Defense's Forte: Forcing Turnovers
The read came from a tendency Bucs coaches noticed on a play earlier in the game. Dwight Smith's jump on the game-changing interception in the Bucs' 23-10 win Sunday against Carolina came from somewhere else, however. ``The thing I always say is I try to be around greatness,'' the Bucs cornerback said. ``You've got [Derrick] Brooks and [Warren] Sapp and [John] Lynch and Ronde [Barber], those type of guys that you can be around and feed off of for greatness. When they get riled up, the team seems to just jump behind them and we make plays.''
Smith's third-quarter interception that set up the Bucs' go-ahead score was one of four forced turnovers, the fourth time this season the defense has forced four in a game. The Panthers lined up in the same formation in which they ran a slant route earlier in the game. Smith jumped in front of Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith this time to give the Bucs possession on the Panthers' 19-yard line.
Two plays later, Keenan McCardell caught a 22-yard touchdown pass to give the Bucs a 17-10 lead. The Bucs defense also forced a turnover on Carolina's previous possession. Simeon Rice used a speed rush to knock the ball out of Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete's hand. Sapp recovered. ``[The turnovers] are phenomenal for us,'' Rice said. ``In the end, we throw more jabs than we take. That's important.''
The Bucs threw their last jab in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Buck Gurley pressured Peete into throwing toward running back Dee Brown. Having faith that the defensive line would force Peete to throw to his check-down receiver, Lynch anticipated the read and intercepted his third pass of the season. The Bucs have 21 interceptions, most in the league. ``Turnovers, usually when you win that margin in this league, you win,'' Lynch said. ``We did a great job of that tonight. From my experience in the league, if there is one statistic that usually translates into W's, that's it. If you're good in that turnover differential, you are usually a successful team.''
And in the Bucs' case, tied for the best record in the NFL. The Bucs are second in the league in turnover ratio at plus-12, three behind Green Bay, Tampa Bay's next opponent. Both teams are 8-2. ``Playing on this defense, you can't help but be successful,'' said cornerback Brian Kelly, whose second-quarter interception was the defense's first forced turnover. ``That's why things are rolling for us right now.''