Smith's Return A Game-Changer
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 3 November 2008

Antonio Bryant lost a friendly wager with teammate Clifton Smith on Sunday - and he couldn't be happier about it. "I told him I'd buy him dinner if he broke a return for a touchdown today and he said he'd buy me dinner if he didn't," Bryant said. "I'll gladly take care of him."

Bryant and Smith will have plenty to discuss over appetizers as Smith's 97-yard kick return for a touchdown sparked the Bucs' comeback in a 30-27 victory against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. "Thank God for Clifton Smith and that kickoff return," Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "That was a big play for us."

On a day that was filled with big plays, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Bryant that helped tie the game and send it to overtime, it was arguably the biggest. It came just before the end of the first half, at a time when the Chiefs had all the momentum as well as a 24-3 lead. Smith changed all that, though, in a matter of seconds. "As soon as I caught the ball I knew I had a chance," he said. "I saw the guys out in front of me open up some holes with their blocks and I just hit them. That was it."

Not really; Smith was caught at the Chiefs 30-yard line by Kansas City safety and special teams standout Jon McGraw, but a quick juke to the inside allowed Smith to elude McGraw's tackle. "I looked at my shadow and saw him coming and slid inside just a little bit and that helped me to shake him off," Smith said. "After that I knew I was going to get it."

The kick return for a touchdown was the second in Bucs' history, but it was the second in as many seasons, coming a little less than a year after Micheal Spurlock returned a kick 90 yards for a score. Spurlock is one of the players Smith has beaten out in recent weeks to earn the right to return kicks and punts. Second-round draft pick Dexter Jackson is another. It could be a while before either sees the ball again.

Smith's return was just the cap to what has been a tremendous start to his career. An undrafted free agent out of Fresno State, he has now returned nine kicks for 294 yards (a 32.6-yard per return average) and seven punts for 109 yards (a 15.6-yard per return average). "You could see he was due for a long one," said Bryant, who had a rather big day himself, catching eight balls for 115 yards and a touchdown. "He's really given us a boost."

He gave the Bucs the boost they needed Sunday. The Bucs followed Smith's score by forcing the Chiefs to punt the ball away and the Bucs turned that possession into a field goal that helped cut a 21-point deficit to 11 at the half. The Bucs then outscored the Chiefs 17-3 to win the game in overtime. "That return gave us a chance," Jon Gruden said. "It was a big play."