TAMPA — Jon Gruden was already calling Antonio Bryant the lone receiver to emerge during this preseason.
After Bryant made a bold claim to make the final roster Sunday, Gruden took it a bit further.
"He's as talented as a lot of receivers in the league," Gruden said. "He's been blessed with that kind of talent. Those are the standards that he's going to be held to."
Gruden couldn't help but sing Bryant's praises some more after the Bucs' reclamation project racked up 53 yards on three touches against the Patriots, showing a mix of toughness and speed.
The wide receiver showed his versatility, with the Bucs using him on an end-around on their first series that led to a 16-yard gain. Bryant later set up a touchdown, catching a 4-yard pass in traffic on a slant route that put the ball at the 1.
The Bucs have been lamenting the lack of distinguished play from the receiving corps, but Bryant — who started Sunday — is giving Tampa Bay reason to be hopeful.
With Joey Galloway still sidelined with a groin injury, the Bucs slid Bryant into the No. 1 spot at split end. That's a departure from the first preseason game and the initial depth chart that had Maurice Stovall listed as the immediate backup.
It might be a sign that the Bucs are starting to believe in Bryant, who sat out the 2007 season when he was not offered a contract in part because of a looming league suspension.
But watching his fluid performance Sunday, one would never know it.
"I just kind of give it all to my coaches for making those opportunities available for me to go out there and make those plays," Bryant said.
O-Line impressive: The starting offensive line played well into the second quarter, giving it a chance to show what it can do when intact.
In the preseason opener Aug. 9 at Miami, center Jeff Faine — the prize of the team's free-agent pickups — played just five snaps, Gruden said.
The interior of the line was particularly dominant against the Patriots: Faine and guards Davin Joseph and Arron Sears. And the line was consistently assertive in run blocking, with gaping holes opened for the running backs.
Two-way player: Defensive end Kevin Carter lined up as a blocking tight end on the 1-yard touchdown pass from Luke McCown to Byron Storer in the second quarter. Carter has been lining up at tight end at times during practices, but this was the first time he was used as such in a game.
It was almost one of the game's most memorable moments: Carter said the plan called for him to receive the pass, but the defense didn't bite, and Carter was blanketed in the end zone.
"Seems like I was a good decoy," he joked. "It gives us a different look on the goal line."
Would Carter have caught the would-be touchdown?
"I've been catching them in practice," he said.
Ruud reunion: Linebacker Barrett Ruud played against his brother, Patriots rookie linebacker Bo.
"It was kind of strange, running across the sideline and seeing him out there," Barrett said. "My dad came into town to watch it, and my friends back home (in Nebraska) were all tuned in."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]