The Buccaneers intercepted Oakland QB Carson Palmer three times on Sunday, giving them 13 picks at the season’s halfway point. The projection math after eight games is simple; just double it. At this point, the Bucs are on pace to record 26 interceptions in 2012.
If they can keep up that pace, it would be the team’s best INT total since the 2002 Super Bowl squad memorably picked up 31 passes (and allowed only 10 TD tosses, remarkably). The best part is that the defense is getting its aerial turnovers from many different sources.
So far, nine different Buccaneers have intercepted at least one pass, led by veteran safety Ronde Barber’s three, naturally. Two other Bucs are next with two picks each, and one might be a little bit of a surprise, given that he wasn’t particularly involved in the pass defense until two weeks ago. That would be rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, who has recently taken over nickel back duties and is making the most of his newly-expanded role.
In his nickel back debut at Minnesota in Week Eight, Johnson broke up three passes and ended the Vikings’ last drive with an interception near the Bucs’ goal line. This past Sunday, Johnson got his pick midway through the third quarter, and it was a big one. Mike Williams’ four-yard touchdown catch had just extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 21-10 but Palmer and the Raiders were driving in an attempt to match that score. The Raiders had reached the Bucs’ 38 when Johnson read an underthrown pass and moved quickly to intercept it.
“I just jumped the route,” said the rookie after the game. “I saw the quarterback was pressured, actually [by] the defensive line. They blitzed and got in the quarterback’s face and I undercut the route and picked it off.”
Two plays later, Doug Martin broke off one of his three long-range TD runs and it was 28-10 Tampa Bay. The Bucs went on to win, 42-32.
Johnson, a Clearwater native who came to the Bucs as an undrafted free agent, is the first rookie to pick off passes in two consecutive games since S Cody Grimm did so in Weeks Four and Five of 2010. He is the first Buccaneer rookie cornerback with interceptions in back-to-back games since the great Donnie Abraham burst onto the scene in 1996.