By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007
TAMPA, Nov. 25 -- The offensive players sounded sheepish, almost embarrassed about their performance. The defensive players spoke comfortably of carrying the team, aware that they had contributed well more than their share.
In fact, the talk coming out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room after their 19-13 victory Sunday afternoon could easily have been applied to the Washington Redskins' dressing room down the hall, with one crucial distinction. The Buccaneers forced six turnovers, leading to 16 points. The Redskins' defense forced none.
After the game, the Buccaneers' defenders suggested that this was not an accident, saying their philosophy calls on them to create scoring chances.
"It's the same attitude that has been here: score and get the ball back," said rookie safety Tanard Jackson, a Bullis graduate. "We, as a defense, pride ourselves on getting the ball back and scoring on defense. We didn't score, but we definitely got the ball back."
And in the process, the Buccaneers left their mark on the team's record book. The four fumble recoveries equaled a team record, set in 1983 and equaled in 2001. The six forced turnovers were the team's most in six years.
Cornerback Ronde Barber, whose fourth-quarter interception accounted for Tampa Bay's fifth turnover of the afternoon, became the franchise's all-time leader in that category. Defensive end Greg White became the first player in team history to force a pair of fumbles in back-to-back games.
And Tampa Bay's turnover differential spiked to plus-11, easily tops in the NFC. Entering the weekend the Redskins were already in the lower half of the league in that category; after Sunday, their turnover margin plummeted to minus-8.
"You can't say enough about that defense," said Buccaneers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, whose unsightly outing was salvaged by his teammates on defense. "That's the reason we're winning football games."
"We need to just be better as an offense, better as a team, but I can't say enough about how our defense performed," seconded quarterback Jeff Garcia, whose injury forced Gradkowski into the game. "They created turnovers, they gave our team an opportunity to put points on the board. . . . That's the type of defense you need to compete at the highest levels."
And, as several Buccaneers noted, much of the defensive damage was done by the aging holdovers from Tampa Bay's 2003 Super Bowl-winning team. Linebacker Derrick Brooks, making his 200th career start at 34, contributed the key stop on fourth and one in the third quarter, staving off the charging Redskins. Brian Kelly, 31, and Barber, 32, came up with the late-game interceptions that preserved Tampa Bay's victory.
"Ronde mentioned something coming off the field, he said, 'Just like old times,' and it is," Kelly said. "We have some young guys that are playing lights-out ball right now, but we have some good defensive leadership, and we are still here playing."
Whether "leadership" is a euphemism for "age," the defense still provides the backbone of this Tampa Bay team, which can virtually lock up the NFC South by beating New Orleans next week. Gradkowski said after the game that Brooks told him just to protect the football and let the defense handle the rest, and several defenders echoed that confidence after the game.
"You put us on the field," Barber said, "and we will find a way to make a couple plays."
But, still, six turnovers?
"It was good," White said," but we need more."