Bucs Pass Test In OT ... And Pass, And Pass, And Pass, And Pass ...
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 September 2008

They are a team made up, at least in part, of second-chancers. Certainly Antonio Bryant fits into that category. So does Jerramy Stevens. Even Brian Griese qualifies. On Sunday, the Bucs got a second chance all their own, and it was largely due to the play of those aforementioned second-chancers that the Bucs came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Bears 27-24 in overtime at Soldier Field.

Griese threw a team-record 67 passes - a move he called a recipe for disaster - but 10 of his 38 completions, including the 38-yarder that set up the winning field goal, wound up in the hands of Bryant. Meanwhile, one of Griese's two touchdowns wound up in the hands of Stevens, whose game-tying score with 7 seconds left in regulation set the stage for the team's critical second chance.

It came midway through overtime, after the Bucs failed to convert third-and-9 from their own 8, when Bears defensive back Charles Tillman was whistled for an unnecessary-roughness call. Instead of being saddled with fourth-and-7 at their own 10, the Bucs got first-and-10 at their 25. Eight plays later, they got a boost of momentum some believe could carry them the rest of the season: Bryant's 38-yard catch to the Bears 1-yard line.

Two plays later, Matt Bryant's 21-yard field goal won it. "This is not the recipe for success that you want later in the season," said Griese, who was facing the team that traded him back to the Bucs last spring. "But hopefully we can build off of this."

One of the first things the Bucs may want to build back is their stamina. The three-plus hours it took to play this game and the 67 passes the Bucs threw drained many players of their energy reserves. Several, including Griese, who admitted to being very tired and having a sore arm, took longer than usual to undress, shower and dress again for the flight home to Tampa.

But a lot of players were so exhilarated by the victory and the way the Bucs went about getting it, they felt it could propel them for weeks on end. "It was like playground football out there," said Stevens, the tight end who spent the first two games of the season serving a league-mandated suspension tethered to a 2007 DUI conviction.

"It was a lot of fun," said receiver Maurice Stovall, who caught two of Griese's passes for 16 yards. "But it was also very physical. You had to bring you're A-game to this one, right on down to the mouthpiece."

Those mouthpieces were in play from the very start. Two fights broke out during the first series of the game, with Bucs left tackle Donald Penn earning an unnecessary roughness penalty on the first play from scrimmage. "Both teams play a real physical style of football, but this one got a little more competitive than it needed to be," said Bucs center Jeff Faine. "It got pretty chippy out there to be honest with you."

It wasn't just the play in the trenches that was chippy. Bears quarterback Kyle Orton threw two interceptions, both in the first half, one that was picked off in the end zone, another that Gaines Adams returned for a touchdown. Griese, meanwhile, threw three interceptions, including one in the third quarter and one in the fourth that the Bears turned into touchdowns and a 24-14 lead with just 6:38 to play in the game.

Griese is often at his best in such circumstances, however, and that was the case in this one. As he preached poise and patience to the players in his huddle Griese slowly drove the Bucs back into contention. He started by hitting on each of his first six passes to take the Bucs from their own 22 to the Bears 26. Another completion to Stevens gained 6 more yards and from there, Matt Bryant kicked a 35-yard field to make it 24-17.

A quick three-and-out by the Bucs defense got the ball back for Griese with 1:49 to play. Griese didn't start off so strong on this drive, missing on three of four throws, including a potential pick that Nathan Vasher dropped. In the face of a blitz, though, on third-and-10 from his 32, Griese got it all back. He hit first on a completion of 18 yards to Stevens and followed up with throws of 13 yards to Clayton, 17 yards to Ike Hilliard and 19 yards to Antonio Bryant.

That set up the second-and-goal play from the 1 on which Stevens scored his touchdown, and the stage was set for the Bucs' second-chancers to take advantage of the second chance that was dealt to them. "We made it harder than it needed to be, especially me," Griese said. "But this was a chance to show everybody what we have deep down inside. We showed we really do have a lot of character."