DE Simeon Rice has had some enjoyable afternoons chasing Atlanta QB Michael Vick
When Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick takes the field on Sunday, he'll be doing so against one of the few defenses in the NFL that has consistently given him problems. Although he's posted a .682 career winning percentage against the rest of the league, Vick has only won two of seven games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Chief among the reasons for the Buccaneers' success in the series has been the stellar play of defensive end Simeon Rice.
In his last eight games against the Falcons – seven of which Vick has played – the All-Pro pass-rushing Rice has been an absolute force, racking up 24 total tackles, nine sacks for 66 yards lost, four passes defended and two forced fumbles.
But numbers alone don't tell the story. It's the when and where – the impact – of Rice's plays that paint a true picture of the 11th-year defensive end's divisional dominance.
In the Bucs' most recent victory over the Falcons, one of Rice's sacks came in overtime, setting up a third-and-18 that led to a subsequent punt on fourth down. In the Bucs-Falcons game earlier last year, Vick had been sidelined after being shaken up on Anthony McFarland's hit. Sensing the momentum shift, Rice seized the moment and dropped quarterback Matt Schaub, dislodging the football in the Atlanta end zone where McFarland fell on it for a Buccaneers touchdown. That play very well could have been the difference in what turned out to be a three-point Buccaneers win. The list goes on, play by play, game by game. There was the Rice sack that caused a fumble, which the Buccaneers recovered. The next play, the Bucs were in the end zone after wide receiver Joey Galloway caught a 36-yard touchdown pass. There was yet another third-down Rice sack that pushed the ball back just far enough that then Atlanta kicker Jay Feely missed the ensuing field goal attempt.
That's impact, but to Rice it's meaningless history.
"In the past, it's all in the past," said Rice after a practice this week. "That's the past. It's a new day, a new era. You have to submit yourself every time you go out, and I think the thing that will help this team is that we know that we have the possibility to do it – not believing necessarily in the history but believing in ourselves today that we can do the things that we need to do to help us get a victory this weekend."
Rice knows this weekend's game is big for the Buccaneers. No team wants to start the season 0-2, but beyond that the Buccaneers feel as if they have something to prove to league and to themselves after a lackluster performance in the season opener. Sunday's game in Atlanta gives the Buccaneers an opportunity earn a division win on the road against a quality opponent that is coming off of a big victory in Week One against another prime division foe, the Carolina Panthers.
"It's always a game that's not going to just stem off," Rice said. "It's always going to pick itself up. It's always going to go down to two minutes, the closing moments. It's always going to be a tight one, and they understand that and we understand that. We have to bring that energy that we're about, that we've set, that we've created here and go out this week and take our play to another level and shine so the whole league can see it. We've got to send out good tapes this week."
Rice believes that such an effort begins with him, and as of mid-week he was already in the mindset to make a difference.
"I'm thinking about dominating the game, personally," Rice said. "When I look at a game, I start with, 'How can I help this team,' first. And I look at this week to be a very dominating game, for me. I understand when I start getting going, the defense as a whole starts really getting going. For myself, I can't allow things to frustrate me. I've got to play through it. You take these situations and you take your mindset and you take it to another level in understanding this is what you bring to a team, this is how you help your teammates become better, this is what helps you on defense and so on and so forth."
Rice is the first to admit that he's got his work cut out for him. Though he's 6-5 and 268 pounds and possesses that rare blend of speed and power off the edge, nothing comes easy for anyone in this game. His 119 career sacks rank him second in the NFL among active players. His average of 11.9 sacks per year ranks first among all active sack leaders. He's recorded double-digit sack totals for five consecutive seasons, and he ranks 13th on the NFL's all-time sack list…and there's not an offensive coordinator in the league that isn't aware of those things. Rice works intensely throughout the year to maintain that type of production.
"It's all fair in love and war," Rice said. "You can't get away from it; there's no escaping it. When you shine in this league and show you've got a little swagger, you're going to get the double coverages, you're going to get the chip blocks, you're going to get the double teams. You're going to get addressed on that level. And you have to have a hell of hand to play off of it. You're going to have to be good enough to play off of it."
Rice is. And come Sunday, there's no place he'd rather be than playing the first of three consecutive division games in which the Buccaneers will face the Falcons and the Panthers before their bye week, only to travel to New Orleans and play the Saints the next week.
"It addresses things early," Rice said. "It kind of allows you to be on the burner earlier. You're in the percolator early. You're in the pressure early, and you have an understanding of what you have to do. You have an early perspective of what you have for better or worse.
"We hit an obvious speed bump last week, but we can put ourselves in great standing – we'll make huge strides – if we come back this week and take care of business. And I think that's what our mindset needs to be suited for because in the end, you can call Michael Vick, you can call the fellows down in Atlanta and you can ask them if they feel sorry for you, and I think you know the answer."