It All Came Down To Dunn
Warrick Dunn saw his offensive role change after two plays against Minnesota. Earnest Graham hurt his ankle on the second play of Tampa Bay's opening series. Graham never returned, and with rookie Clifton Smith as Tampa Bay's other backfield option, Dunn was asked to carry the load.
It was a large weight for Dunn, who not only has split time with Graham, but also did not play two weeks ago after sustaining a back injury. Despite Dunn's rust, he finished with 118 overall yards (53 rushing, 65 receiving) and was a key contributor in Tampa Bay's 19-13 victory against Minnesota.
"It was a little weird in the beginning because I hadn't really played football and gotten hits in three weeks, so I had to get a feel, really get back into it," Dunn said. "It took me a little bit, but I started to get a feel for it again and started having fun."
Dunn did have several moments of enjoyment, but there were also times he was not so excited. A joyous moment occurred when Tampa Bay faced third-and-3 on its own 41-yard line when quarterback Jeff Garcia scrambled and found Dunn, who was sprinting up the sidelines, for a 36-yard completion. The lesser moments occurred when Dunn struggled to gain a yard while running out of the wildcat formation, plus when he was stopped once on fourth-and-1 and third-and-1.
"Any running back relishes that opportunity and it was tough because I haven't really played a lot in the last few weeks," Dunn said. "It was just stepping up for the team. It is important if a guy goes down, the other guy comes in, steps up and covers any slack. I need to do better in short yardage, and in goal-line situations, but I will pick it up."
Dunn's option to carry the load increased when Smith fumbled after Tampa Bay had driven to Minnesota's 30-yard line in the third quarter. It marked the third consecutive game Smith has fumbled.
"Warrick hadn't been practicing that a lot. That's been Earnest's cup of tea," Jon Gruden said. "I thought Warrick Dunn caught the ball and made some big plays. Made some really good traffic runs. At the end of the day, he protected the ball for us, which is really big against a team like that."
Dunn also recorded a big personal achievement. He currently has 10,657 career rushing yards, moving him past former Philadelphia and Seattle running back Ricky Watters (10,643) for 19th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list. He also has 285 receptions with Tampa Bay, moving him ahead of Michael Pittman (284 from 2002-07) into sixth on the Bucs' all-time receptions list.
Dunn could see his workload increase if Graham, who was seen wearing a protective boot around his right ankle after the game, cannot play in Sunday's game at Detroit. It is not the workload Dunn is used to, but a role change he welcomes. "I look forward to being a big part of our offense if Earnest is not ready," Dunn said. "If Cadillac Williams comes back, I look forward to getting out there and contributing and helping guys makes plays."
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 17 November 2008