Mike Williams came up four yards short of his quest for his first 1,000-yard season as an NFL receiver on Sunday, but he nevertheless led the team with six catches for 65 yards and scored the touchdown that put the Buccaneers up for good. It was a satisfying day for him, even without that fourth digit being added to his receiving total, because his team beat the NFC’s top seed, Atlanta, on their own home turf and he had a lot to do with that.
Michael Bennett feels the same way. Bennett, the Buccaneers’ underrated left defensive end, came into the Buccaneers’ season finale needing one more sack to get to 10 on the season. That was his “double-digit” goal, as it would have made him the first Buccaneer to reach that mark since Simeon Rice back in 2005. As it turned out, Bennett was shut out in the sack category, but he and the Bucs’ front line put a lot of heat on QB Matt Ryan, and that was instrumental in keeping the Falcons to their lowest point total and second-lowest yardage total of the entire season.
Bennett, whose demeanor is virtually always serene off the field anyway, wasn’t sweating that missed opportunity on Monday morning. He still led the team with a career-high 9.0 sacks and was a major reason the team was so difficult to run against in 2012.
“That’s always a goal, to try to do something better than what’s been done,” said Bennett of the 10-sack chase. “But I can’t complain, as long as we got that last win. That was the most important thing to me, winning the games. Getting to double digits would have been a great thing but we played a great game yesterday and hats off to everybody in here.”
One has to dive a little deeper into the numbers to understand Bennett’s overall impact, especially against the run. His 18 tackles for loss are a good start. Ten of those were run stuffs, and the only defensive lineman in the entire NFL who had more was MVP candidate J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. And, as we’ve pointed out a few times this season in the Captain’s Blog, this chart (scroll down the page to the second chart) on FootballOutsiders.com suggests that the Buccaneers were by far the most difficult team to run against towards the offense’s right end. That’s where the defense’s left end is stationed, and Bennett was usually the man on that post for the Buccaneers.
And, like a few of his teammates and many other players around the league, Bennett did all of this while silently dealing with some limiting injuries, most notably one to his shoulder.
“It’s one of those things, I toughed it out,” he said with a shrug. “It’s hard to come out here and play each week with injuries, but that’s part of the game. As a player, a true professional goes out there regardless. You see Ronde Barber around here for years playing through everything, and that’s what you’ve got to do to become a great player.”
After praising his defensive teammates for their work in Atlanta on Sunday, Bennett indicated that he would like them to still be his teammates in 2013. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March but he sees a bright future for himself and his team in Tampa, if it works out that way.
“Of course I want to come back,” said Bennett. “I want to see what’s going to happen when Bowers gets healthy and A.C. gets healthy, just to see where we could be as a group. I want to be back because I’ve been here a long time and grown with the Bucs.”
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Bennett’s Pro Bowl teammate, wants the same thing.
“I think it should be one of the first [free agency] priorities, with how he has prepared each week and how hard he’s fought the four years he’s been here,” said McCoy. “He was great for us this year. He would be huge in us getting to where we want to be.”