TAMPA – Most of his teammates had already left the locker room, making their way to the Green Bay Packers' bus.
Safety Morgan Burnett thought he would join them soon. He'd spent the past 20 minutes chatting with the media at his locker, facing cameras and tape recorders, whoever wanted a quote. Shirt buttoned, shoes laced, Burnett took five steps toward the exit.
He was stopped by another reporter. One last interview. His work never finished.
This is what it means – or, at least, what it should mean – to captain an NFL team. Burnett, voted a defensive captain before traveling to Tampa, is a spokesman for the Packers' defense. He said it starts with accountability, something he showed on the field and in the locker room after Green Bay's 20-3 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
"You have 10 other guys out there busting their butt, and you don't want to let them down," Morgan said. "So that's really my main focus going into the game. To be elected captain by your teammates, that's truly an honor I'll cherish for the rest of my life. I really appreciate those guys for that."
For Burnett, Sunday's performance validated his captaincy, not that there was ever any doubt he would accept the responsibility.
Burnett led the Packers with 10 tackles, four more than anyone else. He constantly made plays near and behind the line of scrimmage, finishing with a half sack, tackle for loss and quarterback hit.
"For me, we voted him captain for a reason," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "For that reason, he's like a quarterback out on this defense. He showed it today."
With the Bucs close to the red zone near the end of the first half – the only time all game they got close to the red zone – Burnett tackled running back Doug Martin for no gain and a 1-yard gain on consecutive plays. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal on the drive, its only points of the game.
Burnett has been one of the best run-defending safeties in the NFL this season, not just Sunday. His 22 run stops entering Sunday tied for fifth in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.
"Half of the time when you get a safety up and in the box like that, he don't make tackles for loss," Williams said. "For him to see it and shoot it, it just goes back to his preparation. Whether it's watching a little bit extra film, or reading his keys and just reacting, he was there. It was big for us."
Burnett is almost through his fifth NFL season. There are players on Green Bay's defense who have been in the league longer, Williams being one. To the veterans, it's no surprise Burnett was voted as a captain.
Several teammates said Burnett leads by example. They lauded his work ethic. If it starts with accountability for Burnett, defensive end Datone Jones said the fifth-year safety inspires teammates to also be accountable.
"He shows up to practice every day relentless," Jones said. "He's a lunch-pail guy. He's physical, he's very smart. He's dialed in. He leads our team day in and day out, each week. We all joke around at times, but when it's time to step on the film he's one of our vocal leaders. He's one of the guys who also leads by example.
"Just to have a guy like that in our secondary, talking and being vocal, you don't want to let a guy down like that. Just as much as he's playing for us, we're playing for him too."
Pete, Wes and Ryan break down the Packers' 20-3 victory over the Buccaneers, which clinched a playoff berth for Green Bay. (Dec. 21, 2014) Weston Hodkiewicz/Press-Gazette Media