TAMPA, Fla. (BVM) – Not many expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to begin the post-Tom Brady era with a 2-0 start, but that’s exactly what they have done with wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears in the first two weeks of the 2023 NFL season. A big reason why is the play of the Bucs’ defense which has been boosted by the return of linebacker Shaq Barrett.
Barrett has long been a staple of Tampa’s defense, wracking up a league-leading 19.5 sacks in his first season with the Buccaneers in 2019, and making his second Pro Bowl appearance with another double-digit sack season in 2021. In between, he became a Super Bowl champion with the Bucs in 2020.
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However, last year, Barrett played in just eight games before suffering a torn Achilles. The 30-year-old linebacker faced a daunting recovery throughout the offseason, one that was made even tougher by a devastating family tragedy.
On April 30, Barrett’s 2-year-old daughter, Arrayah, drowned in a pool at the family’s home in Tampa. Making his return to the field this fall, Shaq sought to honor his daughter throughout the season, leading to a flood of emotions before he took the field for last week’s season-opener in Minnesota.
“I was struggling real bad,” Shaq said during a postgame press conference on Sunday. “I couldn’t stop crying. Called my wife, the coaches checked in on me. But then out of the blue, everything just went away and I was able to focus on the game. My wife says people pray for me. So I actually felt like the wave of emotions just slide to the side and I was actually able to focus. So I was able to feel the power of prayer.”
Shaq made four tackles in his return to the field in Minnesota, but put together an even stronger performance in Week 2 against the Bears which included a second-quarter sack, and a pick-six late in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for Tampa Bay.
Perfect timing for Shaq's first career touchdown 🙌
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After the interception, Shaq blew a kiss to the sky as he was mobbed by teammates. Wearing a heart-shaped necklace with Arrayah’s picture on it during his post-game press conference, the Bucs’ linebacker explained the moment.
“It most definitely feels good,” Shaq said. “I’ll always play for my family already, but then having that extra incentive and making me want to go a little harder for her. It never stops sucking. It’s always going to suck. But at least I’m able to be able to shine some spotlight on her.
“I told her, ‘I love you, miss you and wish she was here.’”
Shaq also received plenty of love and support from his teammates and the Bucs’ coaching staff following the game.
Video: Mike Evans says Shaq Barrett’s first career touchdown was an “awesome moment” in Sunday’s win over the Bears. pic.twitter.com/f4O7FQ6eCP
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“It’s unbelievable,” Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said in his postgame press conference. “You can’t even fathom going through something like that. To see him go through it and come out on the other side – and I’m sure he still has days – but to play like he’s playing right now, to be where he is right now is unbelievable.”
‘Unbelievable’ is the perfect way to describe Shaq’s return to the field following a severe injury and one of the most heartbreaking moments any family can suffer. Returning to a Pro Bowl level as the Bucs have surprisingly started the season undefeated, the Tampa Bay linebacker will likely have more opportunities to make plays in honor of Arrayah in the near future.