The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' equipment managers should probably print up a couple Game Balls with Antoine Winfield, Jr.'s name on them, because it looks like the advanced-beyond-his-years rookie is going to put himself in that conversation on a weekly basis.
Winfield had another big game in Denver on Saturday, starting out at safety and then moving into the slot after Sean Murphy-Bunting left with an injury. Winfield recorded a sack for the second game in a row and also notched a pass defensed on a blitz out of the slot to go with his six overall tackles.
But was that performance enough to get him the Game Ball in Week Three. Let's see. As will be the case after every Buccaneers victory in 2020, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I will each nominate one player who we think should receive that honor. You will then get an opportunity to vote in the poll below, either choosing one of our nominees or deciding the Game Ball should go elsewhere.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 3 matchup against Denver. .
Since we're not duplicating picks, order matters, and we'll be switching back and forth all season. Carmen went first last week, so now it's my turn.
Scott Smith: QB Tom Brady
Well, since I've got poll position I have to take this opportunity to be the first one to nominate the G.O.A.T for the game ball.
The Buccaneers' offense was productive, particularly in the first half, but most importantly it was mistake-free. The win over Denver marked the first time this season the Bucs have avoided turning the ball over once, and a lot of that had to do with Brady's precise passing. At this point, any worries about his ability to get the ball downfield should be long gone, as he continued to be on the money with deep balls, hitting on passes of 30 or more yards to Scotty Miller, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin.
Brady spread the ball around to eight different targets, all of whom caught at least two passes. With Denver bracketing Mike Evans with double coverage throughout most of the afternoon, Brady turned to his inside options and got great production out of tight ends Howard and Rob Gronkowski (nine catches for 97 yards combined) and Godwin out of the slot.
Brady also made the right reads on third down more often than not, putting the ball in the hands of his pass-catchers where they could advance it beyond the sticks. The Bucs were eight of 16 on third downs, including six of nine in the first half.
Brady was sharp on Sunday, he was in sync with his receivers to a greater degree than the previous two weeks and, simply put, he was in command of the game. It's what the Buccaneers were expecting when they signed the greatest of all time in free agency in March. Said Bruce Arians after the game: "We put a lot on him today, and he delivered."
Carmen Vitali: OLB Shaq Barrett
After that defensive effort, how could I not go to that side of the ball? And especially the guy returning to Denver like the ex that got away and glowed up. Barrett said following the game that returning to the place he spent the first five years of his career hadn't really hit him until he got into the stadium. That's when the emotions started to run Mile High (see what I did there?).
It showed, too.
Not only did Barrett record his first (and second) sack of the season during the game, he also got a safety. It was the Bucs' first since 2016. Oh, and he also led the team with three tackles for loss.
I'm really not sure you could ask for a better homecoming if you're Barrett, can you? I'm going to try not to be greedy.
Honestly though, it's a little hard not to be with how dominant this defense has been through three games. They had a total of six sacks on Sunday thanks a ton to the interior pressure generated by guys like Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston and Vita Vea, who had his first sack of the season in Denver. They ate up blockers in the middle, which allowed favorable matchups on the edge all game long. Whether it was Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul or safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. coming, they all got home because their trench-dwelling teammates were so effective.
But no one capitalized on that more than Barrett and for that – he deserves game ball.
Now, from those two choices, who do you think should get the Game Ball for Tampa Bay's win over Carolina in Week Two? If you think that neither Carmen nor I nominated the best choice, you can also choose "Other." Vote in the poll below.