You have to wonder what Bucs DT Gerald McCoy would do with another elite pass rusher or two on the defensive line. Or if he were left to line up every down and trample the running game on his way to the quarterback without being slowed by stunts and blitzes. Or if he had more chances to rush the passer in one-on-one situations the way he did at the end of Monday night's win over the Dolphins.
"I said, 'Ends, which ever side I'm on, fly upfield,' " McCoy said of the last series against Miami, "because the tackles are sitting down on the B gap and they weren't giving me the space to work in the B gap and were forcing me to go back and work to the A. I said, 'You all fly upfield. I promise you I'll get there. (Da'Quan) Bowers just took off, and there was nothing but space there."
On third down, McCoy got only his third sack of the season, forcing a fourth and 27 on which CB Darrelle Revis iced the game with an interception.
McCoy still has his share of detractors, but few actually coach or play in the NFL. Statistically, he seems to be having just a ho-hum season: 25 tackles (six for losses, which rank second on the team) three sacks, nine quarterback hits (tied for first with LB Lavonte David) and one fumble recovery.
"I'm a firm believer that the sack number can be very deceiving," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Gerald McCoy is a very active defensive tackle, and they can (line him up) where he's going to get some one-on-ones and beat it and be disruptive. It's about disruption and getting the quarterback off the spot."
Astoundingly, the linemen playing the most with McCoy have a total of 5 1/2 sacks, three by DE Adrian Clayborn.
"It can get frustrating, but you've got to keep pressing," McCoy said. "I can't change anything I'm doing or how I'm rushing. You've got to continue to trust the guys next to you and trust they're going to do their job. It showed up, especially when we needed it at the end of the game. Those guys have a pretty good feel about what I do, but we're all getting better as a unit knowing how everyone rushes."
One other thing about McCoy: Since his first two seasons ended with torn biceps, he has been an iron man. He has not missed a game. And Monday, McCoy was on the field for every one of the 59 defensive snaps. Of the Bucs' 583 defensive snaps this season, McCoy has played 510, or 87.5 percent.
FIGHTING THROUGH: The rookie wall is real in the NFL. Between preseason and regular-season games, first-year players already have played more than the equivalent of a college season. But about half of the pro season is left.
DT Akeem Spence, a starter since training camp, hit it a few weeks ago and is starting to come out the other side. Same with CB Johnthan Banks. After giving up touchdown passes in back-to-back games, he has gone two without hearing his name called much, which is good for a defensive back.
"It will be a really good thing if you start hearing it for knockdowns and interceptions," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Banks. "But as long as you don't hear for beat deeps and (defensive pass interference). … He played every play the other night, and that was big for him."
One rookie who is just getting started is DT William Gholston, who recorded a half-sack Monday. Gholston is earning more playing time by his performance in practice. With Bowers likely out of today's game with a concussion, he could see plenty of action.
"He's growing up," Schiano said. "He's a very strong guy, and he's learning how to mobilize that strength and use it effectively."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We're not thinking about that anymore. We got that burden off of us. After getting a win, you get that feeling you're always looking for, and now it's like I want to keep feeling that." — McCoy on getting win No. 1.