Desperate Prayer Gets Answered In Dramatic Way
In situations such as these, when only the miraculous will save the day, you can say Hail Mary with all the passion and pleading you can muster. But when you've just coughed up a seemingly certain victory and face a 62-yard field goal to save your season from oblivion, those prayers usually get kicked to voice mail.
"BEEP! Hi … I know you're in a tough spot but I can't take your call right now. Just remember, you wouldn't have needed me if you didn't let some guy from Philadelphia run through five of your players for a touchdown. Next time tackle somebody. Please leave a message."
But not this time. Believe in miracles because you just saw one. Believe it was divine intervention if you choose. That's as good an explanation as any for what went on during a Sunday afternoon like no other at Ray Jay.
The Bucs seemingly had the game won, then gave it away with only 33 seconds to play, then put the season on the right foot of kicker Matt Bryant and asked him to kick a field goal from roughly as far away as Bradenton. We'll cue the Disney music here as the camera focuses on Bryant's infant son, attending his first NFL game.
Don't know what Junior said, but I'm guessing it was goo-goo while the remnants of the largest crowd to ever watch a regular-season game in this stadium went ga-ga after Daddy's 62-yard kick cleared the crossbar with a couple of yards to spare as the gun sounded on the 23-21 win against Philadelphia. "It was almost like you're about to get on a roller coaster," Bryant said of the afternoon, but he might as well have been talking about the Bucs' season thus far.
A 2-4 record never looked so good as it does this morning. Things seem possible now - especially since they won a game in which they were outgained 506-196. After that, anything seems possible. "I've never seen anything quite like that in my life," Jon Gruden said. "It swings from, 'You've gotta be kidding me' to "You've gotta be kidding me.'"
It should have been a routine Bucs win. They had a 17-0 lead and the Eagles, well, they looked awful. Donovan McNabb had a pair of passes intercepted by Ronde Barber and returned for touchdowns in a certain nominee for "Best Moment By A Bucs Defender Turned Into An Afterthought."
But the Eagles kept coming. Brian Westbrook kept running up the middle en route to 101 yards, and McNabb kept throwing, and pretty soon it was 20-14 with less than a minute to play with the Eagles driving. That's when Westbrook took a seemingly harmless dump off pass near midfield. Derrick Brooks missed, as did Juran Bolden, Will Allen - five in all. "It wasn't like it was a creative play," Gruden said.
The touchdown and extra point gave Philly a 21-20 lead and sent some folks headed toward the parking lot. Of course, those people will never admit they missed what happened next.
You could talk about the value of Michael Pittman's kickoff return that gave the Bucs the ball at the 36. You could mention the 11-yard pass quarterback Bruce Gradkowski completed to Michael Clayton, or the 9-yard run Gradkowski made to put the ball at Philadelphia's 44.
But logically, that all should have been prelude to heartbreak. History lined up against Bryant as he came on for the game-winning field goal attempt. No Buc had ever kicked one as far as he was being asked to do. Only Tom Dempsey's 63-yarder for New Orleans in 1970 was a longer one to win a game in NFL history. "I think it's somewhat calming to know you're not supposed to make that kick," holder Josh Bidwell said.
After Bryant picked his spot and got ready to move into position for the kick, Bidwell looked up at him and said simply, "Have fun."
Bryant went through his pre-kick routine. Three steps back, two steps to the side. Snap. Kick. Bidwell looked up from his holder's spot. "I go, 'Holy Cow! This is right on the money,'" Bidwell said.
Further evidence of divine involvement: Bryant wears No. 3. His son, Trey, is 3 weeks old. The winning kick was worth three points and was his third field goal of the day. And the Eagles made all the drama possible by scoring with 33 seconds left. Gruden promised Bryant will get his own room on road trips now, "and anything else he wants, he gets."
The Bucs get something, too. They get to keep a season alive. After opening with four consecutive losses, each game from here on out is pretty much a playoff game. For now, though, we'll leave the postseason calculations to the formula freaks and simply savor the day for what it was. "How many of those have been made in the history of football? You know what I mean?" Gruden asked.
Well, there was one made Sunday and we all saw it. And no matter how you choose to classify it - miraculous, whatever - there's one fact no one can dispute. It was unforgettable. Maybe one of those desperate prayers got through after all.
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 23 October 2006