S Damien Robinson was always running some place on Sunday
Four of his defensive teammates are headed to the Pro Bowl in February, but on Sunday afternoon against the Green Bay Packers, S Damien 'D-Rob' Robinson was the Buccaneers' defensive catalyst. Robinson, who earned the Bucs' starting free safety job in 1999 amid hopes that he would add a missing big-play element to the position, netted his first two career interceptions and added a fumble recovery in Tampa Bay's 29-10 win over the Packers.
Robinson had previously forced a fumble in the Bucs' first meeting with the Packers in October, and had recovered a loose ball against Minnesota on December 6. However, his performance today was akin to a baseball player with one career home run going deep three times in one contest. And we're not talking the rare air of Coors Field here…Robinson hit his round-trippers against three-time league MVP Brett Favre.
Robinson's three takeaways were Tampa Bay's only turnovers of the game, and all three resulted in scores (two touchdowns and one field goal). In addition, the third-year safety was on the receiving end of a successful fake-punt pass from P Mark Royals in the first quarter, a play that set up another Buccaneer field goal. He was, quite literally, all over the field.
"I've been looking forward to making some interceptions and some big plays all season," said Robinson. "I couldn't have picked a bigger game to come out and make some plays. I'm just trying to do my part and be aggressive. It's my first two interceptions in the NFL, so it felt pretty good."
Before he began his thievery of Favre, Robinson first had his number called when he hauled in Royals' rainbow pass and picked up 17 yards down to the Packers' 23-yard line. With the Buccaneers leading just 3-0 and seemingly stalled at the Packers' 40, Robinson took off from the punt line-of-scrimmage and grabbed Royals pass over his right shoulder. The drive eventually stalled at the 10, but the Bucs were able to double their lead to 6-0.
"We had been working on it earlier in the week," said Robinson of the Bucs' first fake punt try of the season. "(Special Teams Coach) Joe (Marciano) said it was going to work. It was a great time to make that call. All I had to do was catch it. I noticed that it stayed in the air forever and didn't look like it was going to come down. But I'm happy I made the play."
The Bucs were even happier when Robinson set up the Bucs' next field goal by hauling in a deflected pass that S John Lynch had tipped before it could get to WR Corey Bradford. Though he was unable to advance the ball from the 40, that was close enough for the Bucs to drive 24 yards for another field goal and a 9-0 lead.
"Damien had a breakout game tonight," said Lynch, one of Robinson's four Pro Bowl-bound mates. "That's what is fun about this defense…somebody steps up each week. Last week (in Oakland), we got beat up a little, but champions respond."
On this night, however, Robinson didn't seem satisfied to let others take their turns. When LB Hardy Nickerson forced WR Bill Schroeder to fumble early in the third quarter, with the Bucs trailing 10-9, it was Robinson that fell on the ball. Five plays later, the Bucs had their first touchdown of the game and a 16-10 lead, as Warrick Dunn finished a 23-yard drive with an eight-yard TD catch.
In the fourth quarter, with the Bucs leading 22-10 but still wary of the comeback potential represented by Favre and his history, it was Robinson that hauled in an overthrown Favre pass and returned it 36 yards to the Bucs' 28. Tampa Bay punched it in on four plays from there, with Mike Alstott's 17-yard touchdown run giving the Bucs an insurmountable 29-10 lead.
After a long night in the middle of the action, Robinson was able to celebrate the final moments of his breakthrough game on the sideline, as Alstott and the Buc offense ground out the last two minutes of the game. After the game, he was sure to be back in the middle of the attention…for a week at least. Next Sunday, who knows who the hero will be?