The least-discussed turnaround of the 2016 NFL season is taking place in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers' surge towards the postseason has taken a backseat to other storylines partially because it's been spurred not by the star quarterback but a lock-down, smothering defense.
Since Week 10, the Bucs have allowed the fewest points per game (12.8), have the most takeaways (14) and allowed the lowest passer rating (62.5).
It hasn't just been one unit that stepped up during a five-game winning streak. Gerald McCoy is back to wrecking games like a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Lavonte David found his footing after early-season struggles. Rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves' improvement is off the charts, pairing well with veteran Brent Grimes. And safety Keith Tandy entered the lineup to make huge plays, displaying the depth of Mike Smith's defense.
On Friday, pass rusher Robert Ayers joined NFL Network's Good Morning Football to discuss what spurred the Bucs' mid-season turnaround.
"We're hungry," Ayers said. "You got to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff. And the players, we really bought into it. We had some tough games early, you know we had some injuries too, but we had some tough games. And we took an oath to each other and just really wanted to dial in on what we needed to emphasize, the importance of communication and hunting out there and everybody being on one page. And it's really showed up the past few weeks. We're still not where we need to be, we can still can make a lot of improvements. We're still looking to go out there to hunt and be a dominant defense. We want to create our own legacy and start this thing going in the right direction."
The Bucs have held four of their last five opponents below 20 points and have a takeaway in four of the past five games (the longest streak by a Tampa defense since 2009-2010).
Two of those takeaways belong to Tandy, who has typified Tampa's turnaround. Filling in for an injured Chris Conte, Tandy has been a surprise upgrade. The fifth-year pro flies to the ball with confidence and bad intentions. His back-to-back game-sealing interceptions make the highlight shows, but it's his other plays that should keep him in the lineup when Conte returns healthy from a chest injury. Tandy is constantly around the ball, makes lightning quick reads and reactions. Last week he was thrown to five times as the primary cover man, he allowed just one catch for six yards, broke up a pass and had an INT, per Pro Football Focus.
Sunday night's tilt versus the Dallas Cowboys will go a long way in defining how serious a contender the Bucs will be down the stretch. Ayers, for his part, isn't afraid to talk about a Lombardi Trophy being the goal.
"That's the only reason I play. I play to win. I play to get to the Super Bowl, so some people may say they don't want about it. I do take it one game at a time, but that's what it's all about," Ayers said, noting he lost a Super Bowl as a member of the 2013 Denver Broncos. "... That's all I care about is winning, so, it's definitely on my mind all the time, but like I said, you've got to take it one game at a time, but that's what I'm here for, that's what I'm in the league for. I'm not here for anything else but to get a ring. So that is what I want. I'm hungry and I'm trying to get there. You've got to take it one game at a time, one step. But it's definitely on my mind, I can't speak for anyone else but that's what I want and that's what I'm hungry for."