Anthony Nelson arising ‘big’ as unheralded member of Bucs protection

The Bucs had rallied from 11 factors down within the fourth quarter Sunday to take the lead on Carolina, however the Panthers nonetheless had the ball, down three factors, making an attempt to scrap their manner again to tie or retake the lead.

Then exterior linebacker Anthony Nelson got here by way of with an enormous play for the second week in a row, sacking quarterback Sam Darnold and forcing a fumble that the Bucs recovered on the Carolina 6, establishing a simple landing and the ultimate margin of victory in a 30-24 win that clinched an NFC South title for Tampa Bay.

“He’s been huge with the turnovers and the sacks,” coach Todd Bowles stated Monday. “He’s playing solid overall defense. Nelson’s been one of the smartest guys we have [since] we got him; he was just behind two great players. He’s coming into his own right now and we like his progress.”

Nelson, 25, is ending the season sturdy for the second straight yr, and his timing is ideal as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in March. The Bucs wanted somebody to step up when Professional Bowl pass-rusher Shaq Barrett was misplaced to a season-ending Achilles tendon damage, and Nelson has answered that decision. He has three compelled fumbles prior to now 4 video games, and his 2.5 sacks in three video games have him with 5.5 on the season, one off the crew excessive.

Not solely did the Bucs lose Barrett, however in addition they had backup Genard Avery go on injured reserve, and Carl Nassib has missed the previous three video games with a pectoral damage. So the Bucs have had precisely two exterior linebackers — Nelson and 2021 first-round choose Joe Tryon-Shoyinka — for the final three video games, that means that Nelson has performed each snap for 3 video games at a place the place that not often occurs.

“Me and Joe have been grinding out there, especially these last couple games, every snap,” Nelson stated. “We’ve just been battling. It’s been fun to be in the trenches with him. We get caught up in grinding … like, ‘You tired? Yeah. You tired? Yeah.’ I’m like, ‘All right, I guess we’ve got to make a play.’ It’s all we’ve got.”

Nelson, a fourth-round select of Iowa in 2019, had began simply 4 video games in his first three seasons in Tampa, enjoying behind Barrett and fellow Professional Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul. When Pierre-Paul wasn’t re-signed after final season, Tryon-Shoyinka stepped in as a starter, however Nelson bought his probability with Barrett’s damage, beginning the previous seven video games. 

Lengthy and lanky at 6-foot-7, 271 kilos, Nelson has proven a penchant for enjoying his greatest soccer late within the season. His first profession sack got here in Week 16 in 2020 on the day after Christmas, and final season he had one sack every within the closing three video games to provide him 5 for the yr. Identical factor this season, with 2.5 sacks prior to now three video games. For his profession, he has extra sacks (6.5) in 16 video games in December and January than he has (5) in 42 video games performed earlier within the season.

“It’s the mindset we always have,” Nelson stated Sunday. “When I’m out there, I’m expected to make a play. Even when I was a backup up off the bench, when you are out there, you are expected to make a play. That’s just the standard in the room. … It’s never easy. It wasn’t today. But we’re division champs and that’s all we came in today for.”

Bucs clinch NFC South with win over Panthers

Bucs clinch NFC South with win over Panthers

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers clinched the NFC South with a 30-24 win over the Panthers in Week 17. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react to Brady making the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season.

Nelson had executed the identical per week earlier on Christmas day, blindsiding Cardinals quarterback Hint McSorley for a key turnover early in Tampa Bay’s comeback win at Arizona. Takeaways have been arduous to come back by for the Bucs protection, and Nelson’s three compelled fumbles are probably the most on the crew.

Being productive as a Bucs backup pass-rusher can arrange a profitable contract in free company. Simply as Nelson has 10.5 sacks within the final two seasons, Nassib was a lot the identical manner in 2018-19. After getting 12.5 sacks these two seasons, Nassib landed a two-year, $17.2-million contract with the Raiders earlier than returning to Tampa in 2022.

Nelson is considered one of greater than 20 unrestricted free brokers the Bucs can have, with restricted salary-cap flexibility as they attempt to deliver again one of the best of them. For now, his focus is on conserving the Bucs’ season going so long as doable, from Sunday’s regular-season finale at Atlanta to internet hosting a wild-card recreation the next weekend, with hopes to maintain successful and maintain going from there.

“Punching that ticket, that’s not easy to do,” stated Nelson, who had a sack within the Bucs’ playoff opener in opposition to Washington two years in the past. “We have a lot to correct, and we have a lot ahead of us. We have a lot of goals we still haven’t achieved, but this gives us the opportunity. So we are happy about that. We will enjoy it. This week, we’ll be back to work to tune it up, because we are going to need it for the playoff run.”

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Greg Auman is FOX Sports activities’ NFC South reporter, masking the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He’s in his tenth season masking the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having hung out on the Tampa Bay Instances and The Athletic. You’ll be able to observe him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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