Gerald McCoy had gone nine games without a sack when he was issued the ultimate personal challenge the night before last week's game against Philadelphia.
The directive was not delivered via a fire-and-brimstone speech from an assistant coach or pressure from a teammate.
It came during team chapel.
"We got issued a challenge the night before in chapel about who do you play for?" McCoy, the Bucs' third-year defensive tackle said. "Or what do you play for? And when you play, how hard do you really play? The challenge was really do you play this game for the Lord or do you play for somebody else or some other reason?
"When you go into the game, the challenge was, 'Let's see if you can play every play as hard as you can.' Regardless of the outcome of the game, the Lord judges your output for Him. That was my motivation for that game, and it felt good to play that way. I knew what my mind-set was and the reason I was playing."
Before last week's game, there was no shortage of Bucs fans probably losing faith in McCoy. The third overall pick in 2010 ended each of his first two seasons on injured reserve with torn biceps (his left in 2010 and right in 2011).
But in the 23-21 loss to the Eagles, McCoy played the best game of his fractured pro career (which includes missing two games in 2011 with an ankle injury). He sacked Nick Foles twice, hit him three other times and made five tackles, including three for a loss.
McCoy, who had not registered a sack since Week 3, has been dominant at his position, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
"I think he's just getting better at some of the things, but I think he's played at a high level all year," Schiano said. "He's been very disruptive. I think he's allowed other people to make some plays as well. In the run game, he's been dominant at times. So I think what he's doing is what we need our whole team to do.
"Now he is becoming a more consistent performer with more cumulative reps under his belt, better understanding of the position. He had limited stints of playing his first two years. There's no substitute for playing in games. Practice is great, but the way you learn is in the fire. And as he's gone back to the fire more and more, he's been better and consistent."
There has always been a sense of balance in McCoy's life. He was raised with his two sisters in the church in Oklahoma City, the son of a human resources manager and an aircraft mechanic.
McCoy is so charismatic, so affable, critics often have believed he has too much squeak in his clean.
Even McCoy's mentor, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp, has said of McCoy you can't live soft and play hard.
"I think Gerald's got pretty good balance in his life," Schiano said. "He loves and is passionate about football, and when he plays, he plays hard; really hard. But off the field, he is a pleasant guy to be around. If you can pull it off, that's nice."
At 6 feet 4, 295 pounds, McCoy has a rare combination of size and explosiveness off the snap to disrupt plays. But in his best season at Oklahoma, 2008, he recorded only six sacks.
He will always be compared with Ndamukong Suh, the foot-stomping, groin-kicking defensive tackle for the Lions who went one pick earlier. After recording 10 sacks and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Suh has come back to earth. He posted four sacks in 2011 and has 51/2 with 27 tackles this season.
McCoy has 29 tackles with five sacks and one forced fumble this season. Sapp averaged 33.6 tackles during his nine-year career with the Bucs and Raiders.
McCoy's not the first Bucs player to balance faith, family and football. The best example might have been Lee Roy Selmon, who already was a legend at Oklahoma by the time McCoy arrived there.
"I've always been that way, and I believe that's what God has called me to be," McCoy said. "My goal, before anything, was to finish the season. I've still got three games to do it. But in order to do anything, you've got to be out there. I would love to have all this different success with the team. But to finish 16 games, to be able to say I finished my first NFL season, I don't think people realize what that means to me.
"After all the work I put in to get back … to finish 16 games will mean the world to me.''