Bucs' top 10 defensive plays of 2016 season (with video)
We have time now to reflect on the Bucs' 2016 season, which saw a remarkable turnaround defensively from the unit that couldn't get takeaways early in the year and was historically bad in losses to the Raiders and Falcons, then played a central role in Tampa Bay's five-game winning streak.
After going back through every game, we've come up with the top 10 defensive plays of the Bucs' 2016 season. Ordering them isn't easy -- you tend to value the impact on the outcome much more than the difficulty of the play itself, so there's plenty of room for interpretation. Here they are:
10. Kwon Alexander's 38-yard pick-six against Los Angeles. (VIDEO HERE) No loss stings more than to the Rams as the Bucs barely missed the playoffs, but Alexander got Tampa Bay on the scoreboard early, intercepting a Case Keenum pass intended for Tavon Austin. The Bucs would miss the extra point -- and later a field goal -- and the defense gave up 37 points to a Rams offense that scored more than 21 points just one other time all season. But as individual plays go, it set the tone for an impressive second season for Alexander, who ended up leading the NFL in solo tackles.
9. Lavonte David's red-zone stop against the Falcons. (VIDEO -- 3:58 HERE) That the Bucs could go into Atlanta and win in Week 1 has only gotten more impressive as the Falcons have surged to the NFC championship game. If there was one play that stood out in a 31-24 win, it came with 5:40 left, the Bucs up 10 and the Falcons threatening at the Tampa Bay 6-yard line. Lavonte David dropped Devonta Freeman for a 5-yard loss, setting up a third-and-long incompletion. Atlanta would settle for a field goal, and while they got the ball back late, they didn't get farther than their 28. Had they scored a touchdown earlier to pull within three, it might have been a different story.
8. Kwon Alexander's forced fumble late against Dallas. (VIDEO HERE) The Bucs' offensive woes in the final period at Dallas were a major disappointment after taking the lead with a chance at a huge upset. Their defense still gave them a chance -- down 23-20 with 8:32 left, Kwon Alexander forced a rare fumble from Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, with Lavonte David recovering the loose ball to set the Bucs up at the Dallas 45. Alas, the offense would go three-and-out and Dallas would escape with a 26-20 victory, but one key takeaway could have changed the game if the offense had been able to capitalize on the opportunity.
7. Chris Conte's pick-six against Chicago. (VIDEO HERE) It ended up an easy Bucs win at home to start a five-game win streak, but the Bucs hadn't done much yet when Conte picked off a Jay Cutler pass and returned it 20 yards for his first career pick-six and a 7-0 lead. Conte would head-butt Dirk Koetter celebrating the play, but this was the spark in the game that started the five-game streak and saw the Bucs go from 3-5 to 8-5.
6. Brent Grimes' pick-six in Week 17 against Carolina. (VIDEO HERE) The Bucs offense had managed only three points in the first half, but 41 seconds into the third quarter, Grimes picked off Cam Newton and scored for a 10-7 Tampa Bay lead. Keith Tandy would add two deep interceptions, and the Bucs would win the game with a late stop on a two-point conversion, but neither was a big a swing as Grimes' touchdown.
5. Brent Grimes' end-zone INT in Week 5 against Carolina. (VIDEO HERE) The score was tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, and Carolina had first and goal at the Bucs' 1-yard line. They would rush for 136 yards in the game, but somehow chose to throw on first down, and sure enough, Grimes made an acrobatic, leaping interception of Derek Anderson's pass to Greg Olsen. The Bucs will still miss a field goal, but Carolina didn't cross midfield again, and Aguayo finally connected on a field goal as time expired for a huge Monday night win to be 2-3, instead of 1-4.
4. Lavonte David's pick-six against San Diego. (VIDEO HERE) The Bucs were hanging around with the Chargers, but it was David's 15-yard touchdown -- thanks to a tip from rookie Vernon Hargreaves -- that gave the Bucs their first lead at 17-14 and set the tone for a wild final 20 minutes at Qualcomm. Keith Tandy's leaping interception on a would-be tying touchdown throw in the end zone with 2:36 left could make this list as well, but David's pick gave the Bucs a chance on the road.
3. Alterraun Verner's emotional INT against Seattle. (VIDEO HERE) Verner's father had passed away just two days earlier, and an early 14-0 lead on the Seahawks was slipping away. It was 14-5 and Roberto Aguayo had missed a field goal, and Seattle had gotten to the Bucs' 29 with less than a minute left in the half when Verner picked off Russell Wilson -- not an easy task -- at the 15-yard line. As he fell to the ground and was surrounded by his teammates, it was the most emotional moment of the season. You can make a good case for Lavonte David's forced fumble from Jimmy Graham late in this game as well.
2. Chris Conte's end-zone INT against Kansas City. (VIDEO HERE) Alex Smith rarely throws interceptions, let alone in situations this big -- the Chiefs, down 12-10 early in the fourth quarter, were at the Bucs' 6-yard line. Conte didn't bite when they were counting on him to and he not only picked off the pass, he returned it out the the 48-yard line, setting up a Bucs touchdown they would need in a 19-17 victory.
1. Keith Tandy's last-minute INT against New Orleans. (VIDEO HERE) The Bucs' home win against the Saints in Week 14 was a high point -- Tampa Bay was 8-5, and the playoffs seemed well within reach. The Bucs picked off Drew Brees three times in the win, but the biggest came in the final minute, as Tampa Bay was clinging to a 16-11 lead and New Orleans faced a fourth-and-1 near midfield. Tandy, who had anticipated a route and deflected a pass for a Brent Grimes interception earlier, did the same, picking off Brees to seal the win with 0:51 left.
And 10 worthy defensive plays not mentioned above that didn't make the cut: DaVonte Lambert's forced fumble in the fourth in a tie game against Carolina; Jude Adjei-Barimah's sack-fumble against San Francisco to set up a touchdown; Noah Spence's sack-fumble against Oakland to set up a 10-0 lead; Gerald McCoy's sack-fumble against Atlanta to set up a touchdown and 14-13 lead, before the Falcons would score 27 straight; Noah Spence's sack-fumble against Chicago when Bears were at the 4-yard line; Will Gholston's forced fumble against Jordan Howard to set up a touchdown against the Bears; Robert Ayers' sack for a safety in the Bears game; Bradley McDougald's game-sealing INT at the 2-yard line against Seattle; Robert Ayers' sack at the 6-yard line against the Saints, forcing them to settle for a field goal before halftime; rookie Vernon Hargreaves' first career INT early in the win against the Saints.