This is no passing fancy: Bucs receivers catch on
All week long, the only thing Tampa Bay receivers caught was flak. The only coverage that gave them any trouble was the media's.
So when Sunday's 24-10 conquest of the Colts was complete, one by one they took turns explaining how the sizzling afternoon temperatures couldn't compare to the heat they faced this week.
"As a unit we took a beating. The guys took a pretty tough beating in the paper," said Bucs receiver Courtney Hawkins, who returned from a broken hand to catch four passes for 72 yards, including a game-clinching 3-yard touchdown pass. "And we took it to heart. We pride ourselves in what we do. We're like anybody else; we don't like to be criticized for what we do. So guys came out and made some plays when we were called upon. That was the whole difference today."
The difference in Tampa Bay's performance this week compared to last week's 21-9 loss at Chicago was easily discernible. Bucs receivers dropped four against the Bears, including one in the end zone and three on third downs. Facing Indianapolis, Tampa Bay turned in six big-play receptions of 23 yards or more as seven different Bucs caught passes from quarterback Craig Erickson (19-of-24, 313 yards, three touchdowns, and a career-best 79.2 completion percentage).
Some of last week's culprits were this week's standouts: Tight end Jackie Harris, who finished with four catches for 96 yards, including a 48-yard score, his first as Buc, and a later 35-yard reception. Receiver Charles Wilson, whose only grab was a 50-yard scoring bomb on Tampa Bay's first possession.
Hawkins, the team's leading 1993 receiver, who contributed a 32-yard catch, and his touchdown.
And the duo of tight end Tyji Armstrong, who came back to the ball nicely to snare a 25-yard fourth-quarter flea-flicker pass, and tailback Vince Workman, whose key 23-yard third-down reception kept the Bucs' final touchdown drive alive. "I thought (the media coverage) was a little tough," Hawkins said. "Some of the guys took it like the game was won or lost by the receivers last week, and it's a team sport. We took a lot of flak, but we bounced back. We showed a lot of character today."
The big-play element helped the Bucs rid themselves of their big bugaboo: an inability to score within the red zone (from the 20 yard line in). The Bucs had scored six field goals and no touchdowns in their last two games. "We couldn't get in the end zone for nothing in the world last week," said Wilson, who started in place of Horace Copeland. "But today we came out on that first possession and got in the end zone, so that took a big load off our backs."
Said Harris: "I just think everybody was overreacting. We had one bad game and everybody says we can't catch the ball. We got guys out there who make plays every day, and they showed it today. Sunday is the day that counts and they came up big today."
Tampa Bay was vastly improved, but not perfect. One of Erickson's five incompletions was Wilson's end zone drop of a certain 29-yard touchdown pass, just before the half.
"We still had one drop," receivers coach David Culley said. "It was one of those deals where it looked like he was trying to celebrate a little bit too soon. The fortunate thing for Charles was he already had a touchdown catch."
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1994