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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Just like practice. Nothing to it for Vince Wilfork on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Cover the receiver like a blanket, find the football, tip it to yourself, cradle the pigskin and take off down the field with the interception, hopefully winding up in the end zone.
|Vince Wilfork not only tipped a Philip Rivers pass to himself for his first career interception, he returned it 36 yards to boot.|
Wilfork followed the plan almost to perfection on a late first-half throw by the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers.
But this wasn't your basic interception by your typical interceptor.
Did we mention that Vince Wilfork stands 6-foot-2 and weighs a svelte 325 pounds? Did we mention that Wilfork generally is an immovable object in the middle of the New England Patriots' defensive line?
That was no defensive back picking off Rivers' pass intended for Mike Tolbert. That was the mountainous Vince Wilfork doing his DB impersonation, taking off down the field on a 36-yard jaunt into San Diego territory -- "rumblin', stumblin', tumbling," according to Pats linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Wilfork didn't get into the end zone, but he did set up a field goal nine seconds later on the final play of the first half that put the Pats on top, 20-7, en route to a 35-21 win.
It was the first NFL interception for Wilfork, in his eighth year in the league. And he thought he had a chance to score.
"Yeah, I did. Any time you get your hands on the ball you think about scoring as a defensive player," said Wilfork, who actually was tripped up by teammate Devin McCourty. McCourty was flagged for hitting Tolbert from behind as the Chargers' running back tried to reach out for Wilfork.
Wilfork was in the right place at the right time because of his instincts. And he said he was able to pick off Rivers because the defensive linemen practice such situations every now and then.
"When I saw the running back take off, I was thinking screen (pass) from the look the guard was giving. I got out there and made the play. When you take a chance like that you better make the play," said Wilfork, who racked up the 14th interception by a defensive lineman in team history and the first since Richard Seymour picked one off against Houston on Dec. 17, 2006.
Wilfork tipped the ball first, then caught it before taking off down the field.
The play surprised San Diego coach Norv Turner.
"(Rivers) has a guy running wide open, and that (interception) is a once in a lifetime," Turner said. "Defensive lineman running a twist and taps it to himself, you know, sometimes things like that happen. I am sure Philip never saw him, he saw Tolbert running free, where he thought he could get him out of bounds and kick a field goal there."
Once the ball was headed his way, Wilfork knew what to do.
"We have these drills like for interceptions and fumble recoveries," Wilfork said. "We have guys line up as receivers and guys as defensive backs. Everybody thinks they can be Deion (Sanders) or Jerry Rice. You've got 300-plus-pound guys playing receiver. Sometimes we do do that."
Wilfork critiqued himself as a DB.
"I'm a cover-two guy," said Wilfork, smiling as he stood at the podium for the postgame press conference. "I like to put my hands on the receiver, get physical at the line of scrimmage."
He did a nice job of putting his hands on the ball too. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was impressed.
"That was legit," Gronkowski said. "He had great ball security too, which is a big crucial point when carrying the ball. It was awesome."
"The run was ugly, the pick great. The pick was fantastic," fellow defensive lineman Andre Carter said. "I know he was trying to high-step, but I think those hips were a little tight. It looked good, though. We were proud of him. Couldn't have happened to a better person."
McCourty, meanwhile, said he didn't think he had made the tackle, short-circuiting Wilfork's goal to take the football to the house.
"No, no, I was trying to save him from getting stripped," McCourty said with a laugh.
"Vince is a tremendous athlete," coach Bill Belichick said. "People don't realize how good his hands are, but he can throw it, catch it, catch punts. He's a terrific athlete and he's got really good hands, obviously."
Wilfork received numerous tweets about his play, including one from former teammate Darius Butler.
"Umusta not had ur speed cleats on today," tweeted Butler.
"I thought about that afterwards. Haha I didn't," tweeted Wilfork in response to Butler.
Even though he didn't score, Wilfork can do a little boasting in the locker room, not only for himself, but for the defense as a whole.
"We talk a lot of smack here, the offense and defense talking about who are the better athletes," he said. "I think I've got the defense ahead of the offense now. Troy Brown (a former wide receiver who also played defensive back) had the offense ahead, but I think I've pushed the defense ahead.
"Hey," said Wilfork, all 325 pounds of him, "we've got some athletes on defense too."
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.