TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just gotten a turnover off of an interception by Brent Grimes giving them the ball at the New York Jets’ 32-yard line. The Bucs were leading 3-0, the crowd was starting to get rowdy and coach Dirk Koetter felt it was time to take a shot.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had rookie receiver Chris Godwin one-on-one with Jets’ cornerback Darryl Roberts. As the ball floated toward Godwin, it appeared it would be a touchdown but Roberts stepped in front of the rookie and snagged his first career interception.
It was a highlight for Roberts who attended Lakeland High School and was playing near home for the first time in his NFL career. Still, the third-year corner out of Marshall was not happy following the game. He had a costly penalty that kept the Buccaneers’ lone touchdown drive alive (he was called for defensive pass interference) in the fourth quarter and the Jets lost to the Bucs 15-10 on Sunday.
“It felt good just to play in front of my family and friends,” said Roberts, who said he had about 30 friends and family in the stands. “But I take every game the same so I’ve got to execute and try to win. That’s what I try to do.”
Roberts led the team in tackles with eight as well as was tied for the team lead with two pass breakups on the day. While he didn’t start Sunday, he played a lot when Mo Claiborne went out with a foot injury. The Jets didn’t panic with Roberts in the game. In fact, they like the way he’s growing.
“When he came in, he could always play man-to-man,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “He had to learn our scheme and he got more confident. We were really impressed with his tackling this year. He’s become more physical and when he gets his opportunities he plays. He plays fearless football and we like that about him.”
Roberts wasn’t the only one making a homecoming. Jets’ running back Bilal Powell is a Lake Gibson grad while cornerback Robert Nelson was born in Lakeland although he went to high school at North Gwinnett High in Georgia.
Powell, who is in his seventh season, also was making his first appearance as a professional at Raymond James Stadium. His highlight came early as he broke off a 21-yard run against the Bucs on the team’s second series. He ended up with a team-high 30 yards on a tough running day for the Jets’ leading rusher.
Still, he was excited to have the opportunity to play close to home.
“It’s a dream come true to play in this stadium,” Powell said following the game. “It felt good to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family.”
Powell, who has been "Mr. Do it All" for the Jets, said he had about 40 people come over from Polk County. He also said he probably knew some of the people Roberts and Nelson had as well.
Powell leads the Jets in rushing and also has 19 catches this year. Whether the team needs him to start or to come off the bench, Powell is the ultimate team player.
“He doesn’t talk much but he performs,” Bowles said of Powell. “He goes out there and gives you 100 percent every time he’s out there. He’s a good football player. He’s a good all-around football player. He may not be the fastest or biggest or anything like that but you know what you’re going to get from him all the time and that’s 100 percent and we love having him.”
When things don’t go right for the team or personally, Powell said he leans on his faith to get him through.
“That’s what drives me,” he said of his faith. “That’s what motivates me even when you have people saying negative things and have criticism. I don’t listen to that because they don’t plan my life. My biggest thing is taking advantage of my opportunities.”
Nelson is just waiting for his opportunities. He was inactive for the game but started the season on the practice squad before working his way into wearing a helmet the previous two games.
“Robert is a hard worker,” Bowles said. “He’s quick and fast. He’s played (two games) but his commitment is excellent. He works hard in practice and busts his butt and he’s waiting his turn.”
Powell, Roberts and Nelson are three players from Lakeland. They may have all attended different high schools but are now watching over each other and always repping the 863.
“To have three guys from Lakeland in the NFL and on the same team, it’s a dream come true,” Powell said. “We look at it as a blessing and push each other every day.”