Bucs' Russell Shepard 'respects' Thomas Davis despite hard hit

Buccaneers receiver Russell Shepard on Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis: "He's a good dude. I know he's a good dude. At times, this game, you just gotta hit a person." Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Russell Shepard said that there are no hard feelings between him and Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis after a particularly hard hit Davis delivered in Sunday's season finale at Raymond James Stadium. Davis sought him after the game to apologize.

"He apologized," said Shepard. "Thomas Davis is a vet, he's a veteran guy, a well-respected guy in this league. I just had to ask him, 'What do you feel about it? Why did you do it?' His reason behind it, I can understand that."

The hit happened with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter, with the game tied 10-10. Lining up on the outside, Shepard ran across the middle of the field and Davis slammed into him with his shoulder, which knocked Shepard to the ground. Neither player was near the ball as Jameis Winston was sacked for a 7-yard loss, but Davis said he saw Winston break through and was fearful he'd get a big scramble.

"On that play, I’m looking at the quarterback and I’m looking at him looking at this receiver that’s crossing," Davis said. "Jameis, if you watch him on film, he does an excellent job of eluding tacklers and coming out of things. I saw we had him, but he had done it earlier in the game, come up out of there to make the throw. My job was to go back and connect to the receiver."

It was not a helmet-to-helmet hit and it did not draw a flag. Shepard was on the field for several seconds, though, as the training staff examined him.

"I was trying to get my breath back and I guess there was a little tussle," Shepard said. Teammates, including Mike Evans, had to be restrained by officials. "[There were] a lot of boos at him."

Davis went over to officials and was assured that he did nothing wrong.

"It wasn’t even a hard hit, a malicious hit," Davis said. "I got underneath his pads and I talked to him after the game, we talked it out and he understood what I saw. He saw kind of the same thing that I saw. He saw the quarterback look at him. At the end of the day it wasn’t a dirty play."

The crowd was reacting to the play being re-played in slow motion twice on the stadium video boards. That drew the ire of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

"I think that’s bush league to show that play up on the screen," Rivera said. "What are we trying to incite here? Just don’t do that. That’s got no place in the NFL as far as I’m concerned ... I wish it didn’t happen but that’s part of the game. I really do mean that. I don’t think you put that type of play up on the screen. I don’t think that’s right."

Shepard was able to return to action in the fourth quarter, finishing with two catches for 29 yards.

"We just moved on," Shepard said. "He's a good dude. I know he's a good dude. At times, this game, you just gotta hit a person. You've gotta take the hits some. Much respect for that man. He apologized about it and he was very, very sincere about it."

A 12-year veteran, Davis has had two accepted penalties this season, tied for 509th in the league. In the past five years, he's had 10 accepted penalties, tied for 40th among linebackers, with one additional penalty on special teams. He's had 29 defensive and special teams penalties in regular and postseason games since 2001. So statistically-speaking, he's not a dirty player.

"I have a lot of respect for that man," Shepard said. "He's a veteran guy. He's done a lot of great things for this league, and as long as he apologized, we're on the same page and we move forward."