Atlanta QB Chris Chandler was reduced to being a tackler by his own personal nemesis, CB Donnie Abraham
Hey, Chris, it's nothing personal.
You couldn't blame Atlanta Falcons' QB Chris Chandler if he's starting to get a complex about Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Donnie Abraham. Last November, with the visiting Falcons leading Tampa Bay 10-9 late in the fourth quarter, Abraham set up Tampa Bay's go-ahead field goal with an interception off Chandler. Moments later, Abraham sealed the deal with another pick and a 47-yard return for a touchdown.
Last Sunday, with the Bucs in Atlanta this time, Chandler threw two passes that ended up in Abraham's hands in the first quarter, the first of which led to a Tampa Bay touchdown.
That's right…four interceptions over two consecutive Bucs-Falcons quarters by Abraham off Chandler. The Falcon hurler left the game shortly thereafter with a concussion and Abraham was done intercepting passes for the day (though his teammates had two more).
But, really, it's nothing personal.
Abraham, of course, has victimized many of the league's cornerbacks, if not as consistently as he has Chandler. The Bucs' fifth-year defender even has a two-pick games off this Sunday's opponent, Green Bay QB Brett Favre. That one occurred during the 1997-season playoffs and stands as the only two-pick game in Buccaneer playoff history.
In less than five years, Abraham has assaulted the team's career list, racking up 24 interceptions, just five behind all-time leader Cedric Brown. He has had at least five interceptions in four of his five NFL campaigns.
"I guess I'm just fortunate," said Abraham, trying to explain his consistent INT production. "I like to think that I take advantage of my opportunities. You only get so many chances in a game to make a play, so you have to make the most of them."
That is especially true when you consider that the Bucs' play a preponderance of 'cover-two' on defense, a scheme that keeps two safeties deep and puts most of the defenders into zone coverage. Bump-and-run, man-to-man corners generally have more opportunities for interceptions, but Abraham hasn't let that slow him down.
"This defense is really built for the safeties," he said. "But, I guess with five years in the system, I've learned to pick the right times to jump balls and make plays. Also, there's only so many routes you can run against a cover-two, and I know what they are. I've learned to recognize the routes quickly."
Abraham will also recognize his opponent this weekend. Not only is Favre healthy and back in form, but he's frequently looking in the direction of WR Antonio Freeman, one of the league's best. Abraham is very familiar with Freeman, as the Bucs and Packers meet up twice a season, and he's preparing for a tough afternoon.
"I see the same guy," said Abraham of Freeman. "Everyone says he's having a down year, but he's still capable of making the same plays as always. He's a good route-runner and a guy that just makes plays. He doesn't talk much."
Unlike some teams, the Buccaneers generally keep their corners on the same side of the field, rather than flip-flopping them to preserve certain matchups. Nevertheless, Abraham will likely be lined up against Freeman for much of the afternoon, as he expects the Packers to keep their go-to passcatcher on the right side most of the afternoon.
With Freeman and Favre hooking up, chances are the Packers will hit a big play or two. Don't expect that to change Abraham's demeanor. In addition to a reserved manner off the field, Abraham is cool and unemotional on the gridiron. He thinks that natural evenness helps him at football's loneliest position.
"It's just the way I was brought up," said Abraham. "If you met my dad, you'd see why. He taught me to never show your hand. If you're down, don't let it show on your face. Playing defense in this league, especially playing cornerback, you can't let them see you get frustrated."
Oh, yeah? Tell that to the quarterbacks you victimize, Donnie.