Stevens Comes Up Big At End
When it came time for their biggest play of the season, the Bucs turned to their biggest target Sunday. Jerramy Stevens responded with an appreciative smile and a clutch grab.
The 6-foot-7 tight end capitalized on a 9-inch height advantage against cornerback Jason Craft to catch Luke McCown's 4-yard touchdown pass with only 14 seconds remaining, lifting the Bucs past New Orleans 27-23 for their fourth consecutive victory. Craft was out there because starting cornerback Mike McKenzie had been taken to the locker room with an injury after the second play of the game-winning drive.
And, even though everyone at the Superdome saw the mismatch once Stevens went in motion to the outside and Craft was out there with no help, the Saints were out of timeouts and had no way to adjust their defense.
"I've been waiting for an opportunity to make a play all year," Stevens said after his first scoring reception as a Buccaneer. "Luke put it where either I was going to catch it or it would be incomplete. There were a lot of momentum changes in this game and we knew it wasn't going to be easy today, but we got it done."
With a little help from the Saints. Trailing 23-20, the Bucs also were out of timeouts with 3:36 left when New Orleans coach Sean Payton called for a second-down reverse at midfield. Reggie Bush's lateral toss to wide receiver Devery Henderson fell to the ground and defensive tackle Jovan Haye fell on the fumble, giving Tampa Bay life.
The Buccaneers were only 37 yards away from the end zone and they had been moving at will most of the day in rolling up 466 yards, the fifth-most productive day in franchise history and their biggest output of the Jon Gruden era. "We were thinking seven points, not three," said left tackle Donald Penn, recalling the mood in the huddle. "And when we went for it on fourth down, that showed us Coach Gruden had trust in us."
Instead of bringing Matt Bryant out for a 45-yard field goal attempt following the two-minute warning, Gruden ordered a run off right tackle on fourth-and-1 at the Saints' 28. Earnest Graham gained 2 yards.
A swing pass to Graham added 21 yards, setting up the winning flip to Stevens, who had only eight catches coming into the game. Stevens made his decisive grab near the right sideline on third-and-goal as he split out wide an instant before the snap. "We'd been running that play with success all day," Stevens said of the fourth-down handoff to Graham. "It was a gutsy call by Coach Gruden."
Stevens wasn't the only tight end to end up on Tampa Bay's surprising scoring sheet as Anthony Becht caught a 1-yard touchdown pass off play action from McCown early in the second quarter. "With every week, this team feels more confident," Becht said after the Bucs improved to 8-4 overall and 4-0 in the NFC South, where they went 0-6 in 2006. "Four wins in a row is an accomplishment in this league and you can't help but like the feeling in this room right now."
In averaging 7.1 yards per snap, the Bucs didn't have to punt until the fourth quarter as they maintained possession for 34:46 en route to their third road win in six tries.
McCown spread the ball around to 10 targets and Tampa Bay added 172 yards on the ground, its best rushing output since Week 4 at Carolina.
"Our offensive line did a heck of a job today," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "They were like a wall out there in front of Luke and he did a heck of a job seizing the opportunity. We could have tried the field goal on fourth down, but we came here to get the win and Coach Gruden showed his confidence in our offense ... you saw how they responded."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 3 December 2007