The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stormed back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Arizona Cardinals, 19-16, on Christmas night at State Farm Stadium. Afterwards, Head Coach Todd Bowles said the team's fourth quarter, which followed three periods of relatively lackluster ball, was a "total effort, "noting that there were necessary stops on defense to go with Tom Brady's yet-again comeback heroics.
That makes choosing the right player to receive the Game Ball for this week's much-needed victory a difficult task. The Buccaneers only scored one touchdown and only forced two turnovers, one of them on a Hail Mary to end the first half. The Bucs' defense only created one sack and nobody had a 100-yard rushing game or a 100-yard receiving game. So who stood out above the rest?
That's the question for Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and me, Scott Smith. We are tasked with nominating two players for the singular honor of our Game Ball after each game that the Buccaneers win. 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. It's my turn to go first.
So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions.
Scott Smith: RB Leonard Fournette
On an evening in which nothing really worked on a consistent basis for the Buccaneers' offense, running back Leonard Fournette put in work. Tampa Bay finished the night – which included most of an extra quarter – with 396 yards of offense, and Fournette provided 162 of it, or almost half.
Rookie RB Rachaad White started the game and 53 yards from scrimmage of his own, but as often happens when the Bucs are trailing and things are getting dicey, the team – and Tom Brady – leans on Fournette to keep the offense moving in critical times. He had only 18 yards from scrimmage before halftime but then became the focal point of the Bucs attack in the final two-plus quarters, getting 20 carries for 72 yards and catching nine passes for 90 more.
Now, a good number of Fournette's 68 receptions on the season are of the last-second dump-off variety, often resulting in four or five yards and helping to the move the sticks incrementally. That's certainly valuable, but on Sunday night Fournette turned in a much bigger play, one that may have been the difference between the Bucs winning and losing.
With the offense nearly incapable of producing chunk plays throughout the evening, Fournette took a swing pass out to the left with 11 minutes left and weaved his way through tacklers for a 44-yard gain. It was the Bucs' longest play of the game by almost a two-to-one margin. That put the Bucs into scoring range and Brady finished the march with a three-yard scoring pass to White to reduce Arizona's lead to three points with eight minutes to play. Fournette's catch-and-run was the play of the game, and in the end, he was the player of the game.
Brianna Dix: ILB Lavonte David
The Buccaneers rallied to victory in overtime after overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit on Christmas Night in Glendale. As you mentioned Scott, the majority of the game left much to be desired for Buccaneer fans; however, several players are deserving of recognition. You went offense with Leonard Fournette, so I am going to dive into the Bucs' defense. Each week provides a fresh slate for any player to have a breakout performance and against the Cardinals, that was inside linebacker Lavonte David.
David spearheaded the Buccaneers' defense with 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed. Anthony Nelson recorded the team's lone sack, Devin White notched a fumble recovery and three quarterback hits, while Sean Murphy-Bunting recorded two critical pass break-ups on third down.
David's read-and-react skills bolstered the defensive unit. From outpacing Keaontay Ingram to the boundary on an option pitch to cutting off Trace McSorley on a scramble, David became a menace covering the flats. He was consistently around the football throughout the Week 16 clash, putting the Cardinals behind the chains. David's instinctual play and sideline-to-sideline range were displayed in the team's 19-16 win at State Farm Stadium. For much of the evening, the Bucs' defense kept the team in the game as the offense failed to sustain drives or convert on short-yardage situations. David became a catalyst manning the second level. Vintage David was in full view on Christmas in prime-time.
Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' critical comeback win over the Cardinals? Click here to cast your vote.