On a day when the Tampa Bay Bucs defense took a rest, the offense came back from the dead, lightning up the scoreboard and reviving playoff hopes that weren't even possible four weeks ago.
In a game matching Kansas City's high-octane offense and Tampa Bay's brutal
defense, it was the Bucs offense, led once again by quarterback Brian Griese
that brought the Bucs playoff hopes back into focus.
Yes, the same Bucs whose season was given up for dead just a month ago, is
suddenly back in the NFC playoff picture.
With the season hanging in the balance, the Bucs wiped out a halftime deficit to
outslug the Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31, at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. It
marked the Bucs' third win in four games to propel them to at least a distant
view of the NFC Playoffs.
"We play four four-game seasons,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "Right now, we're
3-1 as far as I'm concerned.''
That would sound a lot better of the Bucs hadn't dropped their first four games,
but at 3-5 with most of the remaining schedule against South Division teams,
including two against first-place Atlanta, the season doesn't seem so bleak.
Again, it was Brian Griese, the guy responsible for holding the clipboard at the
start of the season, who came through big. He was 22-of-24 for 296 yards on the
game and didn't turn the ball over.
"Brian can throw, he can run, he's smart and he makes great decisions,'' Gruden
said. "He's played well enough for us to be 4-0 since he became starter.''
The Chiefs struck first with their high-powered offense that scored a
mind-boggling 101 points in their last two games. They moved down field on their
opening possession and Johnnie Morton capped off the 10-play drive with a
25-yard reception from Trent Green who ripped the Bucs secondary apart all day
when he had time to throw. The Bucs came back on their next drive, scoring on a
Griese 8-yard pass to seldom-used fullback Jamel Cook. It was Cook's first
career touchdown and it evened the score at 7. The drive came at a cost, though,
when center John Wade went down with an injury on the first play from scrimmage.
Sean Mahan came in and filled the sport admirably through the rest of the game.
It was Mahan's first NFL action at center.
The Bucs scored on the first of Michael Pittman's three touchdowns on their
first drive of the second quarter, but once again, Green shredded the Bucs
secondary and Priest Holmes finished a 10-play drive with a 2-yard run. The
Chiefs scored on a 31-yard field goal to go back up, 17-14, but Griese moved the
Bucs downfield once again, finishing with a 3-yard strike to backup tight end
Then it was Kansas City's turn to take the lead, and that's what happened in the
closing seconds of the second quarter when Green found Tony Gonzalez wide open
in the back of the end zone. Gonzalez had 10 receptions on the day and this was
the biggest as the Chiefs led, 24-21 at the half.
Pittman got the Bucs back on top with a 78-yard burst just a minute into the
third quarter, but he had help. Dilger and Michael Clayton made big blocks to
spring Pittman loose.
"With all the talk about Priest Holmes, it kind of fueled us today,'' Gruden
said. "We had to lean on (Pittman) and it paid off.''
Pittman ran for 128 yards on the day with three touchdowns, picking up all but
two of the Bucs' total rushing yardage as Mike Alstott sat out his first game
since suffering an injury two weeks ago.
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