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No more tears: Whitner finds redemption in victory

A week ago today, Donte Whitner was in tears.

On Sunday, the only visible moisture on his face was the sweat on his brow from a day's work done well.
The veteran safety was part of a big defensive effort that helped the Buffalo Bills bounce back from last Monday's heartbreaker in New England with a 33-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Whitner was emotional after that 25-24 loss to the Patriots, but not devastated. Redemption is always a week away in the NFL, and Whitner played a major role in the Bills making up for last week's meltdown.

The Buccaneers were deep in Bills territory when Whitner intercepted an overthrown pass by quarterback Byron Leftwich and returned it 76 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
The Bucs were driving on their next possession when safety Bryan Scott picked off a pass and returned it 27 yards to set up a field goal.
Those two plays gave the Bills a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and put the Bucs in catch-up mode the rest of the day.
"We were in three-deep coverage," Whitner said of his interception. "I saw the quarterback, and he had some pressure on him. He wanted to get the ball out quick to the back because he had been hitting on those checkdowns all day when the pressure comes. I just wanted to make a jump on that football. I saw the ball, caught it and it felt good.

"That's just good team defense. The guys are getting pressure up front and we're making plays in the back end. As long as we can continue to get that pressure we'll be able to go to the [quarterback's] second and third read and make plays on the football."

Making plays is something Whitner was expected to do on a regular basis when the Bills chose him No. 8 overall in the 2006 draft. He saw himself as a potential game-changing safety in the mold of Baltimore's Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu.

But Whitner has been viewed by the public as anything but a difference-maker. He entered this season with only two interceptions, one sack and four forced fumbles.

Whitner attributes the lack of big plays to his ever-changing role in the Bills' defense. Since his rookie year, he has been asked to play both strong and free safety as well as cornerback in nickel and dime situations.
But he seems to be settling in at free safety, where he's able to see things develop in front of him.

"Playing the free safety position is not easy," said Whitner, who added eight tackles, including a big stop on Bucs running back Derrick Ward for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-inches from the Bills' 43-yard line.

"But if you do your job and you get a good read on the quarterback and you're in the right place at the right time and you play physical back there, you'll get tips and overthrows and you'll make plays on the football, especially when the defensive line is getting a lot of pressure like that because those two go hand in hand. You're not going to get interceptions and big plays if you don't get pressure on the quarterback."

The Bills supplied a lot of pressure on Leftwich, but the key to their defensive performance was what they did against the Bucs' running game.
Tampa Bay had just 57 rushing yards Sunday, 117 less than a week ago in their opener against Dallas.
"Initially, we came in wanting to stop the run," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "They rushed for 180 yards or whatever against Dallas last week. They have a good scheme and offensive line for what they wanted to do. But we were able to stack up the run and get them in a situation where we wanted them."


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