Thomas tones it down, turns it on
The Sandman grabbed a hold of his tongue and anything else he could get his hands on Sunday against New Orleans. For embattled linebacker Broderick Thomas, the result was two interceptions - including one he returned 56 yards for a touchdown - and a fumble recovery in the Bucs' 23-21 loss to the Saints. The interceptions were the first of Thomas' NFL career.

A week after making two tackles and chalking up a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in Tampa Bay's loss to Detroit, Thomas put together one of the best games of his career. Missing from his performance against the Saints were the verbal taunts after every play that Tampa Bay fans and coaches love to loathe. Thomas credited several long discussions last week with linebackers coach Maxie Baughan for his turnaround.

"I guess a lot of people think I play to antagonize people," Thomas said. "But I just play the game and try to play rough and aggressive. But sometimes, I might be a little bit out of line with some things I do. So he told me to just calm it down and channel all those energies toward doing things positive, to making plays. Keeping my focus. I want them to say (I'm) an outstanding linebacker and classy. I was on top. I came to play. Maxie did a great job with me."

Thomas' interception return of a pass that bounced off the hands of tight end John Tice tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter. His recovery of a Vaughn Dunbar fumble also set up the Bucs' second touchdown. Thomas credited a block by linebacker Keith McCants for allowing him to return his second interception for a touchdown. "We knew they were going to play-action," Thomas said. "He basically almost made the catch, but it went through his hands because I was going to put the hit on him. When he let the ball go through his hands, I was off and running. I probably would've been tackled about the 20-yard line, but Keith McCants' block opened everything for me to get seven."

For Thomas, it was another case of having an outstanding game in a losing cause. But more important to coach Sam Wyche was Thomas' change of attitude. "He had a great game," Wyche said. "He intercepted one for a touchdown, recovered a fumble. Was in on a lot of plays. Had his mom and dad in the stands. I think there's always something to that. Yeah, we didn't waste any words with him last week. He knew we weren't going to be able to live with those kinds of penalties."

Thomas said the Bucs' near comeback wouldn't have been possible in past seasons. "Once it was 20-7, it probably would've been 45- or 50-7," Thomas said. "But Sam's put together a great bunch of fighters, but we just have to answer our call. We have a great coaching staff, and they're not just coaches, they're friends. Guys you like being around. Just like this week. Maxie is more than a coach, he's almost like a father to me."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992