Man of steel leads Buc defense to victory
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 1 December 2008

Jermaine Phillips is a walking hardware store. He has broken his right forearm twice and still has a metal plate holding one of the bones together. There also is a screw left over from a plate (since removed) from a broken right thumb. Another plate was surgically attached to the left forearm he fractured on Oct. 26 at Dallas. "So I have two plates one on each side," Phillips explained.

According to the 29-year-old safety, they present no problem getting through airport metal detectors. "Not yet. I guess the terrorist alert is not high enough yet to set it off," Phillips said. On Sunday, the Bucs' man of steel became the man of steal. Playing his first game in more than a month, Phillips provided a clutch, fourth-quarter interception of New Orleans' Drew Brees to set up Matt Bryant's winning 37-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining in the Bucs' 23-20 victory.

Brees, who hung 51 points on the Packers on Monday and is on pace to break Dan Marino's season yardage record, passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bucs intercepted him three times, including once on a pass deflected in the end zone by cornerback Ronde Barber and caught by linebacker Cato June. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon sealed the deal when he stole a pass intended for Lance Moore with 1:36 remaining.

The victory improved the Bucs to 9-3 and kept them tied atop the NFC South with the Panthers heading into their Monday night showdown in Charlotte, N.C. No interception was bigger than Phillips'. He was having, arguably, the best season of his seven-year career when he broke his left forearm.

"I like to say I'm a human sacrifice," Phillips said. "I throw my body in there at will for the team. I love to do it. That's my role, and that's what I'm going to do. It's either I'm playing real physical and I'm going to break some bones, which happens, or I've got some really weak bones and I need to drink more milk."

Because of the bye, he missed only three games but attended meetings and tutored his eventual replacement, Sabby Piscitelli. "He said to Sabby, 'If you want to watch film, I'll watch film with you. Just let me know,' " linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "He was out there working out when we were practicing. He's always like that."

Phillips said he sent a text message to Piscitelli before the Chiefs game on Nov. 2, his first start, that read, "Hey, man, this is your opportunity. It doesn't matter how it got there, just go show the world what Sabby is about."

Phillips can become a free agent at the end of the season and knows Piscitelli, a second-round pick in 2007, is here to take his job. But he said he doesn't worry about it. "Enjoy the people you're around while you're here, and if you can help somebody out, help them out," Phillips said. "That's what (John) Lynch and Dexter (Jackson) did for me, and I just want to continue to do that for them. When it comes down to it, this game is bigger than me. This safety position in Tampa, I want it to carry on."

Wearing a pad on his left forearm, the bones and metal plate held up fine Sunday. His mettle was tested, too. "I don't know how many bones I've broken," Phillips said. "But I always say I've won more battles than I've lost."

The Bucs defense also got a little help from the weather. Rainy, windy conditions made it tough for Brees and the Saints to stay hot throwing the football. In fact, the Bucs had another interception in the end zone by Tanard Jackson erased when Barber was penalized for illegal contact on tight end Jeremy Shockey. Three plays later, the Saints cut the Bucs' lead to 20-17.

"I thought it was a bad call," Barber said. "It was away from the play. It had no bearing on the outcome of the play. I feel bad for T-Jack. Because of that call, it took away an interception, and it was a scoring drive."

Barber, who returned one of his two interceptions at Detroit last week for a touchdown, was all over the field again Sunday. He finished with seven tackles, a tackle for a loss and three pass breakups. "For whatever reason, I find my stride at the end of the season," Barber said.

By far, Barber's best play was the pass he tipped to June in the end zone. His assignment was to cover the outside receiver, but experience told him Brees would try to hit Shockey on the seam route over June. "It was the same touchdown that Jerramy Stevens caught after my first interception last week in Detroit," Barber said. "Knowledge is power."