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Defense propels Buccaneers into playoff position

Wake up, America! The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are streaking towards the playoffs.

Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and the offense might get all the attention, but the Bucs' four-game win streak is all about the defensive turnaround.

Since Week 10, the Buccaneers have allowed the fewest PPG in the NFL and have had the most takeaways, per NFL Research.

Bucs D since Week 10:
Points per game allowed: 13.3 (rank 1st)
Takeaways: 11 (rank 1st)
Passer rating allowed: 67.3 (rank 1st)
Third-down percent: 28.9 (rank 2nd)
Sacks: 12 (rank 5th)
Yards per game allowed: 300.3 (rank 5th)

The Bucs' defensive front has propelled the team, harassing quarterbacks and stymied running games. Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers and stud rookie Noah Spence have combined to form the type of pass rush Tampa expected to employ this offseason. In Sunday's victory over the Chargers, Tampa sacked Philip Rivers twice but the San Diego line controlled the game for the most part.

This week it was the back seven that made game-changing plays. Linebacker Lavonte David's pick-six off a tip by rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves gave the Bucs their first lead and turned the tide of the game.

"Lavonte, I think, has had a solid season," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said, via the Tampa Bay Times. "I know his numbers are not what they've been in the past, but what he's doing for this defense is an integral part of what we're trying to get accomplished."

Later it was reserve safety Keith Tandy, who had played 71 total snaps this season until logging 55 in place of starter Chris Conte, with the game-sealing interception.

Smith's unit didn't look much different from Lovie Smith's train wreck early in the season. But the Bucs' defense has made game-changing plays each week that led to wins in their four-game streak.

Tampa has a home and away versus the Saints sandwiched around a trip to Dallas before closing at home against the Panthers. Tied for the division lead and in pole position for a Wild Card spot, the Bucs are surging towards January games thanks to a defense that is shutting down opponents.

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