TAMPA — Two days before training camp, South Florida defensive back Mazzi Wilkins was working as a landscaper when the Bucs signed him to a standard three-year rookie contract. Undrafted, he came to work with a chip on his shoulder and started making plays.
On Friday, with the Bucs trailing 30-22 late in the fourth quarter, it was Wilkins who forced a fumble by Steelers tight end Kevin Radar that was recovered by safety Isaiah Johnson at the Tampa Bay 36-yard line with 2:21 remaining.
From there, Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin directed a 64-yard drive capped by Dare Ogunbowale’s 1-yard scoring run with 10 seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion pass failed, but Wilkins’ effort stood out.
“It was like we’re down, we’d needed them turnovers,’’ Wilkins said following the game Friday. “And I told them boys, we needed it and I had to put it in my own hands.’’
Wilkins had nearly intercepted a pass earlier in the game but was unable to hold on.
“Of course, that one kind of hurt my feelings. I just knew I was going to get a pick this game,’’ Wilkins said.
Wilkins was clutching a game ball from the forced fumble as he headed to the Bucs’ team bus Friday night at Heinz Field.
“I mean, I always had confidence in myself,’’ Wilkins said. “That’s why I was so down I didn’t make in the NFL to get drafted in the first place. It was really just a chip on my shoulder and it’s got to be on my shoulder for the rest of my career because I’ve got to prove every play, every snap of every game.’’
And what about the game ball?
“This is my first NFL turnover, so this one gets put up,’’ he said.