Holding a slim 3-point lead with 9 minutes remaining and having nearly given up a 28-10 advantage, fears of the Falcons getting payback for last year’s comeback win appeared legitimate. However, Tom Brady created some breathing room with his fifth touchdown pass of the day, while Mike Edwards slammed the door shut with an incredibly rare feat: two pick sixes within minutes of each other.
They headline our top performers, and we give punter Bradley Pinion a little love as well for another excellent kicking performance.
Defensive Top Performer: S Mike Edwards
We start off with Edwards, who instantly tied for the league lead in interceptions with several other players while putting this game on ice. It was a showcase for one of Tampa’s more unheralded defenders, as he became just the 10th player in NFL history to have two pick sixes in the same quarter — he’s the first since 1997, when the Jets’ Otis Smith did it against, ironically enough, the Bucs.
When it comes to two pick sixes over the course of an entire game, it’s the first occurrence in the league since 2012. Edwards also becomes just the third player in Buccaneers history to pull it off. He joins Ronde Barber and Dwight Smith, who did it in Super Bowl 37.
So needless to say, all of that made the third-year safety out of Kentucky a shoo-in for this spot, and it should guarantee him NFC Defensive Player of the Week as well. And if that wasn’t enough, he got a game ball from Bruce Arians. Can’t have a much better day than that.
Offensive Top Performer: QB Tom Brady
Brady filleted yet another overmatched defense from start to finish. He led a handful of pristine drives, completed with two touchdowns apiece to Rob Gronkowski (giving him four already) and Mike Evans, who is in fact still alive and well despite several social media meltdowns from fantasy football managers last week.
Brady finished the game with 24 completions for 276 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He now has a league-leading nine scores, and it’s the best start of his career. It eclipses seven TDs in Weeks 1-2 in 2011 (finished with 39), seven in 2015 (led the league with 36) and six in 2007 (finished with a personal-best, NFL-high 50). At 44 years old, we might seriously be talking about Brady breaking his career-high in TD passes that he set when he was 30.
Here’s another astounding fact that isn’t necessarily Brady-centric but certainly laced with heavy Brady influence: The Buccaneers put up 44+ points for the fifth time in the past year. The franchise had scored 44+ a total of five times in the regular season of their 44-year history before that. Again, Brady is 44 years old.
You have your Powerball number, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s only two games in, but I may have to give Brady the offensive top performer mantle in perpetuity if he keeps laughing in Father Time’s face like this.
Special Teams Top Performer: P Bradley Pinion
In this domain, we acknowledge kickers as people. And Pinion was indeed a very important person in Sunday’s victory.
Granted he didn’t have many serious competitors to this title, but Pinion followed up his NFC Special Teams Player of the Week win with another critical punt. Ahead just 3 early in the 4th quarter, Pinion dropped a kick inside the 10 and had it downed at the 4-yard line, putting the Falcons in an incredibly tight position.
From there, the defense then forced a huge three and out, which led to a 43-yard scoring drive that Brady capped with his final score to Chris Godwin.
Overall, Pinion continued his torrid start to the season with a 47.3 yards per kick average, with two of his four punts downed inside the 20. If you have to punt at all, that’s what you want to see.