outstanding body control. Winfield Jr's ballhawking twitch and knack for punching the ball out built momentum for the Bucs and changed the trajectory of the game. He certainly deserves his flowers, not just for the Falcons' game, but for his outstanding play during the 2023 campaign in its entirety.
Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' win over Atlanta? Click here to cast your vote.