Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers use the 'whatever-it-takes' mentality to earn victory over San Diego Chargers

November 12, 2012 

TAMPA

Skeptics call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lucky.

Optimists say they are writing their own destiny.

Head coach Greg Schiano doesn't care what anyone thinks outside the walls of One Buc Place.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy puts it all into perspective.

"We use 'the whatever-it-takes mentality.' We do what is necessary to win. We make the plays that need to be made when they need to be made," McCoy said after the Bucs did just that in Sunday's 34-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Tampa's offense, which led the league in scoring over the last four weeks, sputtered. But the Bucs found other ways to win, using a blocked punt and an interception to score two touchdowns.

"It wasn't any one individual. It was a team effort," McCoy said.

"Any time you get pressure on a quarterback, you can get a pick. A lot of times, it forces them to do something they regret."

Carson Palmer did it two weeks ago, and Phillip Rivers did it Sunday. These are two veteran quarterbacks with a lot of mileage, and the Bucs made them look foolish.

Pressure breeds heroes like Leonard Johnson, the Bucs' undrafted rookie cornerback who has three interceptions in three games and returned Rivers' errant toss for six points to give Tampa Bay a 31-21 cushion in the fourth quarter.

This is how destiny is spawned.

"I probably shouldn't have thrown the ball," Rivers said. "We kick a field goal, and the game is tied. The intention was to throw it over the cornerback (Johnson), and the ball took a nose dive right to him."

Johnson could've felt sorry for himself after he let Danario Alexander beat him for an 80-yard touchdown on the third play of the game.

But he is following the Bucs' script: Forget about the last play. It's over and you can't do anything about it.

"I am still shocked that I am playing in the NFL. I am still shocked that I am out there with the ones (starters). It hasn't hit me yet, and I hope it doesn't hit me until after the season," Johnson said. "When you have guys around you that constantly tell you 'next, next play,' it's easy to put the (bad) play behind you. That was my first TD since high school."

It's been a fairytale season for Johnson, but not so good for Rivers, who has been picked off 12 times. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has passed him on the NFL quarterback food chain, throwing 13 TDs and only one interception in his last five games.

Bucs heavy-duty running back Doug Martin, who was slowed down with 64 yards rushing, has not fumbled in 173 rushes. The Bucs entered the game third in the NFL with 13 interceptions.

Only three running backs in the NFL have more than 130 carries without a fumble, and Schiano coached two of them (Ray Rice when he was at Rutgers). None of the Bucs receivers have fumbled.

They are winning because they cause havoc and take care of the ball. That formula is as old as time, and Schiano carries it with him every place he goes.

"Our guys today played team football; that's what we needed to do," Schiano said. "We held each other up, and it was critical that we do that against a good football team. Phillip Rivers was hot as a firecracker the last two games."

The Bucs (5-4) have won three straight, four out of their last five, and their next game is at Carolina, a team they beat early this season.

So, it's time to add playoffs to any conversation about this team.

A 9-7 record could get one of the wild-card invitations, and you have to like your chances at 10-6.

The victory over San Diego is their most impressive. The Chargers were 5-0 in Tampa against the Bucs and 8-1 overall.

The critics are still breathing and have lots of ammunition. They argue Tampa has played just two teams with a winning record (Giants and Vikings).

Heading into Sunday's action, there were seven NFL teams that had given up more than 225 points, and the Bucs played four of them (Oakland, Kansas City, Washington, New Orleans).

In the second half of the season, they will face Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan (twice) and Drew Brees (again), and they predict things will change.

The Giants, Saints and Redskins were ranked among the bottom seven teams in pass defense and in the bottom eight in total yards allowed, and the Bucs played them all.

Their cornerbacks, with the exception of Johnson, have been ridiculed and are targets of every quarterback trying to make a name for himself.

But Johnson says don't worry. They will get it right. It's the same thing we are hearing from Schiano, and right now he looks like the smartest person in Tampa.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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