Bucs Rally Past Chiefs
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 3 November 2008

Jon Gruden told his players repeatedly last week that beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium is never easy. If they didn't believe him then, they certainly do now. The Bucs had to rally from a 21-point deficit in the first half and overcome four giveaways to beat the Chiefs, who finally succumbed to the supposedly superior Bucs in overtime, 30-27.

The comeback was the largest ever in a victory for the Bucs, who improved to 6-3 and will head into their bye week a half-game behind first-place Carolina in the NFC South. "This game really challenged our character," said Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who threw for 339 yards and moved the Bucs into position for kicker Matt Bryant's 34-yard, game-winning field goal. "But we always hang together."

The Bucs were ready to hang their heads after the Chiefs scored three early touchdowns, including one that came on a 37-yard throw from receiver Mark Bradley to quarterback Tyler Thigpen in the second quarter.

Those scores, sandwiched between two Earnest Graham fumbles, helped the Chiefs jump out to a surprising 24-3 lead that energized the Arrowhead Stadium crowd and left the Bucs in near disbelief. "We expected some of what they threw at us," Gruden said. "I mean, they really had us on the ropes there. We might have to try and steal some of their plays, maybe."

The one they're probably most interested in stealing is the bizarre play that started with the Chiefs lined up in the wildcat formation and wound up as a touchdown pass to Thigpen. RB Jamaal Charles took the snap and handed off to receiver Mark Bradley, who threw on the run to Thigpen, who had already blown past Ronde Barber on his way to completing an easy 37-yard touchdown play. "I saw [Bradley] bobble the ball and I thought it was on the ground," Barber said afterward. "If he'd fielded it cleanly, I probably would have stayed with [Thigpen]."

As tough as it was to take, the Bucs actually settled down a bit after that score, holding Kansas City to a field goal on its next two possessions. Tampa Bay then got a big boost from its new return man, Clifton Smith. After Connor Barth's field goal improved Kansas City's lead to 24-3, Smith put the Bucs back into the game and himself into the Bucs record books by returning Barth's ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

The return was only the second for a TD in Bucs history, but the second in as many years, coming on the heels of Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard return last year. "That gave us a chance,'' Gruden said. "We were struggling up until then. Things just weren't going very well for us there. They had us on the ropes a bit.''

Pretty soon it was the Chiefs who were on the ropes. A Bryant field goal cut the Bucs' deficit to 11 at the half, and the defense came to life after halftime, limiting Kansas City to 124 total yards and three points. "We just weren't right at the start,'' Barber said. "They got us out of our gaps, but we decided in the second half to play more man to man and get that eighth guy into the box and that really helped us.''

The offense helped, too. It still struggled in the red zone, fumbling the ball away there twice in the fourth quarter and scoring just two touchdowns in six trips, but it produced when it had to. Antonio Bryant caught eight balls for 115 yards, including one for 24 yards and a touchdown that helped tie the game. Tight end Alex Smith caught a touchdown pass as well as the 2-point conversion that tied the game.

"They just outplayed us in the first half,'' Bucs defensive end Greg White said. "But we're the Bucs. We play hard for 60 minutes. Sixty-five if we have to."