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Bucs DT Vita Vea relied on faith in God while battling back from Week 5 broken ankle

TAMPA — The argument can be made either way as to who boasts the better quarterback in Super Bowl LV — Kansas City’s 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes or Tampa Bay’s 43-year-old Tom Brady.

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Both QBs led explosive offenses in 2020. The Chiefs produced more yards per game (415.8) than anyone else, and also led the NFL in passing yards (303.4). The Buccaneers finished second in passing offense (289.1) and third in points scored (30.8).

So the game very well could be decided by defense. On paper, the Bucs have the edge there, as they ranked first in fewest rushing yards allowed (80.6), fifth in sacks (48.0), sixth in overall yards allowed (327.1), and eighth in points allowed (22.2) — all better marks than the Chiefs.

And the Bucs now have a key weapon they did not have in Week 12, when they fell to Kansas City, 27-24: defensive tackle Vita Vea, a big reason the Bucs also led the NFL in rushing defense last year.

The 12th overall pick out of Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft, Vea fractured his ankle in Week 5 against Chicago. He had started 27 straight games at that point, including all 16 in 2019 when he collected 2.5 sacks, 35 tackles, 12 quarterback hits and three passes defended. In the first five games of 2020, Vea posted two sacks, three QB hits and 10 tackles.

The 6-foot-4, 347-pounder who turned 26 on Friday was placed on injured reserve in October, seemingly ending his season. But because Tampa advanced so far in the playoffs, and Vea worked his way back to health, the team activated him off IR for the NFC championship game against Green Bay. He played 33 (46 percent) of the defensive snaps.

How much he plays on Sunday is to be determined, but he has Mahomes’ attention.

“He’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at every single play,” Mahomes said during a media session this week. “He obviously is super disruptive in the run game, but he’s just as good as a pass rusher. You don’t see guys like that — playing that position, that can rush the passer like that — that much. For him, he’s a special talent and I’ll have to know where he’s at every single play in order to not let him disrupt the entire game.”

During his media session this week, Vea was asked if he’s 100-percent healthy, and he confirmed he was. He also said he had been working toward playing again this season throughout the entire rehab process.

He said he also leaned on his faith in God while out with his injury.

“I relied on it a lot,” Vea said. “Obviously I had a bunch of family and friends praying for me, and I just knew if it was meant to be then I was going to be out there and play again. So obviously it was meant to be for me to go out there. I’m extremely blessed to have the opportunity to make it back and come out here and play, especially in the stage we’re playing at.”

Vea is one of the most athletic interior lineman in the league, which is why he’s so effective in stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. He may even be called on to block at fullback or catch a touchdown.

The son of immigrants from Tonga, Vea was born and raised in Northern California (Milpitas, Calif.). He played three seasons at the University of Washington, earning the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2017. He declared for the NFL draft on New Year’s Day 2018, and in doing so thanked God.

“I would like to start off by thanking God for all of the blessings He has bestowed on me. I am nothing without Him! After endless prayer and deliberation, I have made the decision to declare to the 2018 NFL Draft,” he said.

 

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The Bucs have been thrilled with his performance ever since, and will look to capitalize on his disruptiveness Sunday against Kansas City.

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