Penalties Negate Big Plays
Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune, published 4 October 2004

Jon Gruden called it tragic. With a little less than two minutes remaining in the game and the Bucs trailing 16-13, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer threw an incomplete pass on third-and-3. Tampa Bay should have been lining up to return a Broncos punt, but nose tackle Chartric Darby was penalized 5 yards for jumping offside. Denver first down. ``It's a tragic penalty,'' Gruden said. ``Obviously, you have a chance to get the ball back with time on the clock. A hard count in that situation is something you work on every day and you expect in that situation. We have to do a better job.''

The Bucs had been doing a better job of controlling the penalty problem that plagued them last season when they compiled the second-most penalty yards in the league. In the opener against Washington, the Bucs were penalized only six times and in Week 2 against Seattle, they committed just one. On Sunday though, penalties were costly for Tampa Bay. Darby's fourth-quarter infraction was one of nine Bucs infractions. ``We had a couple of key penalties to stop drives and negate big plays,'' Gruden said.

Dwight Smith's pass interference on the opening play of the fourth quarter was the most crucial, Gruden said. Covering receiver Ashley Lelie deep down the sideline on a second-and-8 from Denver's 13, Smith hit Lelie in the hip, knocking him out of bounds, just before Lelie touched the lofted pass from Jake Plummer. ``I thought Dwight made a good play on the ball,'' Gruden said. ``Really, it changes the complexion of the football game. Being in a defensive struggle as we were, field position is a huge, huge thing at that time. I did not agree with the call.''

The penalty gave the Broncos the ball at the 50-yard line and sustained a scoring drive that culminated in the winning field goal. ``It was big,'' Plummer said. ``I had a guy in my face and I threw it up there and tried to give Ashley a chance. [Smith] came over and hit him early. It was a big move because we were in some pretty bad field position for a while. It was a big play, but Ashley knew he was going to get hit. He sacrificed his body for the team and made a good play.''