The football seemed to hang in the air forever. At least that's how it seemed to everyone in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
It seemed that way to Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Chad Lucas, too. The first-year player from Alabama State has actually been bouncing around the NFL since 2004. He had waited for this moment — his first NFL catch — for nearly four years.
And the ball just wouldn't get there.
"The ball looked like it was never going to come down," Lucas said. "I just concentrated and made the catch."
And it set up a big day for Lucas. He finished with five receptions for 82 yards in his first NFL start, which came just four days after the Buccaneers promoted him from the practice squad to help replace the injured Maurice Stovall.
He's been waiting for this for a while.
"I think I did all right," Lucas said. "There are a couple of things I can clean up. But this was a good start."
Looking at the replays, it became clear that Lucas' catch almost wasn't. Carolina defensive back Ken Lucas nearly made up all the ground on the wide open receiver. In fact, he was worried the Panthers defensive back was going to hit him before the ball got there.
"He was very close," Lucas said. "Actually, he almost hit me. I let the ball drop down, because I thought he was going to get a pass interference call, the ball was in the air so long."
Tampa Bay's season has been all about discovering unlikely contributors, and Lucas certainly fits the ball. When the Bucs returned from San Francisco without Maurice Stovall, Lucas had a hunch he might be promoted. He found out Wednesday morning that both he and Brian Clark would be on the active roster for the season finale.
He found out on Sunday that he would start for Ike Hilliard.
"That's how this league works — you never know," Lucas said. "That's why you practice every day."
Lucas first entered the NFL in 2004 with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent. He spent most of 2005 on Green Bay's practice squad and was active for two games but didn't record a catch. He even did some time with the AFL's San Jose SaberCats.
Lucas caught a big break with the Amsterdam Admirals in 2006, earning all-NFL Europe honors as a wide receiver after catching 27 passes for 440 yards and helping the Admirals to the World Bowl. But that wasn't enough for the Packers to keep him after training camp in 2006. The Bucs then signed him to their practice squad.
The Bucs cut Lucas Sept. 1 after training camp this year and actually signed him to the active roster briefly on Sept. 26. They released Lucas three days later. They did that to Lucas another time in October before his latest promotion.
If the point of the past two weeks was to sit veterans to the younger players could make their cast for 2008, then Lucas certainly made an impression.
"He proved he can make some plays and get downfield," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "I was real pleased. We were confident he could make some plays."
Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.