Defense Again Has Everything Covered
In its season of redemption, the Tampa Bay defense just turned a pair of Pro Bowl quarterbacks into journeymen. Talk about your Cover 2.

One week after throttling Drew Brees and the Saints, the Bucs secondary pinned a 35.6 passer rating on the Rams' Marc Bulger during Sunday's 24-3 rout. St. Louis was limited to 245 yards, and the Bucs registered three interceptions, including picks by Jermaine Phillips and Phillip Buchanon while the outcome was still in doubt.

'We feel like we can do pretty much what we want out there,' said Buchanon, who grabbed Bulger's underthrown pass intended for Drew Bennett in the right corner of the end zone midway through the third quarter. 'I'm very happy to be here with this team and this defense, and all I want to do is win. I've been on four losing teams in the past four years, and it just feels good to win.'

Tampa Bay's defense plunged from first to 17th last season and coordinator Monte Kiffin has integrated free agents and rookies into a proud unit relentlessly on the prowl. 'It's all about getting 11 guys to the football,' said outside linebacker Cato June, who signed with the Bucs after earning a Super Bowl ring with Indianapolis. 'We kept hitting them over and over again.' Phillips, whose erratic play at strong safety last year contributed to a 4-12 disaster, is heading up the hit parade. He also provided a key second-quarter takeaway on third-and-3 from the Tampa Bay 35.

Bulger, who rarely took a shot downfield Sunday, rolled right and looked for veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce. Phillips broke quickly on the ball and managed to keep both feet inbounds on an acrobatic theft.

'We always say let's make it snow in Tampa when we have the white jerseys on,' said Phillips, whose jarring stop later in the quarter sidelined a dazed Bruce for the rest of the half. 'I saw Bulger looking my way and I figured he wouldn't throw it. I just had a feeling about the play.'

That feeling is becoming infectious for a Bucs defense that heads to Charlotte with confidence next weekend in an early-season showdown for NFC South supremacy. Even veteran middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who was inactive for the third consecutive week after signing with Tampa Bay, has the fever.

When Jeff Wilkins' 43-yard field goal try hit the right upright and tumbled to the ground to keep the Rams scoreless at the end the third quarter, Trotter raced onto the field and hugged June, who had dropped Steven Jackson for a critical 3-yard loss. The Bucs aren't paying Trotter to be a cheerleader, but his enthusiasm in street clothes was telling on a soggy day that proved uplifting.

'Our secondary is playing lights-out,' defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. 'Buchanon's playing great, and Jermaine is all over the field. The secondary is playing so well, they're giving the defensive line chances to put a second move on. By the time the season's over, I'm going to take care of those guys.'

The 0-3 Rams moved effectively in midfield but began groaning the blues every time they reached the red zone. St. Louis crossed the 50 in six consecutive possessions but never reached the goal line as Kiffin deftly mixed and matched personnel groups.

'This isn't rocket science,' Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said. 'Keep guys in front of you, hustle to the ball and good things will happen. As a team, we flew under the radar all preseason, and I kind of liked it that way. Now we're hustling and hitting everything in sight. It's been fun.'

Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 24 September 2007