TAMPA — The Bucs face the defending NFC champions twice in their final six games. As they prepare to go to Atlanta on Sunday, former Tampa Bay first-round pick Adrian Clayborn is enjoying quite a two-week run.
Clayborn, 29, had six sacks Nov. 12 in a win against the Cowboys, taking advantage of a backup tackle to match the second-most sacks in any game in NFL history. Then on Monday night, he was again making headlines, scooping up a loose ball after a Falcons sack of Russell Wilson and returning it 10 yards for a touchdown in 34-31 win at Seattle.
"I was just around the ball," Clayborn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I picked it up and scored. There wasn't (anything) special that I did ... I was just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time."
Clayborn's play against Dallas earned him more than the spotlight. He had incentives in his contract giving him a $750,000 bonus if he had eight sacks this season. He had two sacks entering the Cowboys game. If he can get two more, that bonus increases to $1.25 million.
The Bucs let Clayborn go in free agency in spring 2015 after four seasons, two of them limited to a combined four games by injuries. He had 71/2 sacks as a rookie and 51/2 in his only other full season in Tampa, but the Bucs had declined his fifth-year option and allowed him to sign elsewhere.
The recent surge of sacks and the touchdown are still largely outliers for Clayborn. Before his Dallas breakout, he had 91/2 sacks in 37 games with Atlanta, and the score was just his second in 76 career games.
"Coming to Atlanta has really allowed him to be able to express himself and become that guy that he wants to become," Falcons assistant Raheem Morris, who was Clayborn's head coach with the Bucs, told the AJC. "This year has really worked out well for him."
Clayborn is a free agent next spring, so he could do even better than the two-year, $8.5 million contract he got for re-signing with Atlanta after the 2015 season.
Tampa Bay will have to account for the Falcons' pass rush on Sunday. They have 29 sacks, tied for fourth most in the NFL and nearly double the Bucs' 15.
The Bucs offensive line has struggled with run blocking and penalties in recent weeks, but its pass protection has been solid. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked just one in each of his two starts.
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.