Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 3 November 2008|
It wasn't just the numbers that Antonio Bryant produced that made him the MVP of this game, it was when and how he produced them. Two of Bryant's team-leading eight catches converted third downs into first downs, one set up the Bucs' first field goal and another was the touchdown that allowed the Bucs to tie the score with a 2-point conversion.
There was also a catch for 16 yards that would have proved critical had the drive not resulted in a fumble. Bryant's first catch might have been his best. It was a one-handed grab along the left sideline as he fought off the defense of cornerback Maurice Leggett. Bryant beat Leggett on his touchdown catch as well, that one coming on a long toss into the end zone (imagine that) in the fourth quarter. Bryant's catches accounted for 115 yards of offense for the Bucs, who needed to be a pass-first team to get back in the game.
There were several, but let's start with just about everybody on defense. Sure, they struggled at the outset, creating that 21-point crater that the Bucs had to climb out of. If it weren't for the defense coming to life in the second half, though, the Bucs would have stayed buried in that crater.
Instead, the defense allowed just 124 yards and three points in the second half. On offense, wide receiver Ike Hilliard caught five passes, including four for first downs, in the final 6:37 of regulation and overtime. Nor can we overlook tight end Alex Smith, who caught one touchdown pass and the game-tying 2-point conversion throw that forced overtime. We'll also throw Clifton Smith into this group.
And how about Jeff Garcia? Everyone in the stadium knew he had to throw the ball to get the Bucs back in the game, yet he completed 31 of 43 passes for 339 yards and one big touchdown.
For this we're going to go back about three weeks, to the meeting inside the walls of One Buc Place in which coaches decided to bench Dexter Jackson and give Clifton Smith a chance to return kicks and punts. No easy call there. Jackson was the Bucs' second-round draft pick this year, the one they were counting on to give the offense a good head start each time out.
Jackson's tentative approach wasn't producing the desired results, though, so something had to be done. Turning the job over to another rookie, an undrafted one at that, was risky, but Smith has so far proved to be the right choice.
After averaging an almost unheard of 16 yards per punt return last week, he averaged an almost equally unheard of 13.5 yards this week. Then there was that 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Smith actually looked a little slow on that play, being caught from behind by safety Jon McGraw, but made a slide move to the inside to shake off the tackle and finish the play that gave the Bucs a chance.
The NFL is a copycat league and nothing better exemplifies that than the surge in plays run out of the wildcat formation. The Chiefs ran a couple out of that set Sunday, both quite successful. The second was by far the most successful, however, as it resulted in a touchdown off a first-and-10 play from the Bucs 37.
The play started with the ball being snapped to tailback Jamaal Charles, who handed off to receiver Mark Bradley, who was coming off the left end. Bradley bobbled the ball but regained possession and heaved it downfield as he ran to his right. QB Tyler Thigpen was Bradley's target and, after Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber bit on the handoff to Bradley, Thigpen made an easy catch as he trotted into the end zone to extend the Chiefs lead to 21-3.
Crunching The Numbers
The Chiefs converted each of their first six straight third downs in building their 21-3 lead. ... The victory was the team-leading 57th for Jon Gruden as the Bucs coach. Tony Dungy is now second behind Gruden with 56 victories.
Bryant has led the Bucs in receptions six times in nine games. Three of those were 100-yard games.
S Tanard Jackson's forced fumble late in the game was his second of the season. The recovery was his first.
When Chiefs RB Kolby Smith ran 1 yard for a touchdown in the first quarter Sunday it marked the first time this year the Bucs have allowed a rushing touchdown.
Fellow Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles became the first running back to run for 100 or more yards against the Bucs this year.
TE Alex Smith suffered the most severe injury of any Buccaneer on Sunday. He hurt his knee catching the 2-point conversion throw near the end of regulation, but didn't seem too concerned afterward. RB Earnest Graham (knee), DE Gaines Adams (shoulder) and RG Davin Joseph (hip) all missed a play or two because of minor injuries, but returned to the game and are expected to be fine.
There was an interesting sentiment being voiced inside the Bucs locker room after Sunday's game. Several players, including DT Jovan Haye and WR Michael Clayton, seemed kind of pleased with the fact the Bucs' mettle was tested in this outing. What they liked most, of course, was how they handled the adversity.
This was no easy victory, but it proved what this team is truly capable of. What we saw here was similar to what we saw in Chicago earlier in the year. This is a Bucs team that can be knocked down, but seldom knocked out. Issues?
Yeah, this team has a lot of them, particularly on offense. The Bucs are a hard team to knock out, though, and as long as that remains, they should stay in the hunt for the playoffs and even more.