D-line's play Sunday brings back memories
We had seen this all before, hadn't we? The Buccaneers were so close to beating the Atlanta Falcons twice last season but couldn't make the play to seal the deal. It seemed to be happening again.
Atlanta had trimmed a 13-point deficit to six and had first-and-goal at the Bucs' 5-yard line with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. But as Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan faded to pass, defensive tackle Brian Price broke through and flattened Ryan for a 10-yard loss.
Can you say game-changer? Can you say season-changer?
Well, we won't know for sure about the latter for a few months yet, but Price's big play – the first sack of his career – definitely turned the game around. Instead of a touchdown that would have forced quarterback Josh Freeman to try and bring the Bucs from behind, the Falcons settled for a field goal. They were the last points Atlanta would get in a 16-13 Bucs' win.
"Huge, huge, it's huge," cornerback Ronde Barber said of Price's sack.
His words had meaning beyond the fact the play helped the Bucs win a big game. It was a coming out party of sorts for Price, who essentially lost his rookie season a year ago to injuries and has been slow to work his way back into the rotation, thanks to a lengthy rehab from pelvic surgery to reattach both hamstrings.
He's there now. "He has never been down on his injuries," Barber said. "He has always been pretty upfront about it: 'I'll deal with them and I'll get back when I can.' It's good to see him get his chance. He's starting now and he's proving his worth. That's great for him."
It was a good day in general for the defensive line, which, you may have heard, has been under the spotlight the first two weeks of this season for the wrong reasons. That turned around on this day, for certain, starting on the third play of the game when rookie Adrian Clayborn sacked Ryan and forced a fumble that Barber recovered.
It was the first of four sacks the Bucs had Sunday, none bigger than Price's. "That's what we practiced all week. We kind of got challenged. We rose up to the occasion," Price said. "It was like a back-alley brawl, picking up bottles and everything. You weren't going to leave without marks on you."
It was the kind of performance that brought back memories of the kind of havoc Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice could cause on opposing passers. That's hallowed ground in Bucs' lore, and it takes more than one game to earn that kind of comparison. It's also a fact, though, that the master plan at One Buc Place is to rebuild the defensive line in that image.
"Those two tackles have a lot of talent. I don't know if they're Sapp-like yet, but they're as good as we've had here since he left," Barber said, referring to Price and Gerald McCoy.
If you're looking for a difference between this team and the one that fell just short a season ago, you just found it. These Bucs kept the heat up all day, and Price made the big play that didn't get made in 2010. "It was great, man. That's a confidence-builder for him and for us, to know we can make plays at the end," McCoy said. "I'm happy for him and Clayborn. He got his first sack out of the way early."
It's exactly the kind of push the Bucs have tried to build from the interior of their defensive line. It's also worth noting that Atlanta gained just 30 yards on the ground Sunday, the 11th fewest the Bucs have ever allowed.
"It was a must-have game and we went out there and got that win. We didn't go out there and play as hard as we did to beat Atlanta; all credit goes to Atlanta because they played a magnificent game," McCoy said. But we went out there to win our division and they were the next opponent on our schedule, they're in our division, and we knew we needed this win."
Thanks to a play that was made when the game seemed to be slipping away, they got it. "We don't talk much. We take it one day at a time, one game at a time," Price said. "All we can control is our attitude and effort."
On this day, they had plenty of the right kind of both.
|About the writer|
Joe Henderson writes a regular Sunday column for The Tampa Tribune for many years although during the NFL season, turns his attentions to the Buccaneers and often writes gameday features for the paper and TBO.com.