Perhaps all the criticism from the fans, the media and sports talk radio finally got to Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams.
Whatever it was, Adams played like a man possessed in Sunday’s 16-13 loss at Washington. He appeared hell bent on proving his critics wrong in recording his first sack of the season, recovering a key first quarter fumble on the third play of the game at the Redskins’ 10-yard line and notching five tackles, including two tackles for loss.
“Gaines Adams looked like the guy that we all want him to be,” said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. “He started that yesterday. He had the sack. He had the recovered fumble. He had a couple nice plays in the running game, shooting inside. He’s one of those players you talk about. He had a couple ‘atta boys.’ He got out of his gap, but he made the play in the backfield. ‘Atta boy,’ but play outside next time. Sometimes you have to do that to those kinds of players. We’ve seen it from Simeon Rice over the years. We’ve seen it from Dwight Freeney and all those other great ends on other teams. He actually showed those glimpses yesterday.”
Morris has been one of Adams’ biggest cheerleaders and one of his biggest critics at the same time. The Bucs’ first-year head coach went on record with a conversation he had with Adams earlier in the summer, alluding to the fact that Adams would be considered a bust if didn’t achieve double-digit sacks in 2009, which is his third year in the league. That only put more pressure on the Bucs’ fourth overall pick in 2007, who was largely invisible during the team’s first three games this season.
“Gaines had some success last year and then coming into this season and never experiencing that type of pressure from the fans and from the media – it kind of takes a toll on a guy,” Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson said. “He has to look within himself and say, ‘Enough is enough’ and go out and prove everybody wrong and prove that he’s not a bust and just some guy that is going to lay around and listen to all that negativity. He used that negativity and turned it into a positive. I think that’s what he did yesterday.”
Adams’ sack came on the Redskins’ first pass attempt on their second offensive snap, and although he didn’t get to Campbell again the rest of the game, he applied good pressure and played with a high motor. So what prompted Adams to play in such a motivated manner?
“I was thinking on the sidelines, ‘Maybe Shannon Sharpe should talk bad about him every single day on [TV],’” Morris said. “It’s who he can be. It’s a glimpse of what he wants to be and who he wants to become. He went out and played well. It was a combination of his coaches. It was a combination of himself. It was a combination of his teammates. It was a combination of all of those things coming together and it all came together for him yesterday. Hopefully he can go and look at it and look at that glimpse and say, ‘This is what I want to be all the time.’
“The way they started the game is how you want to play a football game. It’s a snapshot of what it should look like. It was Ryan Sims creating a push. It was Gaines Adams coming off the edge. It was Jimmy Wilkerson coming back to the level. It was Tim Crowder getting in the mix a little bit and mixing it up. It was Chris Hovan creating a push.”
The key for young players like Adams is gaining confidence early in games and building off a fast start. Adams’ sack was followed by Wilkerson’s sack-fumble on the next play. Adams recovered the loose ball at the Redskins' 10-yard line to spark Tampa Bay's 10-0 start.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Wilkerson said. “This is my second year working with Gaines and we have formed a real close bond on the field. We know what we are going to do. We can look at each other and tell. With his intensity out there and my intensity out there, we can kind of gain some momentum at times. We have to keep it up. I’ve seen him play like that before. He has it in him. It’s just being consistent. It’s only going to help us out. If I can get my game going, and Gaines can get his game going, we won’t have a problem getting to the edge and have the quarterback step up into the pocket and for us to get sacks.”
Adams played inspired football despite being hampered by a sore groin during the week. In addition to his sack and fumble recovery, Adams also impacted the passing game in other ways by drawing a holding call on center Casey Rabach and batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-7.
The element that had been missing in Adams’ game to start the season was the physical manner in which he rushed the passer against left tackle Chris Samuels and stuffed the run on Sunday.
“You could definitely see that yesterday,” Wilkerson said. “Every time they ran to the right he was always there. From the middle to the right it was either Gaines or Geno Hayes making the tackle.”
Hayes was another impressive performer from Sunday’s loss that Morris singled out. The second-year linebacker had seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, against Washington and played a key role in holding Clinton Portis under 100 yards rushing.
“Geno Hayes was really impressive when you turned on the tape this morning,” said Morris. “Watching him shoot through the B gaps and A gaps and make tackles, and watching him set the edge and shed blocks to make tackles. He was really impressive.”
Morris also singled out the performance of strongside linebacker Quincy Black, who had a career-high eight tackles, two tackles for loss and recorded his first NFL sack against the Redskins. Last week, Morris suggested that Adam Hayward may see some reps in place of him unless Black picked up his game reps. But during Monday’s press conference, Morris praised Black for responding to the criticism on Sunday the way Adams did.
“Quincy Black, remember with the plan I told you guys about to play more [Adam] Hayward, but he was playing at such a high level at the time that it wasn’t time for that,” Morris said. “We wanted him to finish well and we wanted him to continue to grow. He did a lot of really good things. He said some negative stuff too, but for the most part, having the sack he had in the Frisco package that we talked about last week … it resulted in a sack. Quincy blossomed a little bit. Later on he missed one, but when he started playing better I just said let those guys run around. You had Barrett [Ruud] in the middle there with Geno playing well and Quincy was playing well so I decided to let that thing go.”