Thursday, September 24, 2009
By Bryan Sullivan
September 22, 2009
Orchard Park. N.Y. —
Donte Whitner has not shied away from attention since entering the NFL four years ago.
The Bills’ free safety guaranteed his team would make the playoffs last year. He has always talked about being among the league’s best at his position.
Games like Sunday’s will not only help establish himself among the league’s elite, but might help end Buffalo’s 10-year playoff drought.
Whitner returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, helping the Bills beat Tampa Bay 33-20 in Sunday’s home opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He also recorded eight tackles.
“I always have confidence in myself,” Whitner said. “Over the past three years I have played so many positions here. I bounced around from game to game. Playing the free safety position is not easy, but if you do your job you’ll make plays on the football.”
Whitner’s TD stalled the momentum of Tampa Bay’s second drive. After going three-and-out on their first possession, the Bucs drove to the Bills’ 25. With a first-and-10 right outside the red zone, quarterback Byron Leftwich overthrew running back Carnell Williams. Whitner grabbed the errant throw and went untouched to the end zone. Instead of the game possibly being tied at seven, the Bills were ahead 14-0.
“We were in a three-deep coverage, and I saw the quarterback was getting some pressure, I just wanted to make a jump on the ball,” Whitner said. “It felt good. It was just great team defense.”
Whitner’s play quickly rubbed off on his teammates.
The Bucs were on the move on the ensuing possession, getting to the Buffalo 43. Whitner’s partner at safety, Bryan Scott, intercepted Leftwich and returned it to the Tampa 32, setting up the Bills’ third score of the game, a 31-yard Rian Lindell field goal that made it 17-0.
“The ball just came out, and I don’t get too many opportunities like that so I knew I had to take advantage,” Scott said. “Turnovers are contagious. You keep attacking, and eventually all of you are getting after it.”
Whitner is part of a veteran secondary. He joins seven-year veterans Scott and Terrance McGee to give Buffalo one of the most experienced units in the league.
“Guys are really comfortable with each other,” Whitner said. “They hang out during the week. We work extra on getting our communication down. It’s been helping because more guys are comfortable and working together.”
The Bills’ defense proved up to the challenge in the second half. Tampa’s only points came late in the fourth quarter. Even after Trent Edwards threw his first interception of the season, the Bills stopped Tampa Bay on the following possession. Lindell kicked a 27-yard field goal on Buffalo’s next drive to put the Bills ahead 23-14.
The unit forced three punts, but the biggest play came in the third quarter. Whitner and linebacker Marcus Buggs stuffed Derrick Ward on a 4th-and-1 from the Bills 43 with 4:56 remaining in the third.
“(The Bills) executed their game plan — great job by their coaching staff, great job by the Buffalo Bills,” said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris.