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Bucs defense brings the passion, pass rush and a couple of picks

The unit atones for its Washington debacle, holding New York to one third-down conversion.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) is pressured in the pocket by Bucs defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) and inside linebacker Devin White (45) during the third quarter.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) is pressured in the pocket by Bucs defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) and inside linebacker Devin White (45) during the third quarter. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 23, 2021
Updated Nov. 23, 2021

TAMPA — On a mild Monday night, before an audience of 65,643, the Bucs defense realized just how rigid and relentless it can be when tangibles and intangibles converge.

A crowd, confidence, even a long-lost cornerback. For the first time in November, all came together to leave the Giants overwhelmed and a fan base overjoyed.

“I really like the way we showed up and played,” coach Bruce Arians said.

Eight days after failing to get off the field at the game’s most crucial juncture against Washington, the once-beleaguered Bucs defense responded with arguably its best ensemble effort of the season.

The 215 yards Tampa Bay surrendered was its second-lowest total of the year, 2 yards more than it allowed in an Oct. 14 win in Philadelphia. With Washington’s third-down efficiency (11-of-19) still a blister in their psyche, the Bucs held the Giants to a 1 of 9 effort on third down Monday.

The 66 rushing yards they gave up ended a streak of four consecutive games surrendering 94 or more.

“The older guys on the team, we came together and we were just like, ‘Man, enough is enough,’” said 35-year-old nose tackle Steve McLendon, gifted a career highlight when quarterback Daniel Jones heaved a short throw under duress that McLendon snagged for his first career interception.

“The one thing we noticed this week, and it’s been for the past couple of weeks, we’re starting to do things the way we desire to do them. Coach (Todd) Bowles (the defensive coordinator) wants us to play fast, he wants us to play hard, but most importantly, he wants us to play smart. And I think that’s what we did.”

Providing a spark — seemingly just by his presence — was cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, making his first appearance since dislocating his elbow at the outset of the season opener. Logging more action than most anticipated, Murphy-Bunting finished with seven tackles and forced a Darius Slayton fumble on the final play of the first half.

“I was really, really happy with the way he played,” Arians said.

“Ah man, you could see the difference,” outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul added. “I’m not saying nothing about our (other) corners, but he’s one of our starters and you can tell why.”

Also returning after a noticeable absence: passion. Seemingly bereft of it against Washington, the Bucs were brimming with it Monday.

Their harassment of Jones (sacked twice, hit nine times) was steady and sure, and their coverage — outside of a couple of interference whistles — coordinated and competent. After allowing the Giants to march 51 yards in 13 plays for a field goal on their first possession, the Bucs held them to six or fewer plays on their next six.

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New York moved into the red zone once in the second half.

“Good pass rush, really good coverage I thought,” Arians said. “The front and back end played well together, and we feed off each other and we should, and make it hard on teams to come in here and try to execute.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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