Receivers Share The Load
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 September 2008

Tampa Bay's receiving corps seemed destined for another letdown. With standout receiver Joey Galloway, who posted 1,000 receiving yards each of the past three seasons, sidelined by a foot injury, the Bucs were forced to rely on a group that previously had done little to suggest it could make up for Galloway's absence.

Antonio Bryant, who was out of football last year, started in place of Galloway. Ike Hilliard, a reliable, but not flashy 32-year old, also started. The Bucs also planned to lean on tight end Jerramy Stevens, who missed the first two games of the season serving a league-mandated suspension; and receiver Michael Clayton, an unsolved mystery since his rookie season.

Instead of flopping without Galloway, nine Tampa Bay players combined for 38 receptions, 407 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay's 27-24 overtime victory against Chicago. "I'll never shy away from saying our receivers can get the job done," Clayton said. "I've been pretty confident about that the five years that I've been here. The guys we've bought in, we understand our roles. We definitely know how to play this game, and when given the opportunity, we look to take advantage."

As Brian Griese completed 38 of 67 passes, it became clear there are receivers other than Galloway who can make plays. "We'll look at the tape, but when you throw the ball 67 times, you should have some completions," Jon Gruden said. "You shouldn't be 0-for-67. We did some good things. Michael Clayton came back today, Antonio Bryant had 10 catches today, and I think he will be mad that he didn't have more than that. We're a work in progress."

Bryant gave Tampa Bay the biggest reason to have hope. After most NFL teams gave up on Bryant in 2007, he had 10 receptions for 138 yards against Chicago. His previous best for single-game receptions was nine, set as a San Francisco receiver playing against Baltimore on Nov, 1, 2006.

"I think everybody has been waiting on that for a little bit now," said Hilliard, who had six receptions for 57 yards and one touchdown. "For a guy that is as intense as he is, as far as being a competitor, to see him go out there and make plays, go out there and get into a groove after not playing football last year, it says something about his character."

Bryant's big catch in overtime showed why the Bucs gave him an opportunity. Tampa Bay faced second-and-10 on Chicago's 44-yard line when Griese threw a deep pass to Bryant, resulting in a 38-yard completion. Bryant said it was a play Tampa Bay ran about eight times against Chicago, but that was the first time Griese threw toward him. The catch set up the winning 21-yard field goal. "Coach Gruden has something for everyone," Bryant said. "He knows and watches a lot of film, because he pulled out film on me that I didn't even remember, plays I had made. He knows what guys are capable of doing and he will push you."

It is unclear if Galloway will be back for Tampa Bay's home game this Sunday against Green Bay, but one thing is certain if he does not play. Tampa Bay's receivers are no longer letdowns.