"At the Combine, I said I thought I'd cover Calvin Johnson and everybody laughed at me," said a jovial Banks after his team's 24-21 win over Johnson's Detroit Lions on Sunday. "Calvin's a great receiver and he worked my [butt] off all day. It was fun going out there and competing and seeing who I was as a player, and I'm feeling pretty good about it."
Here's how Banks ended up in a one-on-one situation with Johnson, and how he ended up feeling good about it, even if the man they aptly call Megatron finished the day with 115 receiving yards:
- The Buccaneers traded for former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis specifically because he was the best in the business at shutting down opposing #1 receivers, which is particularly useful when facing a team with a weapon like Calvin Johnson.
- Revis, having recently gained strength and confidence in his surgically-repaired knee, is deployed as Johnson's shadow on Sunday, after a week of practicing specifically for that roll. Revis does a fine job on Johnson in the first half but suffers a groin injury and can't take the field in the second half.
- The Buccaneers, unwilling to upset their entire defensive game plan with Revis out, choose instead to switch Banks, Revis's fellow starter, into Johnson duty for the second half.
- Johnson catches a relatively harmless three passes for 54 yards after halftime but is still the main man quarterback Matthew Stafford is looking for when the game is on the line. With exactly one minute left in the game and the Bucs leading by three, Stafford drops back and spies Johnson near the goal line, with Banks in tight coverage. Stafford gets the ball through coverage and into Johnson's hands, but safety
- Without a millisecond to think about it, Banks sticks out his right arm and intercepts the deflection with one hand, sealing the Buccaneers' victory.
- Visiting locker room jubilation ensues.
Detroit's final play came after the Lions had used a timeout, seeking to devise the best third-and-12 play with the ball already in field goal range but the home team looking for the go-ahead points. Unable to blanket Johnson himself, Revis gave his replacement a pep talk.
Johnson, who is nearly a force of nature at this point with an NFL-record 861 receiving yards over his last five games, was certainly not taken out of the game by the Buccaneers' efforts. Still, he never caught a pass of more than 21 yards and he was held out of the end zone for the first time in five weeks and only the third time all season. One play before Banks' interception, linebacker
“It’s just a bang-bang [play]," said Johnson. "I wanted to turn up, get up-field, and as soon as I did the dude was right there. He got a good hit on me and the ball is in my hands. I don’t know if he got his hands on the ball or whatever, but it just came out.”
And Banks was there to capitalize on it, by virtue of his good coverage on the play. That was actually Tampa Bay's fourth interception of the game, off a quarterback who had thrown just eight picks through his first 10 outings. The Buccaneers were playing without starting free safety
"The defense stepped up big time – everybody," said Banks. "We couldn't have won this game without a team performance. We had five or six turnovers. It was just a big-time team win."
Banks game-sealing interception was a flashy play, but no more important than the other 38 Lions offensive snaps of the second half, almost all of which started with the rookie corner lined up a few yards across from the game's best receiver. Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz pointed out after the game that the Buccaneers made an effort to give Banks help, more so than they likely would have done with Revis, and Schwartz would know. Still, simply by virtue of taking on Revis's lock-down role and saving the Bucs from wholesale defensive changes, Banks came up big for the winning team.
"There was a lot of discussion because that was probably the most individualized game plan that we put together so far with Revis on Johnson," said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano. "When you do that, it affects all the other people because they’re playing complementary to that so it’s hard to go back. We talked a lot about it. We just felt that Johnthan Banks was the guy to do it."
That's much the same way Banks felt nine months ago. On Sunday, he got a chance to live his own prediction, and it felt good.