Dropped Passes Play Key Role In Demise
Michael Clayton blamed the Bucs' loss on his inability to hold on to the ball. Joey Galloway lamented about lost opportunities and how he left several on the field. Both receivers contributed to the inordinate amount of drops that hurt the Bucs offense.

"I think those kinds of plays are magnified any game that you lose," Galloway said. "It's going to be tough to get your offense on track when you have a chance to make plays and you don't make them. Anytime you're struggling to get in the end zone, when those opportunities arise, because they mainly come up once or twice a game, then you've got to make those plays."

One of those plays occurred midway through the third quarter. On fourth-and-6 at the Giants 44-yard line, Bruce Gradkowski completed a pass to Clayton for 8 yards. But Clayton fumbled the ball after getting jarred by Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce. The ball was recovered by Gradkowski at the Giants 45 and New York got the ball on downs.

"It was the first fumble of my career and it kills me," Clayton said. "It was crucial. We had a big opportunity to score there and it would have changed the momentum of the whole game. It's definitely put on me. I let the team down."

Clayton was credited with a 4-yard reception, his only catch of the game. Galloway finished with four receptions for 32 yards. The Bucs haven't scored an offensive touchdown since Clayton caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Gradkowski in the final minute of the 14-13 victory against Cincinnati on Oct. 15.

They had their chances Sunday, but mistakes such as the drops stalled potential scoring drives. Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, the Bucs began a drive at their 40-yard line, their best field position to that point. But Tampa Bay managed only 14 yards on five plays during the drive.

Had Galloway not dropped two passes during the drive, the Bucs could have made things interesting. If Clayton had held on to a pass in the end zone on the Bucs' next offensive series, it could have made things interesting. On first-and-10 from the Giants 25, Gradkowski hit Clayton in the end zone, but the ball bounced out of the receiver's hands. Three plays later, the Bucs settled for a 43-yard Matt Bryant field goal.

"It was a series of everything - trying to keep my feet in and keep my eye on the ball because it was drifting," Clayton said. "I don't know exactly where I was on the field because it was drifting. That play also should have been caught."

The windy conditions played a factor in the high number of dropped passes. "Not only was it hard to throw it, it was hard to catch it," Coach Jon Gruden said. "It was hard to snap it. It was hard to pitch it. It was hard - period. Obviously we had some key drops in the football game. It was hard to do anything with the football today, other than to hand it off."

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 30 October 2006