Their head coach keeps saying statistics are for losers, but one stat has undoubtedly played a central role in crafting a stunning 5-2 start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs picked off four passes in Sunday's wild 38-35 triumph at Arizona and lead the league with 14 interceptions. Five of those thefts have come courtesy of cornerback Aqib Talib, who, despite missing the season opener because of a league suspension, is second in the NFL to Washington's DeAngelo Hall with six.
"All I can think of is Rah (Coach Raheem Morris) in practice, telling us we have to cash in on our opportunities,'' defensive tackle Roy Miller said Monday. "He harps on the defensive backs about that and (Sunday) was the ultimate showing.''
Talib's second pick of the game helped Tampa Bay tie a franchise record with a fifth consecutive road win. With the Cardinals already in prime field goal position, Talib stepped in front of a Derek Anderson pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald just before the two-minute warning.
"We were expecting them to run the ball,'' said outside linebacker Geno Hayes, who played his most dynamic game of the season with five unassisted tackles, an interception return for a touchdown and three passes defended.
"Once the ball goes in the air, you never know who's going to come down with it. With Aqib on our side, most times we'll take our chances. We've got guys in our secondary that take advantage of their opportunities.''
The Bucs, tied for second in the NFL with a plus-8 turnover ratio, are preparing for Sunday's first-place showdown in the NFC South at Atlanta. A Tampa Bay victory, coupled with a Giants loss at Seattle, would send the Bucs home with the conference's best record, vindicating Morris' recent comments that the Bucs are the best team in the NFC.
"Coach has a lot of confidence in us and we have a lot of confidence in everything we do,'' Miller said. "If we do everything that we're supposed to and we prepare and keep fighting the way we've been fighting, we're the best. That's the way we approach everything. Every team feels that way and he (Morris) is saying it. We've always had good games with Atlanta and we're looking forward to this one.''
The Falcons come off a bye week and third-year quarterback Matt Ryan is 16-1 at the Georgia Dome. Meanwhile, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has won seven of his past 10 starts while earning a reputation as a fourth-quarter maestro.
"This should be a fun game,'' said defensive end Stylez G. White, who has registered a sack and a forced fumble in each of the past two games. "We expect them (Falcons) to run, that's what they do. Obviously, we're very confident in Josh, but he doesn't need it ... he's very confident in himself.''