Spurlock return makes more history
Micheal Spurlock just did a number on the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed. With the heavily favored Saints closing in on homefield advantage throughout the NFC postseason, Spurlock spoiled the party with a 77-yard punt return that forged a tie at the raucous Superdome with only 2:25 remaining. The Bucs went on to win 20-17 in overtime, handing the 13-2 Saints their second consecutive loss.

In 2007, when Spurlock raced 90 yards against Atlanta to become the first player in Bucs history to return a kickoff for a touchdown, he wore No. 17. On Sunday, his No. 81 uniform was a blur as he darted left and cut back sharply to the right at midfield before speeding into the end zone.

"I wore No. 81 in the (United Football League) this year and I took that number when I signed with the Bucs again," Spurlock said. "My wife told me, 'You make the number, the number doesn't make you.'"

The Bucs brought Spurlock back last week after season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl returner Clifton Smith and rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. Spurlock's first punt return Sunday went for only 3 yards, but his next try went the distance as the Bucs rallied from an early 17-0 hole.

"The ball came down, everybody made their blocks and it turned into a footrace," said Spurlock, who spent 2008 on the Bucs' practice squad and played four games with the 49ers this year. "I told our guys - keep their flyers out and I'll do the rest. Big-time players make big-time plays."

Stroughter's 33-yard punt return was Tampa Bay's longest of the season until Spurlock stunned the crowd of 70,021, sparking Tampa Bay to back-to-back road wins for the first time in 13 months.

"The guys gave him a crease and Micheal got it done," said special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. "I appreciate the work of (GM) Mark Dominik and (pro scouting coordinator) Doug Williams for getting him back in the house."

Spurlock said he was only doing his part in a total team effort. "It hasn't been pretty all season, but this is a great group of guys," Spurlock said. "One thing we don't do around here is give up."

Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 29 December 2009