Losses mar rookie WR's season
The numbers are piling up for Michael Clayton. But the Bucs rookie receiver would gladly trade catches, yards and records for a few victories. Clayton had his best game as a professional Sunday with nine catches for 145 yards - both career highs - and a touchdown to surpass Mike Alstott's team record of 65 rookie receptions. But once again, Clayton's achievements came in a loss. "It's all good to get catches, but I would give all this back just to win," said Clayton, whose 20-yard touchdown catch tied the score at 21 in the fourth quarter. I'm put in a position I've never been in before. It's so crazy, you still don't know what can happen, but we try to stay positive and finish off the season with a bang."

For the season, Clayton has 70 catches for 988 yards, also a Bucs rookie record. His four touchdowns are within one of Kevin House's rookie record five in 1980. "We've got to minimize mistakes," he said. "We just can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We've been doing that all season. If we eliminate that from the offense, we'll be a better ball club."

With the Bucs running game grounded by the Chargers defense, Clayton and veteran Joey Galloway were an effective double threat in the passing game. Galloway, whose speed stretches the defense, caught five passes for 78 yards, including touchdowns of 36 and 4 yards. "Offensively, you always want to run the ball," said Galloway, who limped off the field in the fourth quarter after both calf muscles cramped on a punt return. "But sometimes defenses are weaker in the secondary than they are on the front line. We felt like we could throw it around a little bit and we did an okay job with that."

Galloway and Clayton created opportunities for each other. "We're two different types of receivers," Clayton said. "He's a guy who has the speed to go deep, and I'm a guy who catches the ball underneath. We can both catch the ball in a crowd. We're both threats in two different ways. When you have guys like that, it's lovely for a quarterback. We've been working hand in hand. Sometimes I'm the clear-out guy; sometimes he's the clear-out guy. And we get big plays from it. We'll continue to do that and build off of it, and hopefully we'll be a terrible duo for the NFL next season."

Clayton, a first-round draft pick from LSU, shows no signs of fading at the end of a long season. While many rookies struggle in December, Clayton continues to be strong. "I'm fine," he said. "I think that's all mental. I stay positive and work hard. I get in the training room and take care of my body. I get in the weight room and make sure I'm fit. With guys like Derrick Brooks checking on me every day, making sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, it makes it easy for me. ... I do what I can to stay healthy and I've been successful all season."

Clayton has caught at least one pass every game. "He's had a tremendous season," Galloway said. "Each game, he makes plays that open everyone's eyes. He's going to be a great one."

Clayton dazzled with his 20-yard touchdown catch. After discarding cornerback Quentin Jammer along the right sideline on a go route, Clayton leapt to tip the pass in the air and secured it with both hands as he crossed the goal line. "The cornerback couldn't see the ball," Clayton said. "I made an immediate stop and went behind him, and I probably stopped too soon and had to jump for it and tip it up and hope to catch it on the rebound. It just happened, just like I planned it."

Joanne Korth The St.Petersburg Times 13 December 2004