A lot has been made about the offense’s game-winning drive and Jameis Winston’s heroics to keep it alive, but the fourth-quarter magic started with a critical defensive stand and ended with a game-sealing interception.
“We talk a lot about finishing and what an exciting game,” head coach Lovie Smith said at his post-game press conference. “They played hard and our guys just kind of refused to lose.”
There was a time when it seemed like the Bucs defense would try to lose, turning in a respectable performance yet failing to make the necessary splash play or third-down stop to earn a victory. All that changed on Sunday, as the unit stepped up in the most critical of moments and continued to show its steady ascent.
“There’s so much we’ve gone through this year and they’re learning experiences,” Smith said. “In the end you kind of judge (a team) – especially a quarterback – on how you play at the end of the game. For our football team, we’re down, time was running out, we needed to make a play. Offense needed to score a touchdown and then defense needed to show up.”
Holding Atlanta to 8 of 16 on third down conversions, two stands came in the red zone while another was a sack at the Falcons’ own one-yard line. Situations that combined the Bucs’ past weaknesses on defense – third down and red zone – turned out to be their strength on Sunday and the difference in a four-point contest.
“I think our confidence has been building since a few weeks back,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “You’re starting to see us make more plays on the ball and get stops. We’ve been holding teams to less points, too.
“We’ve just been doing a better job overall in a lot of things that we were struggling with, such as third downs and red zone defense.”
Bucs CB Alterraun Verner – Photo by: Getty Images
Verner, for his part, was responsible for breaking up the game’s first third-down pass. While hardly the most pivotal stop, it set the tone and showed how one play can turn a potential scoring drive into a defensive stand and early momentum.
“That was big,” Verner said.” What would’ve happen if he caught the ball and they could’ve marched it down the field? Anytime you can get off on third down and help the team in that regard, it got us rolling a little bit.”
And in the closing minutes the defense shined. Following a three-and-out in a sudden-change situation, one that gave way to the offenses’ winning score, they stepped out on the field with a 1:39 left and delivered the final knock-out blow.
“We were all exhausted at the end, so we had to grind it out,” said Henry Melton, who brought the initial pressure to force Matt Ryan into a bad throw. “If (the Falcons) went all the way down the field, then somebody had to make a play. Luckily, I was trying to get after Matt (Ryan), he threw it up and Lavonte was there. I love Lavonte – he’s great.”
So was the entire defense when it mattered most. From the injury-riddled front four stopping the run (64 yards) and keeping Ryan under duress, to the fierce linebacker play, to the red zone and third down coverage, Sunday was a complete performance.
It was exactly the way Lovie Smith drew it up, from the design of the scheme to the player who capped it all off.
“When you are playing a good football team like that – a division opponent – you expect it to go right down to the end,” Smith said. “Only fitting that Lavonte David would have a big interception to end the football game.
“What are we known for? Tampa-2. That’s what it was, our signature coverage.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.