If the Bucs are going to keep intercepting passes — they had three off tipped balls Sunday — they might need a little more time to practice their celebrations. Each pick in Tampa Bay's 27-3 win over Carolina was followed by a 15-yard penalty. Kool and the Gang they are not. Forget the traditional methods of commemorating joyous occasions. High-fives, backslaps and confetti just won't do. Take the key play in the Bucs' defensive dismantling of the Panthers. Trailing 14-3 and driving in the second quarter, Jake Delhomme's pass to Muhsin Muhammad in the end zone was tipped by rookie cornerback Aqib Talib and intercepted by safety Jermaine Phillips. Phillips raced up the sideline to the Carolina 49. That's when defensive tackle Jovan Haye tried to win the gold medal in floor exercise. Haye, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle, was so excited that he did a cartwheel at midfield. Seriously.
All that was left was for Bela Karolyi to carry him off the field like Kerri Strug.
"I know he's very athletic. I didn't know he was going to show it out there," Phillips said of Haye. "I don't know if he's ready for the Olympics or anything, but I give him a 6.5."
Haye was not alone.
Cornerback Ronde Barber was called for a personal foul in the first quarter after Tanard Jackson's interception that deflected off the hands of tight end Dante Rosario. Talib recorded the final one in the fourth quarter after the ball was tipped by Steve Smith during a crushing hit by Phillips. On that play, the Bucs were penalized for sideline interference.
"I guess they don't want you to have much fun at all after an interception," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "I don't disagree or want to get fined any money, but a guy does a backflip, a guy does a cartwheel. … I've got to look into exactly what we did wrong. But I'm not going to lose sleep over that.
"Our team is an excited bunch, and they root for each other. And when you get an impact play like that, we have a hard time controlling ourselves here in Tampa Bay, and we apologize sincerely for it."
Delhomme, who was 4-0 at Raymond James Stadium entering Sunday's game, was 20-of-39 passing for 242 yards and three interceptions to finish with a 38.6 passer rating.
The Bucs (4-2) are tied for first place in the NFC South with Carolina and Atlanta. And they have already defeated both.
That, at least, warrants a somersault.
"I'm not trying to hurt the team. It's just a way of celebrating," Haye said. "I didn't plan it. It just happened. After I did it, I said, 'Whoa! What did I just do?' I'm on the sideline, and I hear my name called. I said, 'It's not funny now.' "
The most impressive thing about Talib's end zone deflection was being on the field in the first place. April's first-round pick typically plays only nickel cornerback, when teams use three-receiver sets.
But it had been a long drive (nine plays and just more than five minutes), and starters Barber and Phillip Buchanon went to the sideline to catch their breath while Talib and rookie Elbert Mack took their place.
"It speaks to what we've been talking about all season; just the talent in the secondary; just the depth that we have," Barber said. "It's smart coaching. When I was in my second, third and fourth year, me, Donnie (Abraham) and B.K. (Brian Kelly) rotated constantly. So it's nothing new for us. You have to have the right bodies, and we have them now."
It's similar to the Bucs occasionally replacing Derrick Brooks in favor of fellow linebacker Cato June for certain passing situations.
"Ronde's coming off the field and taking a break during a long drive, and here we get a turnover," Brooks said. "That's the evolution of this defense. But at the same time, it puts accountability on these young guys that they've got to be ready to go and pay more attention to detail because when they're in, we don't expect the level of play to drop off."
Phillips said he didn't exactly know what to make of all the celebration penalties. After a big hit on Rosario that separated the ball from the tight end for an incompletion, Phillips did a little shimmy and was penalized for taunting.
"I was like, 'Man, this is an emotional game. What do you want me to do?' " Phillips said. "It happens, but it's not going to change the way we play or the way we approach the game. It's just the excitement we have. When somebody makes a play, it's like we all make a play.
"We want to keep that excitement and keep winning."
That's the way it's done in the rough-and-tumble world of the Tampa Bay defense.
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @sptimes.com.