SAN DIEGO — The ball fluttered into the air and came down in the sure hands of Bucs linebacker Lavonte David. All that was in front of him was 15 yards of open spaces, the end zone and his team's first lead of the day.
And, oh, how about this: First place in the NFC South.
As soon as he intercepted the ball, he was thinking touchdown.
"Of course," David said.
Teammate Adarius Glanton thought David would "Deion it in." You know, a little Prime Time Sanders dance into the end zone.
"I was that wide open," David said.
But, like everything David does, he played it cool as he scored the key touchdown in Tampa Bay's weird but welcome 28-21 victory Sunday against the Chargers.
"I was just thinking about getting into the end zone as quick I could," David said. "And then celebrate with my teammates."
Well after the game, his teammates celebrated David.
"Love it, man," linebacker Kwon Alexander said.
"A great player," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "He's one of the reasons I wanted to come play here."
"He's special," rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said.
Talk to the Bucs' defensive players and you start to understand how much David means to this team.
Even if he hasn't had the type of year Tampa Bay fans are accustomed to seeing from the fifth-year linebacker. He's normally a tackling machine, among the best ball-maulers in the league. But his numbers and splash plays are down in 2016. Because of that, it might feel like he's having a down season.
"Lavonte, I think, has had a solid season," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "I know his numbers are not what they've been in the past, but what he's doing for this defense is an integral part of what we're trying to get accomplished."
Alexander, standing in the locker right next to David, was more blunt.
"A lot of people have been doubting him because they think he hasn't been playing like he used to play, and he just shut them up," Alexander said. "He plays with heart. Makes big plays. Love that guy."
He made the biggest play Sunday.
Tampa Bay was sputtering on offense and trailing 14-10 late in the third quarter. On a first down at his own 8, Philip Rivers threw a quick slant to Tyrell Williams. But Hargreaves broke up the pass and the ball went into the air.
"Oh man, great play by Vernon Hargreaves getting a hand on the football and tipping it up," David said. "Coaches always preach running to the football when the ball is thrown. That's what I did."
David ran to the ball, caught it and had a takeaway in his third consecutive game as he raced into the end zone.
"The turning point of the ball game," Smith said.
And not just because it flipped the scoreboard.
"It gets the whole team going," Hargreaves said. "Everybody loves a defensive touchdown, and that's what we strive for."
Want to know how the Bucs have climbed off the mat to bolt into a tie for first place? Defense.
It stymied Kansas City. It shut down Seattle. And it stopped San Diego in the second half. David's pick-six won the game. Safety Keith Tandy's late interception in the end zone saved it.
Look out. The Bucs are 7-5 and in great shape with a big game at home this week against the Saints.
"Stay humble," David said.
He was talking about the Bucs, but he easily could have been talking about himself. He never brags about his own play. He just makes plays.
His teammates do all the bragging about him.
"I love playing with him," Grimes said. "We all do."
Particularly on Sunday.