It’s likely safe to say last year’s 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears left everyone invested in Tampa Bay football feeling disgusted.
The Bears, in the midst of what was probably the least convincing 5-1 start in NFL history, snuck away with an ugly win that saw the Buccaneers commit several penalties, leave several points on the field, and get meme’d into oblivion after the infamous Tom Brady fourth down incident.
Going into this Week 7 rematch, most expected some retribution to be dished out. In the spirit of Halloween, we’ll quote the great Alfred Hitchcock. “Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”
Feel good about Sunday’s vengeance, Bucs fans, as the team fired on all cylinders to throttle the Bears, 38-3. Many players looked good, but we’ll point out just a few who stood out.
Offensive Top Performer: WR Mike Evans
We’ll forgive Evans for giving away Brady’s 600th career touchdown ball to some rando in the stands.
Mike Evans realizing he gave away Tom Brady’s 600th TD ball is the best part of this game. pic.twitter.com/ON8rHRo0lT— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 24, 2021
Evans tied a career high with three touchdown receptions as he generally dominated Jaylon Johnson, who came into the match-up allowing the lowest completion percentage in man coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He made plays at all three levels of the field, snagging 6 balls for 76 yards, and he’s now only four scores away from passing the beloved Mike Alstott as the franchise touchdown leader.
A bonafide Buccaneers legend with plenty of tread left on the tires, Evans continues to be an offensive catalyst.
I guess we’ll also give a shoutout to Brady for becoming the first player to throw 600 career touchdown passes. In a vacuum, just another perfectly average four-touchdown, mistake-free day for No. 12.
Chris Godwin was excellent as well, putting up 8 catches for 111 yards and 1 score to lead the team.
Defensive Top Performer: EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul
JPP will never be accused of being soft, as he has played through a litany of nagging injuries to stay on the field and lend his boundless energy to this unit.
This season has been a struggle, but he put together his best game so far. He harassed rookie QB Justin Fields constantly in the first half, collecting two sacks and forcing a fumble. Hopefully, he’ll only continue to gain strength in his bum shoulder going forward while remaining impactful week to week.
Shaq Barrett also notched a sack and a forced fumble, which set up a scoring drive for the offense. He’s been much better these past few weeks following a subpar three weeks to open the year.
We’ll give nods to a trio of secondary players as well. Dee Delaney notched his first career interception to set up Tampa’s second touchdown, while Jordan Whitehead got his first pick of 2021 to halt the Bears in the redzone. And finally we have Antoine Winfield Jr., who came back from a concussion to set the tone immediately for the defense by sacking Fields and causing a fumble on the first drive of the contest.
Special Teams Top Performer: KR/PR Jaelon Darden
The speedy rookie made an immediate impression in his first game as the primary returner after the Bucs opted to demote Jaydon Mickens.
On the first punt, Darden took the kick at his 25 and darted through Chicago’s coverage unit for 43 yards to set up the offense at the Bears’ 32 yard line. As of publishing, that’s the longest punt return in the NFL this season.
The electric play helped set the tone for the entire evening. It’s especially impressive given Tampa has not seen that kind of spark in this facet of the game for some time. The last time a Buccaneers returner took a punt back for 40+ yards was...Bernard Reedy in 2017!
Darden also contributed to the offense with one carry for 11 yards on an end-around. Opportunities as a receiver will come far and few in between, but maximizing his touches will only help his case as time goes on.