Fumble Return Changes Complexion
Anthony Davis had an opportunity to make an impact twice on one play and failed both times. First, Davis failed to block Atlanta DE John Abraham, who bullied past the third-year tackle and got to Bucs QB Bruce Gradkowski, stripping the ball. As the ball tumbled onto the field, Davis had a chance to fall on it.
Instead, the ball rolled out of Davis' grasp and was recovered by Atlanta LB Demorrio Williams, who returned it 54 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 Atlanta lead. "You look at most games and there's a play or two in there that really make a difference, and that got us going," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "[Only being down 6-0] gives you a chance to make one play and be back in the game and that's what happened."
Until Williams scored, the Bucs were clinging to a 6-0 lead and the defense was holding QB Michael Vick and company in check. But after that play, Tampa Bay's offense went three-and-out and the Falcons scored on their next possession to take command. "It's amazing what one big play can do for you and the impact a turnover can have on your team," Vick said.
For the second consecutive game, RB Cadillac Williams coughed up the ball. Williams' fumble with 4:26 remaining led to an Atlanta field goal. Last year's NFL Rookie of the Year also lost a fumble last week against the Steelers. "It's something you can't do as a back," Coach Jon Gruden said. "In that situation, particularly, it is a big play in the football game. It's a decisive play, a decisive blow to the game. I don't consider the man a fumbler, but here in the last couple of weeks, we've had a couple of critical losses that hurt us."
The Bucs capped off a weekend of celebrating the past by parading more than 100 former players onto the field at halftime. The group was separated by decades. The first decade was led onto the field by Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon. Former OL Tony Mayberry and Ian Beckles led the second group and former CB Donnie Abraham and LB Hardy Nickerson led the most current decade.
Selmon, Nickerson and Doug Williams served as honorary captains during the pregame coin toss. Some fans honored the former players by wearing the old Creamsicle orange jerseys. The weekend's festivities included a tour of the new facility, a golf outing and a banquet Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Her first game ball
Soon after Mora greeted every player with a high-five as they entered the locker room, he returned to the area just outside. Mora tossed a football to Atlanta GM Rich McKay's wife, Terrin. Because the Tampa native is still torn with her years invested in cheering for the Bucs and loyalty to her husband's current team, Terrin contemplated not coming to Sunday's game.
So Mora rewarded her with the game ball, her first, in thanking her for attending. In 2004, when the Falcons defeated the Bucs in Atlanta, Mora presented game balls to former Tampa Bay employees McKay, vice president of football communications Reggie Roberts and then-assistant GM Tim Ruskell (now the Seahawks' general manager).
Warrick Dunn began the week in Tampa giving away homes as part of his charity foundation. He wrapped up the week with Sunday's victory. "It was one of those weeks where it was great to be here because I was able to help people live a dream, but at the same time, it was about getting a 'W,'" Dunn said. "I was just happy I was able to accomplish both, making people happy and getting a win."
Dunn celebrated his 10th anniversary of helping single mothers become first-time home buyers as part of his "Homes for the Holidays" program. On Tuesday, he helped three Tampa Bay area mothers move into their new homes. His celebration on Sunday was cut short in the third quarter when he left the game with a strained left calf. He did not return.
CB Phillip Buchanon recorded his first interception as a Buc. Buchanon picked off Vick on a pass intended for WR Ashley Lelie in the end zone in the second quarter.
Six-time Pro Bowl FB Mike Alstott surpassed the 5,000-yard career rushing mark when he picked up a key first down during the Bucs' second possession of the game. Alstott's 17-yard run on third-and-1 kept alive the scoring drive, culminating in Matt Bryant's 24-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead. Alstott, who has 5,002 career rushing yards, finished with two carries for 20 yards and two receptions for 4 yards.
Bryant's consecutive field goals streak ended at 11 when his 51-yard attempt in the second quarter sailed wide right.
Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 11 December 2006