TAMPA — The downpour that welcomed the Broncos back to the field at Raymond James Stadium would discourage most people. That only a couple thousand fans trickled back into the stands after Sunday's 80-minute weather delay said as much.
It takes a special kind of person to thrive in such nasty conditions that you could call Derek Wolfe weather.
Wolfe had already put a great day in the books before the game was put on hold. He had been relentless in chasing down Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and running backs Charles Sims III and Jacquizz Rodgers, racking up five total tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits to that point.
Then came the rain, thunder and lightning with just under seven minutes to go in the game. After the hour-plus delay, Wolfe picked up where he left off, and he did so in delightful conditions for a defensive lineman.
"That's just football weather, man. When it's raining and stuff, it reminds you of high school. It's fun," Wolfe said. "When it's raining like that, you've got to have fun. You're going to be slipping and sliding around, the ball's going to be popping out, the quarterback's going to be sliding around."
With a half-sack and two more quarterback hits after the break, Wolfe ended his day as one of the Broncos' two leading tacklers and with half of the team's five sacks.
"Derek's playing really well," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "I was just teasing with him in the locker room. I said, 'You waited an hour and a half just to go back out there and get one more sack.'"
Wolfe was clearly no worse for wear even with the delay keeping the team in the locker room for an extended period of time. He wouldn't divulge the locker room secrets of how the team spent its time, but they balanced staying loose with staying focused enough to come back out without missing a beat.
"We were just hanging," Wolfe said "Like, 'OK, let's just go to the locker room and chill for a little bit, and we'll go back out and kick some ass.' And that's what we did."
The defense was stellar against yet another well-regarded quarterback in Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. In addition to hounding him for five sacks, the Broncos defense also forced him into 17-of-35 passing for 179 yards, two interceptions and no passing touchdowns, though he did scramble for one rushing score.
Wolfe attributed much of his and the Broncos' success in the pass rush to knowing Tampa Bay's tendency to rely almost solely on the passing game when they fall behind, but acknowledged that didn't make Winston any easier to tackle.
"He's the kind of guy you have to break down and tackle," Wolfe said, "It's hard enough to get to him, then you've got to break down and tackle him. He's a great player, a great young player."
Wolfe's 2.5 sacks will raise eyebrows, but it wasn't just his pass-rushing ability that made his impact against the Buccaneers so tremendous.
"He's our anchor in the middle," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "He's that anchor up front. He stops the run, rushes the pass. We love Wolfe, and he's definitely a Pro Bowl guy, I think. He just goes unnoticed because we have so many stars on our team. But Wolfe is definitely one of our anchors in that middle. … We love that anger that he plays with out there every week and that's what we need [with] him up front."
Notes from Tampa Bay
- The Broncos, who became the first NFL team to reach four wins on the season, reached 4-0 for the third time in the last four seasons.
- For the ninth team in team histroy, the Broncos began the season at 4-0. They reached the Super Bowl in six of those nine seasons.
- The Broncos' 47 score differential ranks second among the three undefeated teams remaining in the league.
- Sunday's win over the Buccaneers made the Broncos the first team since the 1986 Chicago Bears to win six straight games using different quarterbacks.
- The Broncos passed the Los Angeles Lakers for the second-highest win percentage among American pro sports francises during Owner Pat Bowlen's tenure.
- The Broncos held Tampa Bay to -4 yards of total offense in the third quarter.
- Quarterback Trevor Siemian earned his fourth consecutive win to start his career and became the first quarterback drafted by Denver to win his first four starts with the Broncos.