Tampa Bay Buccaneers find that pickoffs for TDs are a real pick-me-up

TAMPA — You might think there couldn't possibly be a downside to the Bucs defense scoring two touchdowns in Sunday's win at Arizona.

But there is one small problem.

"It's very exciting, but once you get to the sideline, you realize you have to go right back out (and play defense)," said linebacker Geno Hayes, who was exhausted after scoring on a 41-yard interception return. "It's fun, but it's quick fun."

Said safety Cody Grimm: "I'm chasing Geno down the field, then I get in the end zone, and I'm like, 'Why did I just do that?' "

But given the payoff, Hayes and Grimm would be more than willing to deal with the fallout of a defensive touchdown just about any time.

That's because few plays in football can demoralize an offense or change the trajectory of a game the way a defensive touchdown can.

At Arizona, the Bucs got one from Hayes and another on a 45-yard interception return from cornerback Aqib Talib. Both scores delivered blows to the Cardinals.

"If you put up two touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball," running back Cadillac Williams said, "you're going to win that ballgame."

This season, teams that have scored at least once on defense have gone 29-6 (.829 winning percentage).

Why is scoring on defense a key ingredient for a win?

"It takes (opponents') confidence," Hayes said. "It takes their rhythm. It's kind of hard to shake that off. It takes their confidence, and it builds ours."

Interceptions returned for touchdowns can particularly affect a quarterback.

"Their quarterback, who is the leader of their offense, he's going to second-guess now," said Grimm, who returned a Carson Palmer interception for a touchdown in the win against the Bengals on Oct. 10.

The Bucs have three interception returns for touchdowns, most in the NFL.

"The next time (the quarterback) goes to throw the ball," Grimm said, "he's going to lose a little confidence. Sometimes all you need is a little hesitation and you're able to make another play."

Palmer went on to throw two additional interceptions in the game.

As for the defense whose offense yields the touchdown, the feeling is one of helplessness.

"From a defensive perspective, there's nothing worse than getting points scored on you when you're not on the field to defend them," cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"I've seen the other side of it."

Then there's the elation on the sideline.

"When you score on defense or you score on special teams, it's a huge momentum shift for your team," linebacker Barrett Ruud said.

"It's kind of like in basketball when you get a dunk. It's just two points, but it feels like six. In football, (a defensive touchdown is) just six points, but it kind of feels like 12."

Scoring on defense was once a Bucs hallmark. Fans can recall the three-touchdown performance of the defense in the Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland.

Scoring on defense has become part of the team's culture. Coach Raheem Morris' defenders can, on demand, repeat Morris' mission for them: "Score and get the ball back."

"I stood in front of those guys on Wednesday, and I said, 'Every time we've scored on defense, we've won,' " Morris said. "And Cody Grimm says, 'Well, Coach, let's just go out and do it every week.' I looked at Cody and smiled. … These guys get the point."

Morris has become famous of late for insisting that numbers don't mean anything.

"Stats are for losers," he frequently says.

Yet, when it comes to the impact that scoring on defense has on the bottom line — winning — even Morris can't brush it off.

"There's a few stats that I care about," he said.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers find that pickoffs for TDs are a real pick-me-up 11/05/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 12:02am]

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