There was a point in the 2020 regular season when Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting felt very much like a liability in coverage. Now, as Tampa Bay prepares to host the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV on Sunday night, the second-year cornerback stands as one of the major reasons why the team is still alive and fighting for its second-ever Lombardi Trophy.
As late as Week 15, Murphy-Bunting was getting shredded. While the Bucs overcame a large deficit and ended up beating the Falcons in Atlanta, he was targeted frequently—and successfully—throughout the game by Matt Ryan. It was a bad showing in, quite frankly, a lengthy list of them on the season. How, then, did the 2019 second-round pick become one of the key playmakers during Tampa Bay’s playoff run?
The key has been confidence, at least as far as head coach Bruce Arians is concerned. Speaking with the media on Tuesday about Murphy-Bunting, he had this to say:
“I think the biggest thing with Sean is he was playing beat up almost the entire season and he learned to play with injuries and still play extremely well. It was a matter of getting his confidence back totally that he could play. I told him, ‘You at 85 percent [healthy] is better than most people at 100 [percent]. Just get out there and do what you do best.’ Then he started making plays one after another and now he’s playing with extreme confidence.”
Heading into this Sunday’s matchup against an extremely dangerous Chiefs offense, Murphy-Bunting certainly has plenty of reasons to be feeling confident. In the Bucs’ Wild Card Round win over Washington, he came through with a key interception. He grabbed another in the team’s Divisional Round win over New Orleans and stiff-armed the mess out of Michael Thomas for good measure. That was quite the response for Murphy-Bunting, who took it personally when Thomas was strutting around the field running his mouth prior to the game. Making that kind of statement—intercepting Drew Brees while covering Thomas to swing things in Tampa Bay’s favor—is obviously going to give you some confidence.
The Central Michigan alum’s run didn’t stop in the Superdome, either, as he intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game to make history. He joined elite company by becoming the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to record an interception in his first three career postseason games.
So, yeah, why shouldn’t Murphy-Bunting be confident? He and the rest of the Tampa Bay defense obviously have a huge challenge ahead of them in facing an offense led by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. But Murphy-Bunting—and this Buccaneer defense—has made major strides since the last time they met the Chiefs back in Week 12. We’ll see what kind of success that translates to come Sunday.