TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston threw two touchdowns to Mike Evans in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" defense Sunday. But it was the Bucs' defense that kept the Seahawks out of the end zone and forced three turnovers in Tampa's thrilling 14-5 win at Raymond James Stadium.
“I feel like the defense is back,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “I saw [Pro Football Hall of Famer] Derrick Brooks down there on the sideline right before the game. I thought I was having flashbacks to Bucs past teams.”
The defense was nearly flawless with five defenders -- Noah Spence, Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, Kwon Alexander and Ryan Russell -- sacking the Seahawks' Russell Wilson a combined six times; McCoy and Spence each recorded 1.5 takedowns. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, playing just 48 hours after his father Robert's passing, intercepted a pass just before halftime for what was Wilson's third pick of the season.
“That’s a power above me, when that stuff happens,” Koetter said of Verner’s pick. “We had so many guys play big. But that pick that Alterraun got right there, before the half, he had a beautiful pass breakup. There were so many big plays.”
Even when running back Doug Martin fumbled away the ball in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks began the ensuing drive at their own 41-yard line -- their best field position of the game -- the defense not only held but forced a turnover. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III knocked the ball loose from Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, with linebacker Lavonte David recovering it and running it back to the Seattle 26.
“When you have that many guys to the football, the ball is bound to come out,” said David, who had a fumble recovery last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. “Somebody’s going to, for sure, make the tackle and the next guy rip for the football. That’s what we were able to do.”
Even when Winston threw into double coverage in the end zone, with Kam Chancellor picking him off late in the fourth quarter and with a surge of momentum going the Seahawks' way, McCoy came through on a stunt and sacked Wilson on third down.
“I really want it back,” Winston said of the pick, admitting he took too much of a gamble on the throw. “I’m the quarterback. I’ve got to be able to trust our defense. I know those guys are great. They’re going to keep playing like that, so get used to it.”
The Seahawks converted on fourth-and-14, but Russell came plowing through for takedown No. 6. The final blow came on an interception by Bradley McDougald with 1 minute, 19 seconds remaining and the home crowd erupting. This is the kind of defensive performance they had longed for.
"We had our backs against the wall," McDougald said. "We had sudden changes. We had short third downs and we were able to stop them. We were able to get turnovers. Any time the defense needed to make a big play today, we were able to step up and make it.”
Nearly one month ago, the defense had given up the most yards in a single game in Bucs history, surrendering 626 yards of total offense to the Oakland Raiders. Four days later, on Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons, they were clobbered 43-28 and, therefore, surrendered more than 1,000 yards during that span. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith said they had to do some "soul-searching” to do.
“Ever since the little mini-bye, the Thursday night game, Smitty (Smith) and the defensive coaches cut it back a little bit, simplified things, maybe doing a little bit less,” Koetter said. "[It] let these guys play faster and they’ve responded."
The Bucs are now 6-5, continuing to close the gap with the first-place Falcons (7-4) and climbing the ladder in the NFC wild-card standings. More than that, after knocking off the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium last week and the NFC's second-ranked Seahawks this week, they showed they may deserve to be part of the national conversation.