Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bucs Rise from the Dead, Survive KC in OT

By JC De La Torre

Be it the upcoming bye week or poor preparation or just coming in flat, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into today's game against the Kansas City Chiefs not ready to play football. The spunky Chiefs, led by their little known QB Tyler Thigpen, used trickeration, opportunistic defense and a suprisingly effective running attack (despite missing star running back Larry Johnson) to pace themselves to a commanding 24-3 lead midway through the 2nd quarter. It would take the greatest comeback in Buccaneer history for Tampa Bay to escape with a wild 30-27 overtime win.

The Bucs defense turned in one of their worst performances of the season, yeilding 384 yds, 183 of it on the ground. The running game was the initial driving force for Kansas City's first touchdown, as the Chiefs drove the field on their opening possession, going 69 yds on 12 plays, bleeding 6:41 off the clock and capping the drive with a Thigpen to Dwayne Bowe 7 yd score. On the Bucs first play from scrimmage, running back Earnest Graham fumbled, KC recovered, setting up a 1 yd Kolby Smith touchdown run. The "death by a thousand paper cuts" Buccaneer offense found themselves have run 1 play and down 14-0.

The Bucs would get on the board after a 21 yd catch by WR Antonio Bryant would set up a 25 yd field goal by Matt Bryant, capping a 13 play 68 yd drive and cutting the Kansas City advantage to 14-3 with 13:08 left in the 1st half. Kansas City would then pull out a trick play from their playbook. Lined up in the "Wild Cat formation" that seems to be all the rage in the NFL, RB Jamal Charles took the snap and handed the ball off to Wide Receiver Mark Bradley on a reverse. Bucs corner Ronde Barber broke for Bradley, but forgot QB Tyler Thigpen was making his way down the field behind him...Bradley fired a pass 37 yd downfield to a quarrantined Thigpen who waltzed into the end zone to give Kansas City a shocking 21-3 lead.

The Bucs offense would try to move the ball down the field, but QB Jeff Garcia was intercepted by Kansas City CB Brandon Carr. The teams would exchange punts, then Kansas City began to "matriculate" the ball down the field. First, Thigpen would hit Bradley for a 56 yd bomb, setting up KC on the Bucs 12 yd line. An offensive holding call in the red zone would spoil the drive though, and the Chiefs would settle for three points, a Connor Barth 37 yder. Kansas City's lead was 24-3 with only 2:17 left in the first half.

Then, the game turned. Bucs kick returner Clifton Smith, called up from the practice squad two weeks ago, took the ensuing kickoff 97 yds for a touchdown (the 2nd in Buccaneers history), cutting the lead to 24-10. The Bucs defense stiffened, pitching a 4-and-out (the first play was marred by a Barrett Ruud personal foul), giving the Bucs offense the football with 1:08 left in the half. Tampa Bay would drive 55 yds in 7 plays, getting Matt Bryant to drill a 43 yd field goal as time expired in the first half, the Bucs had cut the Kansas City lead to 11 and trailed 24-13 at halftime.

Both defenses would come out firing in the 3rd quarter, as the teams exchanged punts throughout the third stanza. Into the 4th, the Bucs were driving to the Kansas City 16 yd line. QB Jeff Garcia dropped it off to Clifton Smith, who was playing for the banged up Earnest Graham, Smith made the catch, but was drilled and fumbled the football - Kansas City recovered at the 10 yd line - a crushing red zone turnover.

But the Bucs defense would finally deliver, KC running back Jamal Charles would take a pitch outside but as he was hit at the 3 yd line by Bucs safety Tanard Jackson, he lost control of the football, which Jackson fell on and the Bucs had it first and goal from the three yard line.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden went into his own back of tricks, as QB Jeff Garcia handed off to Earnest Graham, who performed a rocker step and then tossed a 1 yd touchdown to TE Alex Smith. The Bucs would go for two to cut the lead to 3, but Garcia's pass to WR Ike Hillard fell incomplete. Kansas City 24, Tampa Bay 19.

Back came the Chiefs, who would go 71 yds in 10 plays, bleeding six minutes off the clock and capping the drive with a 28 yd Connor Barth field goal. Kansas City was back up by 8, 27-19 with only 7:41 left. During the drive, the Bucs appeared to get another crucial turnover as Corner Phillip Buchanon intercepted QB Tyler Thigpen and returned it to the Chiefs 3 yd line. Unfortunately for the Bucs, 2nd year safety Sabby Piscitelli was called on a defensive holding call, negating the pick and continuing the drive for KC.

Here came the Bucs, QB Jeff Garcia running the no-huddle and racing Tampa Bay down the football field. He connected twice to WR Ike Hillard, the first a 23 yder and the second a 12 yd that put the Bucs at point blank range at the KC 19 with 3:34 left. The Bucs pitched the ball outside to Earnest Graham, who battled and fought his way down to the KC 3 yd line, unfortunately, the effort cost the Bucs as defensive end Tamba Hali hit Graham from behind and he coughed up the football into the endzone, where it was recovered by KC for a touchback. The Bucs challenged the fumble but it was upheld. It appeared the Bucs had coughed up their last chance.
The Tampa Bay defense wouldn't allow it, with 1 time out left, the Bucs were able to keep Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in check and then on third down, Tight End Tony Gonzalez pushed off while attempting to catch a first down pass - the penalty backed the Chiefs up 10 yds. They would hand the ball off to Charles, who would fail to reach the yard to gain, and as we reached the 2 minute warning, the Bucs offense would get one last shot.

Clifton Smith returned the punt to midfield. Garcia would open the drive with a 7 yd dump to Earnest Graham, then tried to hit Joey Galloway deep but it fell incomplete. On 3rd and 3, the Bucs ran a draw to Clifton Smith, who ran 10 yds to the Kansas City 33. Garcia spiked it with 0:51 left. Garcia hit Antonio Bryant at the Kansas City 19 yd line and Garcia would spike it again with 0:35 left. A false start on WR Ike Hillard cost the Bucs 5 yds, but more importantly, the Bucs suffered a 10 second run off, leaving the Bucs with 0:25 left. Garcia went straight to the end zone and found Bucs wide out Antonio Bryant tight roping the back of the end zone for a 24 yd touchdown. The Bucs were down 27-25 and needed a two point conversion to put it into overtime. Garcia would take the snap, by himself some time and then found TE Alex Smith in the end zone for the 2 pointer. Smith went down hard on the play, injuring his knee but held on to the football. Tie game! The Bucs finally had caught the Chiefs.
The Bucs won the toss and got the first possession in overtime. Clifton Smith returned the kickoff to the 26 yd line. On the first play of overtime, Garcia found WR Michael Clayton, who broke a tackle and raced down the sideline 29 yds to the Kansas City 45 yd line. After an offside penalty on the KC defense, Clifton Smith went up the middle for 2 yds and Garcia hit WR Ike Hillard for 3 yds and the 1st down at the 35. Garcia would connect with Clayton again at the 25 for a first down. After a first down incompletion, Smith would rush for 5 yds. On came Matt Bryant. As Matt began to kick, Kansas City called for a time out, Bryant made the field goal, but it didn't count. We go again, but before the kick, Bucs offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood flinched for a false start - the play is dead - but its a good thing for the Bucs, as Bryant had pushed the kick wide right. Its 3rd and 10, instead of kicking it five yds further back, head coach Jon Gruden put the Buccaneers offense back out onto the field. Garcia would dump the pass off to Jamel Cook, who scampered for 9 yds to the Kansas City 16. From there, Matt Bryant drilled a 34 yd field goal, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame a 21 point deficit to win, the biggest comeback in Buccaneers history.

Tampa Bay escapes Kansas City with a 6-3 record, a half game behind the idle Carolina Panthers in the NFC South and limp into their bye week with a scary, but thrilling victory. For the Chiefs, its a crushing lesson in how to win, they drop to 1-7 despite completely outplaying Tampa Bay in nearly every facet of the game. The Bucs 4 turnover (2 in the red zone) performance should have ended in defeat, but they continued to fight, got some timely big plays from some unlikely sources and found a way to get the W. Sometimes, that's all you can ask for. The victory, btw, made Head Coach Jon Gruden to the #1 spot for victories in Buccaneers history.

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