Bucs call Wesley's hit on defenseless Clifton Smith a 'cheap shot'
The Bucs called the knockout blow delivered by Panthers defensive back Dante Wesley to punt returner Clifton Smith before halftime 'a cheap shot.'
Wesley launched his forearm into Smith's throat while he awaited a punt. Smith suffered a concussion and was knocked out briefly on the play. He had trouble speaking or swallowing after the game.
Wesley was penalized 15-yards for a personal foul and ejected from the game. Coach Raheem Morris said Wesley threw a punch at Bucs defensive back Aqib Talib following the play.
Smith remained on the ground for several minutes and was escorted to the locker room. He did not return.
“It was a dumb play that was penalized. It was penalized by the officials. It was handled correctly,'' Morris said. "He threw a punch at Aqib, he got kicked out. It was a cheap shot. We know that. ''
Wesley apologized for the play -- sort of. He said the hit wasn't intentional.
"That's not even me. It just so happened I just hit him,'' Wesley said. "My prayers go out with him. I would never try to hurt anyone. I was just trying to make a play.
"The first time we punted the ball, he tried to do like a fake fair catch and he caught it and ran anyway, and I was kind of slow reacting to it. We watched film and knew that he never really fair catches the ball, that he always tries to make a play. I kind of just mis-timed it when I was coming down the field. I saw their safety coming up trying to block me, so I felt like right at the end of the quarter, they were going to try to get a return up the sidelines. I was just trying to make a play. I would never try to hurt anybody, do anything like that."
But several Bucs players said they had never seen a more dangerous play.
“I’ve never seen that,'' said Bucs running back Earnest Graham. "I’ve never seen someone hit a defenseless guy like that. And on top of that, it looked like he led with his helmet.
“I don’t know how you do that. Outside of football, that's out friend. You're talking about a guy's life with a play like that.''
After the play, Wesley was surrounded by several Bucs players, including Talib, who had to be restrained by teammates.
"I wasn't really worried,'' Wesley said. "You know, I'm looking at "Where are my teammates at?' I didn't see nothing but a sea of white. I'm wondering, "OK, ref, you going to call a penalty? You going to get them off me? You going to come grab me or something?" I hate that that whole play happened like that, I hate I was ejected out of the game. I'm just trying to make a play and play hard."