For any team hoping to have a successful season, the one role that needs to be filled more than anything else is that of the player that just needs one moment to change a game entirely. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that player is edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. Barrett has been nothing short of an absolute stud this season, and you don’t need to look much further than his sack numbers heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams to realize that.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story. His speed with which Barrett is able to explode off the line alone should strike fear into the hearts of any opposing quarterback, but even more intimidating is the fact that he always seems to know exactly what the offense’s snap count is. In his two standout games—Weeks 2 and 3—that latter skill had each quarterback he was chasing absolutely shook to the point where their uneasiness in the pocket resulted in him racking up even more sacks.
But it was ultimately Barrett’s clutch actions today in Los Angeles that had some calling the race for Defensive Player of the Year early in favor of the Tampa Bay player. In a high-scoring back-and-forth affair, the Buccaneers had established dominance over the Rams for a majority of the game and, quite frankly, made Sean McVay’s team look quite fraudulent. Just as it looked like the visitors had put the game away early in the fourth with an 18-point lead, the Rams responded with an eight-play 75-yard drive to cut it down to 11. Quarterback Jameis Winston—who had actually looked pretty darn good this game—then regressed back to the version of himself that fans are more used to seeing and essentially handed Marcus Peters an interception just three plays later. Peters took that pick to the house, cutting the lead to five (Rams tried and failed to go for two).
Momentum seemed like it was officially on the Rams’ side when their defense stepped up and limited a hot Tampa Bay offense to just a field goal on the following drive. Goff even ready to have McVay call the perfect drive to crush the Buccaneers’ hearts. This is where Barrett comes back into the fray. With just a over a minute left in the game, the defender bullied his way into the pocket and forced a fumble out of Goff. Ndamukong Suh recovered the loose ball and the game was officially iced.
That’s the Shaquille Barrett difference. Had this situation come up in most recent seasons, the Bucs would have likely choked away their lead in humiliating fashion, and Bruce Arians’s face would have matched the color of the Kangol he was wearing. Instead, they were able to go on the road and get a statement win over the defending NFC champions all because of what Barrett can do for them. Best of all for the player, if he doesn’t succeed in helping the Bucs fully turn the corner this year, he’s at least played well enough to earn a lot more than his current $5 million contract gives him. Not a bad thing settle for.