DETROIT — This was no ordinary game for Sean Murphy-Bunting.
He was coming home.
Just entering Ford Field several hours before Sunday’s game was special for the Bucs rookie cornerback. This is where his father would take him to watch his first NFL game. It’s where he participated in 7-on-7 tournaments in high school. It’s where he watched from the stands when his little brother scored two touchdowns in a high school state championship game.
“This is my hometown, so I always came here,” said Murphy-Bunting, who attended Chippewa Valley High School, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Detroit. “I always had fun.. It was just a big deal for me, just to walk into the stadium. It was just wild.”
On Sunday, Murphy-Bunting brought the crowd, about 40 family members, old friends from high school and college buddies from Central Michigan, all there to see him take the field.
“It was like a family reunion,” he said.
Then Murphy-Bunting gave everyone something to celebrate, making the biggest play of the Bucs’ 38-17 win over the Lions. The Bucs had a three-touchdown lead early in the third quarter, the Lions chipped away, and in the game’s final six minutes, they were driving for a game-tying score.
That's when Murphy-Bunting jumped Lions receiver Danny Amendola's out route, intercepted David Blough's pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown that sealed the win.
“I was gone," Murphy-Bunting said. "... I knew I wasn’t going to get caught. I got burners, these are real-life wheels over here.”
The interception was his team-high third, and his first for a touchdown.
"That was a huge, huge play," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "They kept throwing to the guys that can’t catch. Then they finally threw one to the guy who can catch, and he went to the house. It was a big, big play in the game.”
The Lions had been picking on Murphy-Bunting in the second half, with Amendola getting the best of him on quick out routes from the slot, and one deep ball that Murphy-Bunting was called for defensive pass interference on a 46-yard pass that Amendola still caught to set up Detroit’s first touchdown.
Murphy-Bunting started faking blitzes on more downs, and on the interception that’s what he did.
“That’s the position we play,” cornerback Carlton Davis said. “You’ve got to have a short memory and just move on. I’m happy for him that he’s really mature from that standpoint."
As he ran down the sideline, Murphy-Bunting said the whole stadium went silent for a moment, and it felt like he was running through a play being whistled dead. His thumb was wrapped, so he made sure he kept hold of the ball, then when he reached the end zone looked up into the stands for a familiar face until teammate Mike Edwards knocked him down twice.
"It was kind of like I blacked out but I zoned in," he said.
Murphy-Bunting said the football will stay in Michigan. He planned to give it to his mother. As he did interviews in the locker room, he was handed an autographed jersey signed to him from Lions cornerback Darius Slay, who he would message on social media when he was in high school for training tips. Sunday marked the first time he met Slay in person.
“He told me, ‘Keep going,’” Murphy-Bunting said of Slay, a seven-year veteran. “Being a young corner you’re going to get attacked. You’re going to get criticized. You’re going to get a lot of things, but just keep your mind right and stay strong and stay true to yourself.”