SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. PHYSICALITY RULED AT RAY-JAY IN BUCS’ WIN OVER SEAHAWKS
The thing that always attracted me to football was physicality – it was the hard hits, and the ferocious nature of the game. It’s the desire to physically dominate your opponent and break their spirit and their will to fight. That’s what physicality is.
Football harkens back to the physical nature of ancient gladiators fighting before an audience of tens of thousands in coliseums. Like gladiators, football players wear helmets and body armor and fight with their hands before adoring crowds at home and enemy crowds away from home.
Physical teams win championships. Finesse teams don’t.
I’ve coached defensive line for the South Pasco Predators Pop Warner team in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. for the last six years. I love trench warfare, and I love the challenge of taking nice kids from the suburbs and tapping into their primal, humanistic traits of aggression.
One of my defensive ends, 12-year old Alex Larson, reminds me of former Bucs strong safety John Lynch. He’s as nice, polite and clean cut as you can imagine off the field – even on the sidelines. But when he’s on the field he’s become a real physical force this year and led our defensive line in sacks and forced fumbles.
My phrase to him – and his Predators defensive lineman teammates – all season has been “Be the bully.”
It’s resonated with him and some of the other kids I coach. When I shout, “Be the bully” from the sidelines it’s a signal to turn up the intensity, get nasty and be more physical. When I shout that to Alex, I see a flip switch inside him and a different look in his eye. It’s a look of determination. It’s a look of intimidation. And both he and I know that a sack is coming.
There were plenty of bullies on the field on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. They were there in white jerseys, blue helmets and silver pants. They were the Seattle Seahawks, a former Super Bowl champion and perennial playoff team loaded with Pro Bowl talent.
They came armed with plenty of fans waving 12th Man flags and intent on conquering Raymond James Stadium and taking it over as if it was their own. The Seahawks talk and are full of swagger, but guys like cornerback Richard Sherman, linebacker Bobby Wagner, defensive lineman Cliff Avril and quarterback Russell Wilson can certainly back it up.
As young Ralphie Parker from the beloved holiday movie A Christmas Story taught us, the only way to beat the bully is to be the bully.
After months of torment on the way home from school, neighborhood bully Scut Farkus got what was coming to him when little Ralphie tackled him in the movie and pummeled him with a rapid-fire series of fists. Ralphie had enough of Farkus’ bullying ways and turned the tables.
Only Ralphie’s mother could save Farkus, whose nose was bloodied from the beat down that he received. Little Ralphie Parker let everyone in the neighborhood know that he was not to be messed with.
When the Buccaneers received the opening kickoff on Sunday they took the ball and marched right down the Seahawks’ throat and scored a touchdown.
“That team is a bully team,” Bucs wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “That’s how they thrive, that’s how they win. When you play against that team, you just have to go punch for punch with them, and we did a good job of that.”
Surely the Seahawks would answer the Bucs’ score, right?
After stuffing running back Thomas Rawls for a 1-yard gain on first down, the Bucs unleashed a torrential pass rush that would sack Wilson six times. The first happened when defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy sandwiched Wilson on second-and-9 and set up what would be 10 straight third downs that Seattle failed to convert.
“We played lights out as a defense,” Bucs defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “Our guys were communicating on the back end and I watched the film. We had guys covered up. We wanted to be physical up front and knock the running game out and hit Russell Wilson.”
Wilson was hit over and over again – 12 times to be exact, in addition to six sacks. The Bucs defense held the Seahawks offense to just three points in an eye-opening 14-5 victory that sent shockwaves around the league.
“It was all about the Bucs defense, and it’s pretty rare where we’ve seen a Seattle Seahawks team physically intimidated by a team,” said NFL Network analyst and former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick. “They looked like they were physically intimidated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they didn’t like it. They gave up six sacks of Russell Wilson. They were 1-of-11 on third down. [Wilson] had his lowest completion percentage of the year. You’ve got to give credit to Tampa Bay for that.
“When I said they were intimidated, I don’t mean they were cowering. But they’re not used to … how do you confront a bully? You stand up to them and you punch them back in the nose. Well, Tampa Bay punched them back in the nose, and they’re not used to that. And it got a little chippy because Seattle is not used to someone standing up to them like that and delivering.”
The Bucs became the bully on Sunday against Seattle.
It’s one thing to drub a hapless Bears team at home and steal a close win against a good Chiefs team on the road. But’s another thing to deliver a physical knockout blow to a real title contender in the Seahawks.
“You talk about the best two teams [in the NFC], the physicality of the Dallas Cowboys, and at this point, the Seattle Seahawks – who can hold up to that physicality?” Billick said. “Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at least defensively … and the running game with Doug Martin. As a team, they are playing much more physical and they have to be in the conversation – let alone about getting into the playoffs, but can they do some damage? Can they be as physical as the Dallas Cowboys? Can they be as physical as the Seattle Seahawks? Well, with regards to the Seahawks, we just saw the answer.”
It wasn’t just the Bucs defensive line that did the damage, either. It was safety Bradley McDougald lowering the boom on receiver Tyler Lockett on a third down pass, and linebacker Lavonte David blasting tight end Jimmy Graham, who was upended by cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and forcing a key fumble in the fourth quarter.
“When the D-line comes out and plays so aggressively you want to make plays, too,” McDougald said. “The rest of the defense just feeds off of it. It makes you want to make a play to match their enthusiasm and get the crowd going.
“The pass breakup on Lockett, I saw him stop when I saw the quarterback break the contain of the D-line. He still had his eyes down field and I tried to find the first open receiver and get to him. See ball, get ball. I tried to time it up and run through the receiver and the ball.”
The physicality the Bucs defensive line played with early on against the Seahawks was contagious and spread throughout all three levels of the defense.
“It was contagious,” Spence said. “You see one guy making a play and when it’s your turn you want to be as physical or more physical. It’s carrying on from the front, to the linebackers to the secondary.”
The Bucs’ physicality wasn’t just reserved for the defense. Receiver Mike Evans went toe-to-toe with Sherman, one of the best and most physical cornerbacks in the league and beat him for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Bucs up 14-0 early in the first quarter.
Although Tampa Bay wouldn’t score again, the Bucs offensive line dominated in paving the way for 87 yards from Doug Martin and not allowing Jameis Winston to be sacked all day.
“Those guys talk, man,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said about Seattle’s defense. “That’s 11 guys up front that just run their mouth. I don’t think they are as tough as they talk. Us guys up front won the battle. That’s what we had to do. Coach [George] Warhop said it all week. Let’s go out there and punch these guys in the mouth and see what they’re really made of. They’re a bunch of tough guys and a bunch of bullies that wants to bully people around. We came out and hit the bully, and it showed.”
On cue, Bucs center Joe Hawley brawled with the Seahawks throughout the game, at one point throwing his helmet on the sidelines after Tampa Bay had to punt because of the chippy play.
“I was just getting fired up,” Hawley said. “It was a close game and it was getting chippy. I love it. I had a lot of fun. That’s the way we’ve been playing and we take pride in that as an offensive line. We want to control the line of scrimmage and we don’t want the other team to.
“The energy that this offense feeds off when we get scrappy and get after it, it helps us out. When we get after teams on first and second down and run the ball and show them we mean business it helps us in pass protection. It all works together. We like to play aggressive and that’s the way Dirk and Coach Warhop coach us.”
While all the talk after the game was about the word “family,” especially how the Bucs came out and played for honorary captains guard Kevin Pamphile and cornerback Alterraun Verner, who was grieving a lost parent this season, the word before the Seahawks game that was preached in the team meetings was actually “physicality.”
“The bully mentality, in my opinion, is a respect to them and their level of physicality,” said McDougald, who had five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. “Coach Koetter said at the beginning of the week that if we want to have any chance of winning this game we are going to have to match their physicality, their effort and their swagger. I think we took that to heart from a physicality standpoint and we brought the swagger.”
Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who finished with six tackles and a sack, agreed.
“Physicality, swagger – we faced the bullies and overcame them,” Alexander said.
Sunday’s physical whipping of Seattle has set the bar for this Buccaneers team. It’s been raised to a level that hasn’t been seen in Tampa Bay in quite some time. It was only appropriate that two of the greatest defensive players in franchise history – Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp – were in attendance to watch the Seahawks’ dismantling in person.
“That was one of the best games I’ve seen them play in quite a while,” Sapp said. “When you talk about taking one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and I saw he was 8-of-20, that’s 40 percent. I don’t need to be a mathematician to know that. You don’t do that to that type of quarterback and give him a 20 quarterback rating at that point. And to seal it like that? Gerald and the boys rushed well all day long. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this place rock like this. It felt good.”
Now Tampa Bay’s challenge is to continue to play with the level of physicality the Bucs established on Sunday because consistency is the true sign of a great team.
“We have set the standard and we have to continue to match that, especially if we want to get the respect like a lot of guys in the locker room do,” McDougald said. “That only happens by showing up on Sundays and making plays. It’s not about close losses anymore. It’s about winning those close games. That’s how you earn respect in this league.
“We’re a prideful group. We’ve been talked about in the worst ways, and we’ve been hyped up in the best ways, but I think we have enough mentally strong enough guys that can stay levelheaded and just focus on the next challenge at hand and keep building. Slowly but surely this will become our reputation and this will become status quo for Buccaneers football.”
Are the Bucs now the bully as they were once before when No. 99 and No. 55 roamed Ray-Jay?
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org