TAMPA — After only two games, the young linebacker corps of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has made NFL history.
Middle linebacker Mason Foster, flanked by Lavonte David and Dekoda Watson, has led the way for a play-making unit that has excelled despite an 0-2 start.
For the first time since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic, an NFL team has had three different players record at least one sack and one interception through the first two weeks. Foster posted a pair of sacks in Week 1 against the Jets and rumbled 85 yards with an interception return for a touchdown Sunday in a 16-14 loss to New Orleans.
David already has 2-1/2 sacks and an interception while Watson, in his first year as a starter, has been credited with a sack and a pick.
“We have a lot of great players and great leaders on our defense,’’ said Foster, who recorded the longest interception return for Tampa Bay since perennial Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks brought a pick back 97 yards for a score against Baltimore early in the 2002 championship season.
“We compete at a high level, even in practice. We have to clean up little stuff, keep studying hard and I’m pretty confident we’ll get it done.’’
The linebacker trio has combined for all three of Tampa Bay’s interceptions and the bulk of the club’s nine sacks.
The Bucs haven’t reached the 30-sack plateau since 2007 and will head to Gillette Stadium on Sunday against Tom Brady and the Patriots with the NFC’s top sack total. Drew Brees of the Saints was dropped four times amid constant pressure.
“Everybody’s rushing,’’ Foster said, “doing what they can to help the team win. Brees may not be the fastest guy, but he’s definitely athletic and does well moving around in the pocket. I felt we did a good job getting pressure in his face.
“Brady is the same type of guy. Not that straight-ahead speed, but he does a great job of shuffling his feet and giving himself more time.’’
On the rebound
A week after being stifled by a Jets defense stacked against him, Bucs RB Doug Martin broke loose for 144 yards on 29 carries against the Saints and credited his blockers for getting him to the second level.
“The running game was amazing,’’ said Martin, who carried eight times in Tampa Bay’s final possession of the game before Rian Lindell hooked a 47-yard field-goal attempt. “The line did an awesome job staying on their guys and getting a push off the line of scrimmage. You also have to give a lot of credit to (fullback) Erik Lorig in his first game back from injury.’’
Martin made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012 and he carried only three times in the preseason.
“The last game was my first full game since coming back and I kind of had to get used to the game speed again,’’ Martin said.
More playing time next preseason might help, he said.
“That would probably help, yeah,’’ said Martin, who suffered a blow to the head at New England early in the second preseason matchup. “But due to the situation with the head injury, they wanted to keep me out.’’
Kill ‘em with kindness
The Patriots are 2-0 despite a pair of lackluster efforts against the Bills and Jets. Coach Bill Belichick, who recommended Greg Schiano to Bucs ownership after Raheem Morris was dismissed following the 2011 season, said Tampa Bay’s record is deceiving.
“Talk about a team that’s two plays away from being 2-0, that’s Tampa,’’ Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for the way they play. They’re a tough, physical team and they play hard on every play in all three phases of the game.’’
Martin’s 144 yards led all NFL rushers on Sunday while Josh Freeman’s 125 passing yards ranked last among starting QBs. …TE Tom Crabtree, who missed the first two games with an ankle injury, is close to returning, Schiano said. …Freeman’s 13-yard scramble Sunday moved him past Vinny Testaverde for the most career rushing yards (918) by a Tampa Bay quarterback.