Verner's inspiration, stifling defense lift Bucs past Seahawks
Rick Stroud , The Tampa Bay Times, published 28 November 2016

The moment came late in the first half with the Bucs clinging to a 14-5 lead that their inspired defense unbelievably made stand up. Seattle's Russell Wilson threw a pass in the left flat intended for receiver Paul Richardson that cornerback Alterraun Verner intercepted at the Tampa Bay 15. By the time he was tackled at the Bucs 31 in the middle of the field, Verner, whose 61-year-old father unexpectedly died Friday while visiting the family, disappeared under the warm red blanket of swarming teammates.

"Emotional moment, man," said linebacker Lavonte David, whose mother died at 56 in March. "For him to get an interception, to keep us in the football game when they're driving. That was big, man. For him to have gone through what he went through and for him to come out here and play with a heavy heart and be able to make a play, it was huge. When he came to the sideline, you could see everybody had tears coming down (their) eyes."

Verner and safety Bradley McDougald had interceptions, David forced and recovered a fumble and the defense sacked Wilson six times. The Seahawks converted only 1 of 11 third downs, and that one came with under a minute left. On a day when Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp watched from the sideline, it seemed like old times for 63,674 at a raucous Raymond James Stadium.

But if you knew the backstory, with Verner being called out of team meeting Friday to be told his father, Robert Lee, had died, if you saw how the 27-year-old was forced to step in as a starter and had maybe the best game of his life under the circumstances with two tackles, two pass breakups and the interception, it helped explain the passion the Bucs played with Sunday.

"Gerald (McCoy), the whole team was just so supportive," Verner said. "Sending texts, condolences, sending flowers to my family. Everybody has just been so supportive. I can just tell that they were playing hard and , and it just felt great to know that they had my back and were supporting me. I'm just so appreciative and thankful for this team."

The feeling and performance by Verner was reminiscent of last season when linebacker Kwon Alexander played with a heavy heart at Atlanta two days after his 17-year-old brother, Broderick, was shot to death near his home in Alabama. "That's a power way above me when that kind of stuff happens," said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter.

Most players referred to McCoy's raw and tearful prayer in the locker room before the game as another galvanizing moment. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle's mother died unexpectedly in his freshman year at Oklahoma. "I said 'When you have a family member down, what are you supposed to do?' Everybody said, 'Pick them up,' " McCoy said. "I told them, 'Don't be selfish today. Play for the man next to you. You have a brother hurting. Play for him.' "

And play they did. Quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans played pitch and catch in driving for touchdowns on the Bucs' first two possessions against a vaunted Seahawks defense that was playing without safety Earl Thomas and defensive end Michael Bennett. Evans had eight catches for 104 yards, becoming only the fourth player to begin his NFL career with 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first three years in the league. When he beat cornerback Richard Sherman in man coverage for a 23-yard touchdown, the Bucs took a 14-0 lead.

The Seahawks' scores came when Bucs tight end Luke Stocker was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety, and when Steven Hauschka made a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter. Wilson completed 17 of 33 for 151 yards and two interceptions for a 38.8 passer rating.

After the game, as Verner walked into the tunnel beneath RJS, he received a bear hug from Sapp, and both men parted with more tears. "I told him I lost my brother and it carried me all the way to the Hall of Fame," Sapp said. "He can use this. I can't imagine. He lost his old man on Friday."

But as Winston said after the game, when someone in the family is down, you lift him up.