The haul was Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks, two of the three cornerbacks who are now on the field for the Buccaneers on a majority of snaps. Revis cost a first-round pick and a conditional pick next year and received a lucrative contract befitting his status as the NFL's most renowned cornerback. Banks, the NCAA's Jim Thorpe Award winner last year as the nation's top corner, cost a second-round pick. They are meant to form the foundation of the Bucs' cornerback corps for years to come.
On Sunday, it was clear why. Unfortunately, even their best efforts couldn't prevent the Bucs' fourth straight loss, as the Arizona Cardinals rallied for 13 points in the fourth quarter to win 13-10 at Raymond James Stadium. Revis and Banks each had a key interception in the third quarter, each turning back a serious scoring threat and preserving a shutout at the time, but those milestone moments would have been a lot easier to enjoy with a 'W' on the board.
"I want to win," said Banks, who also had a tackle and two of the Bucs' seven passes defensed. "I don't care about stats. It's tough. I'm glad I got the pick, but if I could trade that pick for a win I would any day."
As would the Bucs, of course. Still, it's hard not to feel just a little bit better about the future – and hopefully that means the immediate future if the Bucs are to salvage value from the 2013 season – after watching just how Banks got his first pick. On the play, Arizona QB Carson Palmer tried to throw an end zone sideline fade to wide receiver Michael Floyd, with two Buccaneer defenders trailing the play. A successful hookup would have cut the Bucs' lead to 10-7. Instead, Banks leaped as high as he possibly could, extended his right arm above his head and snared the football one-handed, bringing it in to his other arm and his body as he landed on the turf.
Banks gave credit to the Bucs' coaches for putting him in the right spot to succeed, but it was still a play that many other defenders would not have come down with.
"It was a great defensive call," said the rookie from Mississippi State. "We made adjustments; we knew what they were running. And I just put myself in a good position. The coach made a good defensive call, and I made the play."
Arizona got the ball back relatively quickly and once again moved into Buccaneer territory, pushing to chip into that 10-point lead. This time Palmer tried to go deep down the sideline to one of his receivers but Revis made a quicker cut on the ball and intercepted just inbounds at the Bucs' 20. That intended receiver: Larry Fitzgerald. Revis wasn't matched up with Fitzgerald, his fellow Pitt alum and Pro Bowler, for the entire afternoon, but they did spend a lot of time together. On this one, it was Revis' tight coverage on the opposing team's top target that led to the turnover.
Later in the game, Fitzgerald won one for the Cardinals, as one play after Patrick Peterson's interception deep in Buccaneer territory the visitors scored the tying points on Palmer's 13-yard dart to his top receiver in the middle of the end zone. Revis gave his competitor credit for a great play.
“It was a battle back and forth," said Revis of his time covering Fitzgerald. "That’s how it goes sometimes when players are out there playing. When you throw a punch, he throws a punch back. You throw a punch, he throws one back. It goes back and forth. I tip my hat off to him on that last play, it was a great run. It was a triple-move route; it was a good route. You have to take punches that way, too, [and] he threw one at me and he executed it and it cost us.”
These games are coming down to four minutes or less in the fourth quarter and we have to find ways to be consistent.
There's obviously plenty of respect between the two all-pro veterans. Fitzgerald didn't catch a single pass before halftime; in fact, he wasn't even targeted once by Palmer. That doesn't speak exclusively to Revis' coverage, but that certainly played a big role. In the second half, Fitzgerald had good production, with six catches for 68 yards, including the Cardinals' only touchdown.
“You’re playing against one of the top corners in the business," said Fitzgerald. "He’s going to win at times. I would love for him not to be able to do that, but there’s a reason he gets paid 90 million dollars to play cornerback in the NFL and he showed that he’s as good as ever and it was great to go head to head with him.”
Obviously, Fitzgerald got to enjoy the battle a bit more in the afterglow of a victory. Banks and Revis found it hard to celebrate their first Buccaneer interceptions, but neither were they ready to give up on the season.
“It’s heartbreaking, man," said Revis. "We just have to stick together, that’s one. Two, we have to find a way [to win]. We don’t predict the season going like this in the future. We have to find ways to win in the future, we have to. These games are coming down to four minutes or less in the fourth quarter and we have to find ways to be consistent.”
Banks sang a similar tune.
"We're a family," he said. "We've just got to stay together as a team and we'll find a way. We'll stay together. We're not panicking. We've just got to keep grinding."