After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 34-24 win over San Diego on Sunday, cornerback Leonard Johnson was awarded the game ball from Head Coach Greg Schiano in recognition of his decisive 83-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Now Buccaneer fans have the opportunity to reward Johnson in another way for his outstanding performance against the Chargers.
Fans who have spent the last three weeks voting for running back Doug Martin for the NFL's Rookie of the Week award (and getting him the honor for Week Nine) can now go back to the polls for Johnson, the undrafted rookie out of Iowa State. Johnson is one of five players nominated for rookie honors in Week 10, and the winner will be chosen by fan voting here on NFL.com.
This week, the choice comes down to Johnson, St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright. Both Johnson and Hekker have a chance, with the fans' help, to buck a season long trend – an offensive player has won the Rookie of the Week award in each of the first nine weeks. In fact, six of the nine have gone to either Luck or the quarterback that followed him in the first two picks of the draft, Robert Griffin III.
Voting for Rookie of the Week continues through Friday at 3:00 p.m. ET and the winner will be announced on NFL Total Access on NFL Network and on NFL.com.
The Bucs were clinging to a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter Sunday when Johnson intercepted a Philip Rivers pass near the right sideline and charged towards the opposite end zone. He evaded one would-be tackler before midfield, barely staying in-bounds, then outran the last Charger in pursuit to record the fourth-longest interception return in franchise history.
Johnson has played in all 10 of the Buccaneers' games this season, but he didn't assume a prominent role in the defense until Week Eight in Minnesota. In the three games since, he has intercepted a pass in each contest and has already tied the franchise single-season record in that category among undrafted rookies.
Against the Chargers, Johnson began the game as the nickel back but assumed a larger role when starting right cornerback Eric Wright left the game with an ankle injury. Johnson went on to record five tackles, one tackle for loss, the big interception and a pass defensed. On the next drive after his own touchdown, Johnson stopped tight end Randy McMichael for no gain on a short pass inside Tampa Bay's red zone, helping to force San Diego to settle for a field goal.
Johnson's performance was part of an enormous afternoon for the Buccaneers' rookie class. Martin led the team with 119 yards from scrimmage, his fifth straight game in triple digits. Linebacker Lavonte David paced the defense with 14 tackles, giving him 30 stops in his last two outings. Undrafted rookie cornerback LeQuan Lewis followed Johnson's pick with one of his own to kill San Diego's last opportunity to get back into the game. Safety Mark Barron was second to David with six tackles and added a pass defensed.
Tampa Bay's 2012 rookie class has also garnered league-wide attention this fall. Johnson's nomination actually marks the fifth straight week, and the six time in nine games (not counting the bye week) that the Buccaneers have had a rookie up for this award. Martin was also nominated in Week One and Barron drew a nod in Week Six.
So far, Martin is the only one to actually take home a Rookie of the Week award this year. Buc fans now have a chance to make it two in a row with Johnson. Click here to cast your vote!