Return to sender
The Broncos had a chance to put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter, but they let an air-mailed gift slip away. Minutes after falling behind 16-6 on Matt Prater's third field goal, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia — who had replaced injured starter Brian Griese — dropped back on third and 2 from his 27. He fired a short pass over the middle toward Antonio Bryant — right into the arms of defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder rumbled downfield and was hit by 5-9, 187-pound running back Warrick Dunn, forcing a fumble. The ball squirted across the wet field as several Bucs dived for it. Guard Arron Sears corralled it, giving the Bucs a first down at their 15 and a chance to get back into the game. "I think that's one of the things — having not been involved in the game in a few weeks — I never saw the dropping lineman," Garcia said. "It was a zone. I thought, based upon our route, that I was going to have a receiver hooking up right where he wasn't hooking up. And that's just a matter of getting into the flow of the game and understanding what's going on. I didn't even see (Thomas) there. I hit him right in the stomach, but fortunately the guys on our team hustled, stripped the ball and made a big play."
Running for daylight
Earnest Graham is the starter, but Warrick Dunn continues to boost the Bucs' running game. In the first quarter, Graham provided a lift with a 14-yard run to the right side, giving Tampa Bay a first down at the 36. After an offsides call on Denver, quarterback Brian Griese handed to Dunn, who burst through a hole on the right side and raced 38 yards to the Broncos 21. It was Dunn's longest run of the season, surpassing his 18-yarder two weeks ago in Chicago, and set up Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 4:32 left in the quarter. "We ran off the right side and went through a little arm tackle and made the guy miss," Dunn said. "When I came back to the sideline, the guys told me Champ (Bailey) was coming up on my right side and trying to strip the football away. It was just a good play and good play-calling." Going airborne
Entering the game, the Broncos' pass defense was ranked 31st out of 32 teams. So who could have guessed that as the first half wound down, the Bucs would not have a completion longer than 6 yards? With a first down at midfield, Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Bryant failed to make a leaping catch of a Brian Griese pass for a potential first down. Two plays later, however, Griese looked for Bryant again and this time the big first-year Buc jumped and came down with a 17-yard catch for a first down at the 29 with 42 seconds left. That led to a Matt Bryant 31-yard field goal as time expired to tie the score 6-6.
"I dropped the first one, and that ticked me off," Bryant said. "It was just a deep hook. They were playing a Cover 2, which caught us off guard a little bit from watching films in previous games that they played. So we made some adjustments and then we started moving the ball."
Bryant led the team in catches and yards for the third straight week (seven for 58) and continues to emerge with Joey Galloway sidelined. His 17-yard catch was the longest of the game for the Bucs.
"I just want to make more strides," said Bryant, who has 17 catches for 220 yards this season. "It's kind of frustrating coming out here and taking a loss. Give them the credit. They came out here and played a better overall game than us, obviously because they left with the W. We just left a lot of opportunities out there on that field. I know a lot of the guys are frustrated. But that's part of the formula for having a good team — not having guys who are easily satisfied with anything. I'm definitely not one of those people."