Speaking to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett this past April after he signed with the franchise, it was clear from the jump he was a man who came to Tampa for a specific purpose.
Playing was just a part of it. After sitting behind Von Miller for years and then watching the Denver Broncos bring in Bradley Chubb, it was clear to Barrett his future opportunities would exist outside of Denver.
And as he arrived to the NFC South Division I asked him what he was looking forward to the most, to which he replied, “They all pass a lot, so I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to get a lot of sacks.”
Of course, one of the main reasons he left the Broncos was for a chance to play more. To start. To be on the field at the end of the game.
It’s his second regular season week with the franchise, but in his first divisional match he wasn’t just on the field at the end of the game, he put his stamp on the whole thing.
Barrett finished with more pressures than I can count prior to the release of the coaches film, but also got to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for three sacks.
Shaquil Barrett sacks Cam, does the Superman celebration pic.twitter.com/MV1bWijuMc— Sports Gifs & Videos (@Supreme_gifs) September 13, 2019
Sacks are great, but they’re only one part of the total team equation. Even more important is what a defense does following those sacks.
Barrett’s first sack came in the third quarter with his team up just one point at the time. His sack came following a big splash play to tight end Greg Olsen that gained 33-yards and put the Panthers inside Buccaneers territory.
Pushing Carolina back to the 50-yard line on the very next play was huge, and three plays later the Panthers punted the ball back to the Bucs, lead intact.
His next two sacks didn’t prevent points, but trimmed the possible points the Panthers were hoping to score by half plus an extra point.
Following yet another big pass to Olsen, the Panthers were near the red zone looking to once again regain the lead. On first down, Carolina ran running back Christian McCaffrey around the right side for no gain.
Then, on second and third downs it was ‘Sack Barrett’ time as the veteran linebacker got to the quarterback on each snap for a total loss of 12-yards. The result was a 51-yard field goal try from the Buccaneers 41-yard line for a Panthers team that had the ball on the 21-yard line just three plays earlier.
While Carolina took the lead on that drive, Barrett’s sacks ensured the lead was small, and it didn’t last long at all as the Buccaneers offense took the ball back down the field in less than four minutes and finished the drive in a way Carolina never did; with a touchdown.
Speaking with media after the game, Barrett was asked about his impressive divisional debut, and said, “I just found the groove late in the second quarter, and I just kept it going in the third quarter and the fourth quarter. I just - shoot - I just found it.”
When Barrett arrived to the NFC South he was a man in search of playing time, opportunity, with the desire to sack pass-happy quarterbacks and close out a game on the field with his defensive teammates.
In his first trip out against a division rival he not only fulfilled all of those goals. He did them emphatically. Guess betting on himself was the right move after all. Too bad he’s only here on a one-year deal. But we’ll worry about that later.