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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Acquiring Bryant looks wiser each game

Antonio Bryant makes a one-handed catch behind Kansas City’s Maurice Leggett during the first quarter of Sunday’s game.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Antonio Bryant makes a one-handed catch behind Kansas City’s Maurice Leggett during the first quarter of Sunday’s game.

TAMPA — Based on WR Antonio Bryant's play this season, it has long been established that acquiring him in the offseason was among the slickest moves the Bucs have made in some time.

But with each passing week, the decision looks even better.

Bryant had his third 100-yard game of the season (115 yards, eight catches) Sunday and has positioned himself among the league leaders at his position.

And to think, Bryant is still in his first season with the Bucs and spent 2007 away from football. Could he be just warming up?

"I felt really comfortable," Bryant said. "Everything is starting to be like second nature, like I've been here before."

The closest he has been to this — a featured receiver making huge plays — was his 1,009-yard season for the Browns in 2005.

Going into Monday's Redskins-Steelers game, Bryant was tied for ninth in the NFL in receptions (45) and 13th in yards (566). What's more important are his big plays. Against the Bears on Sept. 21, his 38-yard catch in overtime positioned the Bucs for the winning field goal. And against the Chiefs on Sunday, his 24-yard TD reception helped force overtime, where the Bucs eventually won.

"He was a superstar," coach Jon Gruden said. "Two-handed catches, an unbelievable catch on the touchdown … after the catch as a blocker. He was a great receiver on the tape that I looked at."

Gruden's No. 1: Gruden became the franchise's coaching wins leader Sunday with his 57th (postseason included), nudging ahead of Tony Dungy.

"I am appreciative for the opportunity to be here as long as I have," Gruden said. "I thank (owners) the Glazers for hanging in there with me. There's been a couple of tough years. There's been some exciting times, but I really respect and appreciate their confidence."

Gruden is halfway through his seventh season in Tampa Bay, a bit longer than Dungy, who spent six seasons with the team.

Numbers game: QB Jeff Garcia had one of his best statistical days against the Chiefs. His 339 passing yards were his most since a 344-yard performance Dec. 14, 2003. His yardage total Sunday was his fifth highest.

Rumor mill: Rumblings surfaced about Gruden being a possible successor to coach Phil Fulmer at the University of Tennessee, which said Monday it will part ways with Fulmer after the season. Gruden — who with GM Bruce Allen signed a three-year contract extension before the season — is not thought to be a serious candidate.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Acquiring Bryant looks wiser each game 11/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 1:31pm]

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