Football is about will. The will to endure pain, exhaustion, overcome obstacles – all in the name of winning the game. On Sunday, the Bucs’ secondary will face an opponent that they know far too well, in a battle of ultimate will.
Tampa Bay has not allowed a passing touchdown in the past three games and Saints QB Drew Brees holds the record for consecutive games with a passing TD at 48, breaking Johnny Unitas’ record that stood for 52 years.
Always a model of class and character, Brees said in a conference call Wednesday with Tampa Bay media members that the record is both special and unique because it is shared with many teammates over the four years it took to eclipse Unitas’ 47 games with a consecutive touchdown pass.
“Well anytime a record stands for 52 years, you figure it’s probably pretty hard,” Brees said. “I’d say the unique thing about that record is it spans over the course of a couple seasons, it’s not like it’s a single-season record. It’s something that for Johnny U it was I believe five seasons – ’56 to’60 – and they were playing 11 games a year in those days. Obviously now, this’ll span for us since ’09 so ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, ‘12 – four teams, four seasons were a part of that record. So there’s so many people that were a part of that, had a hand in that, so I think it’s what makes it so unique as well.”
The Buccaneers defense would like to end Brees’ streak at 48. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has allowed a lot of passing yardage, despite three games without a passing TD.
Brees said the key to the Bucs defense is that it has worked together as a cohesive unit.
“Yeah, well, they’ve got a lot of very athletic guys that are just talented and have some good cover skills," Brees said. "They do a great job getting pressure on the quarterback with not only their four-man rush, but in their pressures, so the quarterback is having to get the ball out a little sooner than they want so that certainly helps on the backend.
“They just got a talented crew back there. You got the leadership of Ronde Barber and his experience and you got the young, talented guys like (Mark) Barron, of course (Aqib) Talib – I know he’s out but, Eric Wright was a big free agent signing I know, and you got some other young guys that have been productive so all around it’s a very solid group. It’s all working together though, you could be really good on the backend but if you’re not getting pressure on the quarterback or they got all day to throw and they see who’s got all day to get open that can affect the whole thing. So I think just the defense as a whole they’re playing well and it shows.”
That big agent signing, Eric Wright, has played against Brees as a member of the Lions and Browns and spoke with PewterReport.com about the challenges Brees brings to a defense.
“He’s a real smart quarterback,” Wright said. “He knows how to get the ball to the right guys and make the right reads. He’s extremely confident and extremely competitive so he’s going to try and get the ball past the guys that are open and even try to fit it in tight spots. He has that type of confidence in his arm. It’s a number of different things that you look at and we’ll be looking at to pass on to the guys that haven’t played against him yet.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan echoed Wright’s sentiment.
“A lot of things,” Sheridan said. “One, he’s very physically talented. He’s got great arm strength and great accuracy. He’s very mobile in the pocket, he can avoid the rush. Having played so long, he’s seen probably every kind of pressure, look, and coverage that people can put out there against him. And has worked in that offense long enough where he knows where to go with the ball once the ball snapped and the coverage shows itself or the pressure show itself and he can recognize the coverage that you’re in and the different pressures. He knows exactly where to go with the ball.”
Despite the Bucs being ranked 31st against the pass allowing an average of 312.2 yards per game, but the red zone defense is second in the league, holding opponents to less than a TD per contest on average.
The Bucs have seen several good quarterbacks already this season - Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and the rookie Robert Griffin III – but Brees is a different QB entirely, holding several NFL records and has shown no signs of slowing down in his 12th season.
The Bucs’ defense wants to prove slowing down Brees can be done.
Gerald McCoy, who trains with Brees in the offseason, said his friend and rival is at the top of his game and the Bucs simply have to be ready for it.
“Yeah, he is my buddy though,” McCoy said. “At the same time I tell him to his face I dislike him. He’s good. Let me rephrase that. He’s great. He’s great at what he does. I see it first hand when I train with him. When you see him train first hand, all the things he does, not a surprise to me. We got to be ready for it. He’s a dynamic player.”
On Sunday, the Bucs' secondary will have their hands full with that dynamic player and between the two something has to give - Brees’ passing TD record or the Bucs continuing to disallow a TD pass. For the near-capacity in attendance and the thousands watching at home, Bucs fans everywhere will be hoping to see the latter.