Meet the castoff crew that shut down the Panthers
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 3 December 2018

Andrew Adams worked out for five NFL teams after being cut Sept. 1 by the Giants. He had been a starting safety in the league, but every trip ended the same. Thanks, but no thanks. We'll call you if we have something.

"It's very nerve-wracking,'' Adams said. "You know you're a good football player and don't know why you're watching football games on Sunday and why you're not playing. It's a little demoralizing but you can't let it get to you. So I think that was the hardest part, to keep your head locked in and keep grinding. Just praying every day and knowing it's going to come.''

Adams' prayers were answered Sunday. He had three of the Bucs' four interceptions of quarterback Cam Newton in Tampa Bay's 24-17 victory at Raymond James Stadium. Certainly, the Bucs needed some divine intervention. All five players who started the season in the secondary were on injured reserve or inactive by the time safety Justin Evans left Sunday's game at halftime.

Adams joined the Bucs in Week 3 after safety Chris Conte was stiffed-armed to the I.R. list by Pittsburgh tight end Vance McDonald. But on Sunday, he was the leader of a rag-tag band of pickups that included Javien Elliott, Devonte Harris and David Rivers.

Brent Grimes, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart were all inactive with injuries, meaning the Bucs were down to their fifth, sixth and seventh cornerbacks. When Evans reinjured his foot, they were playing their third, fourth and fifth safeties. "All those guys who came in and we're role players today, and stars today," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "The D was fantastic today. Four turnovers, four interceptions, four sacks.''

It was the Bucs (5-7) second win in a row. The turning point came with Carolina trailing 10-7 and driving at the Tampa Bay 25. Elliot jumped a sideline route to D.J. Moore, intercepted the pass and somehow maintained his footing to race 50 yards. That set up Jameis Winston's 13-yard TD pass to Chris Godwin with 13 seconds left in the half.

"I thought he was going to go down right after the catch,'' Koetter said of Elliott, who was cut just six weeks ago. "I told him at halftime that was a hell of a job just staying up. Then if he had any speed, he would've scored."

Koetter related how Elliott left the team in October to be with his family in Panama City after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle. The Bucs released him shortly after that because they need a roster spot, Koetter said, but resigned him to the practice squad by the end of the week. "And here he is with the interception today," Koetter said. "That's perseverance by him.''

Perseverance is the story of the Bucs revitalized defense that until last week, had not had a turnover since Sept. 24. Under Mark Duffner, serving his seventh game as defensive coordinator, the defensive line has come alive. The Bucs notched their third straight game with four sacks Sunday.

Two of Adams' interceptions were passes that fluttered after Newton was whacked by Jason Pierre-Paul and Gerald McCoy. By handing the Panthers (6-6) their fourth straight loss, the Bucs avenged a 42-28 loss at Carolina on Nov. 4. McCoy said Carolina tried to embarrass them that day.

"They came out in all black and when Carolina comes out in all black, it means something,'' McCoy said. "They tried to bury us. We knew with them coming here we couldn't allow that to happen.''

This time, Newton said he the one humiliated. "I take this one personal because I know, I keep running off the field in embarrassment really, knowing you're leaving because of your mishaps,'' Newton said.

Three of those mishaps ended up in Adams' hands. He had a three-interception game as a junior at UConn, "but it feels better doing it in the NFL.'' He's only the third player to have a three-interception game for the Bucs, joining Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber who did it twice and called Sunday's game for Fox.

Adams looked down at the tape on both wrists, where he writes 4:13 in black marker before each game. It represents his favorite scripture Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. "You dream about interceptions,'' Adams said. "But three in one game? Not really.''

That's more like a prayer answered.