Luckless in Seattle
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 21 November 1994

The Seattle Seahawks stole a game from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. It was a grand larceny that took place after the issue seemed settled with 1:17 on the clock. The Bucs had turned away Seattle on fourth and 12 and were headed home with a victory. Or so they thought.

Either the Seahawks were men of steal or the referees were. An illegal contact penalty on Mike McGruder gave Seattle an automatic first down and new life, which it used to beat the Bucs 22-21 on a 7-yard touchdown run by Mack Strong with 42 seconds to play. Throughout the locker room, the Bucs had one thing to say: We wuz robbed.

But that might be like claiming you had your car stolen after leaving the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. Two plays after the penalty, defensive back Martin Mayhew dropped a sure interception on a pass from quarterback Rick Mirer that would have sealed the game. And the Bucs' offense - despite getting a second straight 100-yard game from tailback Errict Rhett - twice knocked on the door in the end zone but came away with a field goal and a fumble by its rookie tailback.

It was the sixth straight loss by the Bucs, who fell to 2-9 overall. The miracle comeback by the Seahawks - who blew a 15-0 lead - snapped their six-game losing streak. Make no mistake. There were a lot of unhappy campers in the Bucs locker room. "It's a damn shame," said Bucs defensive back Tony Covington. "The team has been on the downs for so long. We came back and gave it everything we had in the second half and you see what happens to us. The damn referee takes the damn game away from us."

McGruder admitted to chucking Seattle receiver Brian Blades on the fourth-and-12 play, but said it was within the legal 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. But field judge Don Hakes didn't see it that way. "Blades is in a slot. He comes down about 10 yards and he's starting to hook and the DB (McGruder) just blasts him," Hakes said. "Hits him hard. He's way past the 5-yard chuck zone."

The Bucs may also have had a beef on the winning touchdown run by Strong; it appeared that Kelvin Martin held Mayhew. But there was no flag. According to Mayhew, it shouldn't have come down to that. "I had a chance to make an interception and get us off the field and I didn't make the play," Mayhew said. "The last play, when they scored a touchdown, I got held. But it really shouldn't have come down to that. I should've made the interception and gotten us off the field. I don't know how they could miss the holding call, but we should've been off the field at that point. If I make that play, it's a totally different atmosphere in here right now. That last drive, we've got to step up, make plays and get off the field. We had that opportunity and mine was the most glaring. I've got to come down with that ball."

It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Bucs, who managed to do a lot of things right in the game. Rhett rushed for 111 yards, becoming the first player since James Wilder in 1985 to reach the century rushing mark in back-to-back games. Bucs quarterback Craig Erickson passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns while bringing his team back from that 15-0 deficit.

Even the Bucs' defense was brilliant at times, forcing three turnovers - not including one that was nullified by McGruder's penalty. Santana Dotson even recorded a sack, the first by the Bucs in four games. Tampa Bay even got a break when Seattle running back Chris Warren, who had rushed for 116 yards, went down with an injured hip early in the second half. "That's the main part of their offense," Mayhew said. "Warren, Blades and Kelvin Martin. When they lose him, it takes away a third of their offense."

This one really looked like a Bucs victory. Courtney Hawkins caught the go-ahead 13-yard TD pass from Erickson to cap an 88-yard drive, and Michael Husted added a field goal to pad the lead with 3:24 to play. Then the Bucs went out and blew their first lead since Oct. 2. Mirer engineered a 77-yard drive, helped greatly by a 21-yard pass interference penalty by Mayhew, the fourth-down flag on McGruder and the dropped interception. "It was incredible, some of the stuff that was going on," McGruder said. "We had them stopped. The game's over."

The loss even rendered normally gabby Bucs coach Sam Wyche speechless. He ducked into the interview room for all of about 10 seconds and offered these helpful insights. "I have nothing to say about the game," said Wyche. "It was a 22-21 finish. I congratulate (Seattle coach) Tom Flores."

Bucs linebacker Lonnie Marts, who forced a fumble and recovered another, could have sealed the game in the fourth quarter when he dropped an interception chance that would have allowed him to walk into the end zone for a touchdown. "It hurts, but I'm pretty sure everybody knows we won that game. We didn't come away with the victory. Knowing what we've been through, we understand we have an uphill battle every time we play. We expect the unexpected. We expect the worst things to happen. We don't sit around and wait for things to happen, we're starting to make things happen. We started off real fast (this season) and we got big heads and we started getting sloppy. Now we're getting back to being more disciplined and everybody is starting to back up everybody else."

But it was the Bucs' defense that was backed up in the first half. Warren cut through it like butter and had more than 100 yards rushing before halftime. Mirer threw two touchdown passes to cap drives of 74 and 89 yards. But what wound up making a difference on the scoreboard was a faked PAT by punter Rick Tuten, who ran for a two-point conversion to make it 15-0. But it all came down to that wild touchdown drive and the controversial penalty on fourth and 12. "It's just a shame they didn't let the ballplayers decide the game," Bucs defensive coordinator Floyd Peters said.