The last time the Bucs played in the Georgia Dome, it was the biggest and most emotionally difficult game of linebacker Kwon Alexander's rookie season.
Two nights before, Alexander had learned his teenage brother, Broderick, was shot and killed in their hometown in Alabama, and he played the game -- as every game since -- in his brother's memory. Alexander had 11 tackles and two huge plays, forcing and recovering a fumble from receiver Julio Jones and also intercepting a Matt Ryan pass. He had a 90-yard interception called back by a penalty as well.
It was a galvanizing game to bring a young Bucs team closer together, and established Alexander as a playmaker, central in a key divisional victory. Alexander said the Bucs' locker room had been a tight-knit group, even before that day in Atlanta.
"We've always been close -- this is a family," Alexander said. "They've been behind my back since I got here and I'm behind their back. That's how we'll always be."
Jones went on to lead the NFL in receiving yards, and Alexander showed his speed in tracking the receiver down from behind. He said the challenge of containing Jones on Sunday won't be any easier.
"Julio is going to be one of the greatest to play this game," Alexander said. "I have a lot of respect for him. I can't wait to play against him on Sunday."
Alexander said he's made major steps forward to improve from his rookie season, especially in his understanding of Mike Smith's new defense, which again calls on him to relay defensive calls and get his teammates lined up properly in a short amount of time. He understands criticism of his rookie-year play, saying it was a learning year for him and he left missed opportunities on the field.
"I really did, but it was my rookie year. I was just out there playing, just trying to make plays, to get my face out there and help the team," Alexander said. "This year, I'm focused on a lot of things, and missed tackles was one of the biggest thing. It's going to change a lot this year."