Gradkowski's Demeanor Rubbing Off On Teammates
If ever there was a time for a rookie quarterback to panic, Sunday's final drive provided all the elements. There were 27 seconds remaining when the Bucs offense took the field for the final time. They were lined up at their 36-yard line when Bruce Gradkowski gathered the team together in the huddle. "He was just chillin'," tight end Anthony Becht said. "You would have thought it was the first play of the game."

Gradkowski's demeanor never changes in a game - no matter what's at stake. He doesn't get too high or too low. So with the game on the line, Gradkowski ran onto the field prepared to lead the team, just as he's done since he took over as the starting quarterback. "Bruce told us, 'Let's get some first downs and get into field goal range and get out of here with a win,'" rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said.

And in that small span of time, the Bucs did just that. Michael Pittman set up the winning drive with a 37-yard kickoff return. Then Gradkowski moved the ball 20 yards in two plays, the first on an 11-yard pass to Michael Clayton and the second on a scramble for 9 yards.

It was the second consecutive game Gradkowski drove the team for the game-winning score. Last week against Cincinnati, he took the Bucs 54 yards on nine plays, capped by his 8-yard pass to Clayton for the winning touchdown.

"He has that whatever it is," Becht said. "I feel completely confident when I'm out there with him. He makes smart plays. He makes good decisions. He might make a mistake here and there, but let's be honest, it ain't always going to be perfect. But he didn't make any mistakes at the end."

Being honest, the Bucs offense struggled to do much most of the game. But the unit made the big plays when needed. Gradkowski completed 13 of 26 passes for 104 yards and finished with a 60.4 quarterback rating. The Bucs defense came up with four turnovers, two of which Ronde Barber returned for scores, but the offense wasn't able to capitalize on the other two.

"I know on my part, there are a lot of things I need to get better at and work on," Gradkowski said. "I'm disappointed by my performance. We should have scored a lot more, especially with the way the defense was playing with all those turnovers."

What doesn't show up on the stat sheet is Gradkowski's ability to keep his teammates calm. A perfect example was his reaction to Philadelphia scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds remaining. "Oh well," he thought.

Gradkowski figured all he had to do was get in field goal range, never imagining the Eagles' 44-yard line would be considered field-goal range for Matt Bryant, who kicked the game-winning 62-yarder. "I wish we could have made it a little big easier on Matt and got a little closer," he said.

Oh well.

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 23 October 2006