Twist of agony ends Emanuel's hot start
For the first time in his NFL career, Bert Emanuel asked for painkillers after a severely sprained left ankle forced him to leave in the third quarter against the Vikings on Sunday. The injury to Emanuel will keep hurting the Bucs for several more games.

The free agent from Atlanta, Trent Dilfer's go-to receiver against the Vikings, will be gone from the lineup when they need him most Sunday against the Packers. Emanuel, who established a quick rapport with Dilfer by catching seven passes for 98 yards, thought he broke his ankle making a 24- yard reception on third down, a play that led indirectly to the Bucs' only touchdown.

An X-ray at the Metrodome revealed no fracture, but he is scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging test today in Tampa. "My foot just got caught," Emanuel said. "I've played on turf since high school and it's the first one I've had like this, which is so unusual. Right now, it's hurting pretty bad. It's the first time I've had an injury like this. I've asked for some painkillers. Hopefully, it won't take more than three weeks."

What makes the timing of the injury so bad for the Bucs is that Dilfer and Emanuel finally looked in synch. And Emanuel was signed to a four-year, $16.4-million contract essentially to help the Bucs beat the kind of bump-and-run coverage they will face Sunday at Green Bay. Emanuel did not catch a pass until the fourth preseason game, but he started fast against the Vikings. Two of his receptions came on third down.

"Yeah, I felt like I was on a roll," Emanuel said. "We had some good chemistry going. It was one of those games where you get into it and you think this could be one of those breakout games. Then something happens. My first catch, we had a little problem with alignment. The safety starts to the other side and he came back and he blitzed. I'm supposed to break it off on that, and I kind of saw it late. I was 5 or 6 yards up the field and Trent was right there on me and he put the ball there. After that, I was like, 'We're in synch now.' "

Emanuel was picking on cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock and looked unstoppable. But the one pass he failed to catch cost the Bucs dearly. Facing fourth and 3, Emanuel dropped a slant pass that would have given the Bucs first and goal late in the second quarter. Instead, the Bucs went to the locker room trailing 21-0. "He and I really did have chemistry in practice. We hooked up pretty good in practice all week," Emanuel said. "But it was nothing like today. We were on the same page with virtually everything we did."

On third and 14 from the Tampa Bay 22, Dilfer fired a bullet for a 24-yard reception by Emanuel, whose left foot got caught in the turf as he was tackled by defensive back Corey Fuller. "When I caught it and I fell, I felt the ankle snap," Emanuel said. "Hopefully, that's going to be some old scar tissue or something like that. But I did hear a snap. Yeah, I thought it was broken. You don't always see everything on an X-ray. Hopefully, this time it's 100 percent and the X-ray is right. I could wake up tomorrow and feel a lot better than I do now. But at this point it's pretty excruciating."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1998