Pittman Saves His Best For Last
Brian Westbrook had just eluded five defenders en route to a dazzling 52-yard scoring reception with 33 seconds remaining. As thousands of Eagles fans rejoiced at Raymond James Stadium, Bucs supporters appeared stunned as Philadelphia took its first lead. And in that shocking moment, Michael Pittman already was planning Tampa Bay's comeback.
"I was expecting a squib kick, so I was surprised," Bucs LB Jamie Winborn said of Philadelphia's decision to kick off to Pittman. "Our whole team understands how big a play Pitt made."
The kickoff from David Akers sailed 1 yard deep into the end zone and Pittman took it back to his 36, running six seconds off the clock. Given favorable field position, the Bucs needed only 20 yards to set up Matt Bryant's improbable 62-yard field goal as time expired. "That kickoff return was a huge play," G Sean Mahan said.
Akers was asked whether he considered a squib kick rather than booming the ball deep to Pittman. "I don't make those decisions," he said, turning back toward his locker.
Pittman assumed the kick return duties late last season and he averaged 29.7 yards on three returns Sunday, saving his best for last. "Matt's field goal was great, along with the snap, the hold and the protection," Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "But don't forget about Michael Pittman's return and the guys who made the blocks in front of him. That return is what gave us a chance."
After suffering their third gut-wrenching loss of the young season, the Eagles were stunned by Sunday's 23-21 setback.
Philadelphia players sat motionless in front of their lockers, staring straight ahead and tuning out the media horde.
The loss hit particularly hard along a defense that forced six punts in Tampa Bay's first seven possessions and held the Bucs without an offensive touchdown despite a plus-4 turnover ratio.
"It's frustrating, but a loss is a loss, no matter how hard they come," S Brian Dawkins said. "At the end of the season, they're not going to look back and say, 'Well that particular game there, they didn't give up any touchdowns.'"
The Eagles fell behind 17-0 Sunday, a week after facing a 17-3 deficit at New Orleans.
"If we can get through the first half without getting into a big hole, we're going to win a lot of ball games," said LB Jeremiah Trotter, who led all players with 12 tackles. "That's going to be our main focus next week - not getting into a big hole."
The Bucs gained 78 of their 111 rushing yards after intermission as Cadillac Williams began finding consistent running lanes behind one of the NFL's youngest offensive lines.
That ball control helped Tampa Bay maintain possession for almost 17 minutes in the second half, leading to a turnover-free effort.
"We beat, last week, what's considered the best AFC team [Cincinnati] and then [Sunday] we beat what's considered the best NFC team," said Williams, averaging 96 yards on the ground the past three weeks. "That gives us the confidence to know we can play with the best of them."
Ending the drought
The Eagles had gone almost 10 quarters without reaching the end zone against the Bucs before Donovan McNabb found FB Thomas Tapeh for the first of his three TD passes.
After Duce Staley's 20-yard scoring run in the opening minute of the 2002 NFC Championship Game won 27-10 by the Bucs, Philadelphia had been unable to generate a TD against Tampa Bay in both the 2003 season opener and Sunday's matchup until the Eagles broke through late in the third quarter.
"We have to find a way, especially in the first quarters of games, to come out explosive," said Westbrook, who topped 100 yards in both rushing and receiving.
McNabb shook off an awful first half to show the Bucs why he is a legitimate MVP candidate in 2006.
"We felt we should have won this game, but we felt like that in all of our losses," McNabb said. "It's all about starting fast and finishing strong, and we didn't do that."
CB Brian Kelly was inactive for the Bucs, along with WRs Mark Jones and Maurice Stovall, G Jeb Terry, T Donald Penn, FB Jerald Sowell, CB Alan Zemaitis and QB Chris Simms.
LB Derrick Brooks had registered Tampa Bay's only pick of the season until Ronde Barber intercepted McNabb twice and Juran Bolden returned his theft 27 yards.
Sean Mahan opened at left guard, marking the first time second-year pro Dan Buenning did not start a game for Tampa Bay when healthy.
WR Paris Warren caught a 26-yard pass from Bruce Gradkowski in the second quarter for his first career reception. …
The Bucs have evened their all-time record against Philadelphia at five wins each. Tampa Bay has won the last two meetings. The Eagles are the only non-division opponent against whom the Buccaneers have a .500 or better all-time mark against. …
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 23 October 2006