Sunday, December 28, 2008

Historic Collapse By the Buccaneers, Caddy's Career May Be Over

By JC De La Torre

It was one of the greatest late season collapse in NFL history. Since 1993, every team that has started a season 9-3 has made the playoffs....until now. It will rank up there with the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies blowing a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 to play to the St. Louis Cardinals, losing their last 10 games or the 1958 Brooklyn Dodgers, who led by 13 games in August but blew the lead to the New York Baseball Giants. Its worse than the 1996 Washington Redskins starting 7-1 and missing the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew a ten point fourth quarter lead with 11:27 left in the game and lost to the woeful Oakland Raiders 31-24, completing an epic collapse that could cost Jon Gruden his job.

Its only rumor and speculation now but when you go from 9-3 to 9-7 and in the process lose to two west coast teams with losing records at home while giving up 72 points, your job security can expected to be questioned. Remember, the Buccaneers owners, the Glazer family, is the same group that fired Tony Dungy after a playoff loss. At least none of Dungy's teams never fell apart like this. What's worse for the Buccaneers is the fact that had they won, all they would have needed would have been a Dallas Cowboys loss to Philadelphia. The Eagles beat Dallas 44-6. We will never know if Philadelphia would have given the same effort if the Bucs could have eliminated them by proxy.

Also in this one, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who inspired everyone with his remarkable comeback from a career threatening torn patella tendon in his right knee suffered a similar devastating injury, this time to his left knee midway through the fourth quarter and his NFL career could be over.

The horrible horizontal offense engineered by offensive genius Jon Gruden stalled through the first 15 minutes of the ball game, failing to secure a first down against an Oakland defense that came into the league ranked 27th in the NFL until 0:43 was left in the first quarter.

Seven seconds into the 2nd quarter, Johnnie Lee Higgins 31 yd punt return put Oakland at the Tampa Bay 40 yd line. After three straight runs secured a first down, Oakland Quarterback JaMarcus Russell found Higgins for a 17 yd completion to the Buccaneer 12. Oakland pounded beefy back Michael Bush at the Bucs undersized front four three consecutive times, the third time being the charm as Bush slipped into the end zone for 4 yd score to give Oakland a 7-0 with 10:44 left in the first half.

The Buccaneers offense finally rumbled to life, driving 80 yds on 12 plays, including big passes to Michael Clayton for 29 yds and Antonio Bryant for 15 to set up Carnell Williams 9 yd dart and score to tie the game at 7 with 5:45 left in the first half. After the teams exchanged punts, Oakland took the ball over at their own 39 with 1:45 left in the half. Jamarcus Russell connected with tight end Chaz Schilens 19 yds and tight end Zac Miller for 26 yds putting the Raiders at the Tampa Bay 8 yd line. After a couple runs, Russell avoided a strong rush and tossed it to a wide open Schilens in the endzone with only 0:35 left in the half to give Oakland a stunning 14-7 halftime lead.

The Bucs would tie the game at the 10:14 mark of the third quarter when Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia scrambled and found a wide open Michael Clayton streaking down the sideline, Clayton hauled in the pass and raced the rest of way for a 58 yd touchdown, Clayton's first score since October 15th, 2006. After forcing the Raiders to punt, the Bucs began at their own 13 yd line and drove 76 yds in 13 plays before settling for a 29 yd Matt Bryant field goal to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead with 14:51 left in the game.

Russell would find the suddenly potent Schillens for 24 yds to the Buccaneers 45 yd line, then two runs by Michael Bush would set up 3rd and 6. On third down, Russell was rushed by Gaines Adams and threw an interception to former Raider Phillip Buchanon but unfortunately during the rush, Adams grabbed Russell's face mask and nullified the pick, giving the Raiders a first down at the Tampa Bay 26. Russell dropped back to pass again and tried for a deep pass to tight end Zac Miller but was picked off by Bucs Safety Sabby Piscitelli. Piscitelli tight roped the sideline then crossed the field for a spectacular 84 yd return before being bulldogged down by Russell at the Oakland 11. From there, Cadillac Williams would take it in from 8 yds out and with 11:35 left in the game, Tampa Bay led 24-14.

Back came Oakland, a short run by Michael Bush and a short pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins achieved a first down, then Russell pitched to Bush, who fired a pass deep down field intended for little used wide receiver Todd Watkins. Bucs safety Will Allen, playing for the winded Sabby Piscitelli, scrambled to get back in coverage and ended up interfering with Watkins, setting Oakland up at point blank range at the Tampa Bay 12. From there, Russell hit Higgins in the end zone for a touchdown, closing the gap to 24-21.

The Bucs tried to strike back, beginning their drive on the 33 yd line. Cadillac had his best run of the season, making a wicked cut in the hole and busting out for a 28 yd run before being pushed out of bounds by Raiders DB Chris Johnson. As he went out, Cadillac reached down to his left knee and buckled in was a left knee injury, similar to the one he miraculously recovered from last season. The Bucs players surrounded, knelt and prayed for Williams who fought back tears and cursed, knowing that this injury could mean the end of his career. Cadillac had a solid game, rushing for 78 yds on 12 carries and 2 touchdowns. He also caught 5 passes for 37 yds. Tampa Bay had the ball at the Raider 39. Warrick Dunn gained 6 yds off tackle, then was held to no gain. On 3rd and 4, QB Jeff Garcia went deep for tight end Alex Smith, who made the catch but had one foot out of bounds at the one yard line. On 4th and 4, the Bucs decided against going for the field goal and went for a first down. Garcia tried to hit Michael Clayton on the sideline but Clayton was unable to hold on to the ball, giving the ball to the Raiders. Oakland wasted little time, as Michael Bush busted off right end through a gaping hole and raced 67 devastating yards for a decisive touchdown, giving Oakland a 28-24 lead with 7:16 left.

On the Bucs ensuing possession, Jeff Garcia attempted to go deep to Antonio Bryant, but Oakland safety Rashad Baker set under the fluttering pass and picked it off. Oakland would go 51 yds in 10 plays, bleeding 5:31 off of the clock and driving all the way to the Bucs 2 yd line to set up a 25 yd Sebastian Janikowski field goal with 1:13 left in the game, giving Oakland a 31-24 lead.

The Bucs would drive the ball all the way to the Oakland 45 with Tampa Bay facing 3rd and 5 and only 0:13 left in the game. Garcia scrambled but would be sacked by Oakland defensive end Greyson Gunheim to end the game and by result the Tampa Bay season.

In the aftermath of the greatest late season collapse in NFL history, it will be interesting to see what occurs at One Buccaneer Palace over the next week. If Jon Gruden remains head coach of the team, one would have to expect changes in the coaching staff will be made. If Gruden is fired, will general manager Bruce Allen go with him? Will Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway, Antonio Bryant, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Luke McCown and Kevin Carter return for 2009? Will the Bucs actually spend their massive surplus of salary cap space or will they sit on it as they did this off-season, bringing questions on whether the Glazers are devoting their monetary resources to the Manchester United soccer club instead of the Bucs. Interesting times, indeed.

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