Bucs 34 Chiefs 31
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 8 November 2004

In a wild shootout that went to the team that scored last, the surging Buccaneers slowed down the red-hot Chiefs and rode Michael Pittman’s three-touchdown performance to a 34-31 victory In the first quarter, it was wild. In the second quarter, it got wilder. And in the end, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31, because Michael Pittman was better than Wilder.

That would be James Wilder, who held the Buccaneers’ record for longest touchdown run, 75 yards, for 21 years. Pittman scored the Bucs’ fourth touchdown on a 78-yard run, the longest rushing play in team history, in the third quarter, then recorded the game-winning points on a three-yard dive over the right pylon early in the fourth quarter. Pittman also scored on a fourth-quarter, one-yard run in the second quarter, giving him three rushing touchdowns to tie the Bucs’ single-game record, something the prolific Wilder never accomplished.

Pittman’s exploits, as well as those of QB Brian Griese (296 yards, 111.9 passer rating) and WRs Michael Clayton (five catches for 90 yards) and Joey Galloway (two catches that set up touchdowns), helped the Bucs win a shootout reminiscent of the famous, 38-35 downing of the high-powered St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football in 2000. Indeed, Tampa Bay had by far its most prolific offensive day of the season, gaining 418 yards, including 288 through the air and 130 on the ground. Before putting up 34 points against the Chiefs, the Bucs hadn’t topped 21 points in any of their first seven games.

They needed every yard to top the Chiefs, who came into the game having racked up 1,130 yards, 69 first downs and 101 points in their two previous games, both victories. Kansas City was prolific again, gaining 459 yards and 27 first downs, but they were held scoreless in the fourth quarter despite two lengthy possessions. Tampa Bay’s defense held in the end thanks to a sudden up tick in pressure. A blitz by LB Derrick Brooks forced an errant Trent Green throw that S Jermaine Phillips intercepted in the end zone to end the penultimate drive. When the Chiefs moved back into Buccaneer territory in the last two minutes, the Bucs hit Green on each of his last three drop-backs, including a sack on a blitz by CB Ronde Barber and a fourth-down sack by DE Dewayne White. White, playing inside for a thinned-out D-Line, had a sack for the second straight week.

Tampa Bay’s defense also produced the game’s only three turnovers, none bigger than one that turned a potential Kansas City touchdown into a huge momentum swing in the first quarter. After each team scored a touchdown on its opening possession, the Chiefs were on the verge of another score when WR Eddie Kennison broke free on a long pass over the middle. S Dwight Smith outran Kennison, however, and caught him from behind, forcing a fumble at the 11 that bounced into the end zone. CB Brian Kelly recovered for Tampa Bay and returned it to the Bucs’ 29, from where Tampa Bay promptly drove for a go-ahead touchdown. “I’m as proud of that play as any play I’ve been associated with, in terms of effort,” said Jon Gruden of Smith’s forced fumble. Smith also had an interception, a pass defensed and five tackles.

The Bucs did much of their damage with a short deck. C John Wade went down with a knee injury on the first offensive play of the game for Tampa Bay. He was later followed to the sideline by Phillips, DT Anthony McFarland, WR Joey Galloway and CB Corey Ivy. Phillips later returned to the game and made the last interception despite having a broken bone in his right wrist, according to Gruden. “We’re proud of our team,” said Jon Gruden. “We beat a good Kansas City team. We had a lot of guys step up. Sean Mahan came in the second play and did a good job with the line calls. Same thing with Dewayne White and Jon Bradley.”

The win was enormous for the Bucs. After feeling as if they might be cursed through the first month of the season, the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now feeling quite blessed. A month ago they proved better than Saints. Sunday, at the end of a 3-1 second quarter to the season, the Bucs survived a meeting with a Priest without needing penance. RB Priest Holmes scored one of Kansas City’s touchdown but had only 59 rushing yards and 62 combined rushing and receiving yards. TE Tony Gonzalez did hurt the Bucs with 123 yards and a score on nine receptions, but Tampa Bay still got its record back to 3-5 at the season’s halfway point.

The Bucs, who are trying to climb back into the NFC playoff race after an 0-4 start, defeated a like-minded team in the Chiefs. Kansas City opened the season 1-4 but had won two in a row to get to 3-4. Now, both teams are 3-5, which isn’t a favorable place to be but neither is it totally bleak. In fact, three teams have responded from 2-5 starts to make the playoffs since 1978, most recently the 2002 New York Jets. By beating the Chiefs and winning three of four heading into the season’s second half, the Bucs kept themselves in position to duplicate that feat.

It was a wild game from the beginning, with no punts necessary until halfway through the second quarter. Each team scored on its opening possession, Kansas City on a 25-yard catch by WR Johnnie Morton and the Bucs on an eight-yard reception by FB Jameel Cook. The Bucs scored next, however, thanks to Smith’s outstanding hustle play. Griese then led the Bucs on an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive, keyed by a 24-yard pass to RB Michael Pittman. The Bucs faced a tough decision at the end of that march, as Pittman was stopped on a third-and-goal carry inches short of the goal line. Perhaps sensing that every point would be critical in a developing shootout, Gruden chose to go for it and Pittman was able to dive across the line for the score.

Pittman finished the game with 128 yards and the three scores, his second consecutive 100-yard gain. Prior to Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, Pittman had a total of two rushing touchdowns in over two seasons in Tampa Bay. Of course, Kansas City answered immediately, driving 60 yards on 10 plays to tie the game on Holmes’ two-yard run. Then came the first punt, unfortunately by the Buccaneers, and return threat Dante Hall ran it back to the Bucs’ 32. Five plays later, the Chiefs took the lead on a 31-yard field goal by K Lawrence Tynes.

In a way, that was a blink, scoring just three points, as the Bucs were able to retake the lead on their next drive, moving 67 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown. The Chiefs blitzed on almost every play of the drive, and it hurt them on third-and-10 from the 22 when Galloway made a diving catch at the three, beating single coverage. The Bucs scored on the next play when Kansas City failed to cover TE Ken Dilger split wide to the left and Griese easily hit him with a three-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately, the Chiefs have a pretty good tight end, too. Kansas City stormed right back with a 64-yard touchdown drive, culminating in Gonzalez’s remarkable, leaping grab of a 25-yard pass from Green. That gave the Chiefs a 24-21 lead, which they preserved heading into halftime when K Martin Gramatica missed a 46-yard field goal try seconds later.

The two teams had combined for 288 yards of offense in the first quarter and 505 by halftime. The Bucs’ 21 points by the break equaled their single-game high for the entire season, and their 34 by game’s end was the team’s most since a 35-13 win at Washington on Oct. 12, 2003. The only thing not working through the first half for Tampa Bay was the running attack, but that changed in a hurry in the second half. On the second play of the third quarter, Pittman took a sweep right, cut inside a great block by Clayton and ran 78 yards untouched for a touchdown. The longest run in team history, it put Tampa Bay back in the lead, 28-24. The previous long run was Warrick Dunn’s 76-yarder against Chicago on Dec. 21, 1997. The previous long scoring run for Tampa Bay was Wilder’s 75-yarder at Minnesota on Nov. 6, 1983.

Despite all the new injuries, the team was able to welcome Galloway back to action. The speed receiver had gone down with a torn groin muscle in the first half of the first game of the season, at Washington, and spent two months recovering from the injury. Galloway made an almost immediate impact in his return, as his one-handed, 21-yard catch at the Chiefs’ seven-yard line set up Pittman’s second-quarter touchdown. Galloway finished the game with two receptions for 40 yards, though he did go out in the second half with a hip strain.

The Bucs’ leading receiver was once again rookie Michael Clayton, however. Clayton came into the game leading all rookie pass-catchers with 37 catches for 505 yards and tacked on five for 90 against the Chiefs. With 42 catches for 595 yards at the season’s halfway point, the ‘full-season pace’ is rather obvious: 84 for 1,190. Those totals would easily break Tampa Bay’s franchise rookie records. And delivering all those passes was Griese, who continued his month-long renaissance as the Bucs’ new field general. He is 2-1 as a starter and 3-1 counting the New Orleans victory in which he played three quarters. He has yet to post a single-game passer rating below 97.4 after connecting on 22 of 34 passes for 296 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday. Griese continually threw for big gains off blitzes, a strategy the Chiefs employed on an incredibly high percentage of the game’s snaps. Griese also worked the play-action fake to perfection, as he did on the game’s first touchdown, an eight-yard pass to Cook.

The Bucs looked energetic after enjoying their bye last week. Tampa Bay has now won two of its three post-bye games under Head Coach Jon Gruden, with the notable exception being last season’s Monday night stunner against Indianapolis. In addition to the restorative powers of the off week, the Bucs may also be enjoying their return to a more normal schedule. After a first half that included a Monday night game on the road, a Sunday night game on the West Coast and two late-afternoon home games, the Bucs will play six of their next eight games at 1:00 p.m. ET. That appears to be good news, as the Bucs have won three straight 1:00 kickoffs. On this Sunday, the Bucs’ sunshine band enjoyed a spotless sky and a pleasant breeze as they beat KC to keep their playoff hopes alive.