Resurgent Bucs defense keeps Brees, Saints out of the end zone
Rick Stroud The Tampa Bay Times, published 12 December 2016

The crowd erupted at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, at ear-splitting decibels, when safety Keith Tandy intercepted the Saints' Drew Brees near midfield with 57 seconds remaining in the game to preserve the Bucs' 16-11 victory, their fifth in a row.

It was the second straight Sunday that Tandy, who spent most of his five pro seasons as a third safety and special teams player, made the game-sealing interception as he did at San Diego a week earlier. "It's an unbelievable feeling, I'm not going to lie," Tandy said after being presented the game ball in the locker room.

But while the celebration erupted before 62,140 fans and carried well into the locker room, Tandy's ability to make that play actually took place several days earlier in the solitude of a meeting room where he pores over videotape in virtual isolation.

When the Saints (5-8) are in a bind, as they were driving for the potential winning touchdown, they like to line up three receivers on one side of the line. Willie Snead then runs a little hitch to the inside. Tampa Bay (8-5) tried to practice that play during the week, but the ''look squad'' replicating the Saints offense couldn't get it just right.

"We saw a formation we've been seeing on film,'' Tandy said. "And Bradley (McDougald) told me, 'I'm coming with you, I've got your help so sit on a route.' We knew what route was coming. It's a route we saw all week on film. We've been trying to get our scout team to run it. They couldn't run it right though. We've (seen) it on film and in crunch-time situations, a team goes to one of their favorite plays, and that was one of their favorite plays."

It was the third interception of the game for Brees, who did not throw a touchdown for the first time in 22 games against Tampa Bay. In fact, the Saints didn't manage a touchdown of any kind for only the second time since Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006. But up is down and down is now up for the Bucs' suddenly resurgent defense, which has been the best in the NFL since Week 10. Tampa Bay has allowed only 12.3 points per game while piling up 14 takeaways during that stretch.

On Sunday, every member of the starting secondary had an interception against Brees except McDougald. Rookie Vernon Hargreaves had the first of his career, and fellow corner Brent Grimes had the other. In fact, five of the Saints points came on a weird series of plays that saw Bucs returner Josh Huff muff a kickoff out of bounds at his own 1, Doug Martin get tackled for a safety on the next play, and punter Bryan Anger knock the free punt out of bounds to give the Saints the ball at midfield, setting up a short drive for a field goal.

"For the second consecutive week, that was not the prettiest of games," said coach Dirk Koetter. "I'm very proud of our guys. They're finding a way. It starts with our defense. Who says they don't play defense in Tampa Bay? They do."

The Bucs are tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South. But the Falcons hold the tiebreaker, so the Bucs move into the No. 2 wild-card position, just ahead of Washington for the final playoff spot. Tandy is an interesting story, another one of those coming off the bench who has made the team a playoff contender.

He wasn't chosen until the sixth round out of West Virginia in 2012, 174th overall. In fact, his ambition was to become a forensic pathologist, the kind you see on CSI, and he was so good that his professor believed he might have chosen the wrong profession. Instead, he uses that analytic skill to diagnose tendencies by opposing offenses.

"I mean when you love the game, it's easy," Tandy said. "I love playing football. I plan on coaching when I'm finished. So it's not hard for me to prepare for the game. I probably watch more film than anybody, so I always try to pick out a couple plays where if I see this route, I'm going to jump it. It's an unbelievable feeling, but I give it all back to my film work."