They made a big play and posed for a picture, which is the norm nowadays in the NFL — especially when the highlight is made on defense, affording those who might not garner much attention to bask in the glow of a job well done.
The pose came on Oct. 18, when the Buccaneers made Aaron Rodgers’ life miserable in a rout of the Packers. The Tampa Bay defensive backs gathered for a group shot, hastily slapped a caption on the picture and sent it off into the social media netherworld.
The caption: “Grave Diggers.’’ The result: It stuck. The reaction: They like it.
“Yeah, it kind of blew up, and next thing you know everyone is calling us Grave Diggers,’’ Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis said. “So we’ll keep it. It speaks to how we play the game. We try to go out there and get the job done, like an assassin, when you order him to go take out somebody he got to do it. That’s what we do, we go out there and dig graves.’’
Well, the Chiefs might have something to say about that. The last time Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill tangled with the Bucs it was the Grave Diggers — especially Davis — who got buried.
“I play defensive back in the NFL so you’re going to have your share of losses,’’ Davis said. “It doesn’t change who I am, what I do, or how I approach the game.’’
The first encounter this season was not pretty for Davis and the Bucs. The teams gearing up for Super Bowl 50 met in Week 12, with the Chiefs winning 27-24 in Tampa. The Chiefs raced — almost literally —to a 17-0 first-quarter lead on the exploits of Mahomes throwing to Hill, over and over again. Hill, in the opening 15 minutes, had seven receptions for 203 yards, including touchdown catch-and-runs of 75 yards and 44 yards.
It was as if the Tampa Bay defense did not believe Hill was as fast as he is known to be. Davis largely was assigned to Hill in man coverage, given little or no extra help. Davis, 24, was a 2018 second-round draft pick out of Auburn and is no slouch, But this assignment was Mission: Impossible, and it was no contest early in this game.
“The experience helped me grow by just taking obstacles that come along during this journey this season, there’s going to be ups and downs, it’s like a roller coaster,’’ Davis said. “It affected me, but it was a good way for me to bounce back and just stay even keeled.’’
Getting better also means getting smarter. Isolating Davis, or anyone else in the Buccaneers’ secondary, on Hill for long stretches is plain dumb. Jamel Dean, the other starting cornerback, was injured and did not play the first time around against the Chiefs. His presence on Sunday should help Davis and the entire Tampa Bay defense.
Also, the Bucs acknowledged the error of their ways and regrouped in that Nov. 29 game, outscoring the Chiefs 17-7 in the second half. Hill finished with 13 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bucs could take some small measure of satisfaction that they limited the diminutive speedster to 66 yards and one touchdown over the final three quarters.
“We realize we can play with those guys,’’ said second-year cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who had one interception in the regular season and has three thus far in the playoffs — picking off Taylor Heinicke, Drew Brees and Rodgers. “We can’t always go into games like, ‘They have this guy, they have this guy, they have this guy,’ because we have guys, too.’’
They also have the evidence of Hill’s devastation to guide them this time around.
“They realize now that they can’t do some of the things they did in the last game,” Buccaneers cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross said. “I think it was maybe — I don’t want to say lackadaisical or disrespecting their speed, but sometimes you don’t know how fast a man is until you actually run with that man, and then you find out some things about yourself and him as well. The approach will be totally different this time around. I think they’ll be better prepared.’’
The Bucs’ defensive backfield is young and home-grown, with the top five players all drafted in the past three years. Davis and safety Jordan Whitehead are in their third seasons, Dean and Murphy-Bunting are in their second and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is a rookie.
The Grave Diggers have risen. Now they have to try to remain above ground as they contend with Mahomes and Hill, again.