"I play defensive back in the NFL so you're going to have your share of losses. It doesn't change who I am or what I do or how I approach the game. I'm going to continue to be a dog and go out there and give it my all every time."
That's Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis. CB1 with a mentality to match. As a cornerback, or any defensive back, you have to have a short memory because of exactly what Davis is saying. You're going to take some losses, plain and simple. There is just so much incredible receiving talent in this ever-more passing league and let's face it, the cards are stacked against you in a one-on-one matchup as a defensive player. All you can do is get lined right back up and try to win again, which Davis does a lot of by the way, and forget what just happened.
But one thing Davis and the rest of the Bucs corners haven't forgotten?
A preseason No. 32 ranking.
"Just imagine you coming to work every day doing your job and not only you're not getting credit, but people are saying you're not doing your job," said Davis this week ahead of Super Bowl LV. "People just aren't realizing what you're doing and it's frustrating. Not just for me, but for all of my guys and that's definitely something that we carry on our shoulder. We'll continue to carry it, not even until we get out respect, just until we're done playing because it's something that you never forget. It's something that's always on mind. To be slept on is one of the worst feelings ever so that's definitely our driving force. Like in the video I said, 'Look at where we at now.'
"And look where we at now."
Yeah, the Buccaneers are going to the Super Bowl about to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in their own stadium for the Lombardi trophy.
More than the simple vindication of being in the game itself is how the Bucs got here. The secondary had a lot to do with it. Tampa Bay has the most interceptions and most passes defensed of any playoff team this year. Four of those interceptions were by Bucs' defensive backs with three coming from cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting alone. Murphy-Bunting became the first Buccaneer player to have interceptions in three-straight postseason games and tied with Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson for most total playoff interceptions by a Tampa Bay player. Murphy-Bunting leads all playoff corners in interceptions this season with three and he became the first player period to tally an interception in their first three playoff games since Ed Reed in 2003. The only other players in the Super Bowl era to do so were Aeneas Williams and Jason Sehorn. It's some pretty elite company to be in.
It couldn't have come at a better time for Murphy-Bunting or the Bucs' defense as a whole. Despite going through his ups and downs throughout the season, Murphy-Bunting's 129.7 rating was the best of any corner with a minimum of 350 coverage snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Davis tied for the third-most interceptions of any corner in the regular season.
Then, in the postseason, all the Bucs' corners turned it on. Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean ranked top 10 in completion percentage among corners with at least 50 coverage snaps. Davis has the third-best rating with 117.8 among the aforementioned qualifiers. This all came with an increase in press coverage – especially in the case of Dean, who has pressed the fifth-most of any corner in the playoffs at a rate of 52.9%, again according to Next Gen Stats. That's a direct contrast to what he did in the regular season, where he led all corners playing off on 79% of his 412 coverage snaps.
This group has evolved and improved to get them to the success they've seen so far in the postseason – and that's due to the confidence the team and staff has in them.
"It means a lot just knowing that the staff, the people in the front office just having the trust that they have in us to continuously grow as a group," said Murphy-Bunting. "We've had our rough patches here and there but that's going to happen when you have a bunch of younger guys that are still trying to learn the game and still trying to develop as players in a league like this – in a fast league. We've played against some very talented teams, we've playing against some very talented quarterbacks and from us from the beginning of the season until now, we've gotten better and better and it's only going to continue to grow the more we rely on each other, trust each other and play for one another."
They'll face one final test against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday, who boast the best offense in the league. The Chiefs are averaging a league-leading 312.8 passing yards per game this season, which the Bucs got an up-close and personal look at in Week 12. Tampa Bay got into a 17-0 hole early thanks to an explosion by wide receiver Tyreek Hill for over 200 yards in the first quarter alone. The Bucs only ended up losing the game by three points though, improving as the game went on. The Chiefs were held to a field goal in the second quarter – then scoreless in the fourth. And they figured some things out about Hill, too. He was only allowed 59 yards after the first quarter.
Now, they know more of what to expect and go into the game with more context.
"Yeah, I guess you could call it an advantage," said Davis, speaking on playing Hill already this season. "Seeing a guy on film and seeing him in person is totally different. The fact that we've played them already definitely gives us a good look at what we're going up against."
So, the Bucs may change some things – maybe move some guys around, mix up some coverages, etc. But one thing that won't change is Davis' CB1 attitude.
"I'm going to bring the same mentality," he said. "I'm always going to be myself. It didn't work out the first game as far as what we did and our game plan, but we've corrected it and we've got a great game plan going in. But I'm going in with the same mentality and that's to dominate."
And if they do? They'll get a Lombardi trophy for their efforts and some sweet new bling.
View pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl LV media day.