'We found a receiver'
It has become a familiar sight this season: Antonio Bryant making a head-turning catch in a clutch situation for the Bucs. That was the case again Sunday with the score 14-14 late in the third. On second and 8 from the Oakland 43, Jeff Garcia passed deep down the left sideline. Bryant, in full stride, made a fingertip catch while staying inbounds for a 31-yard gain to the 12. The catch helped set up Matt Bryant's 29-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead. Bryant, a first-year Buc who completed his sixth NFL season, finished with three catches for 77 yards. That capped a career season of 83 catches, 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. The catches matched Joey Galloway for fifth in team history, and his yards were fourth most.
"Antonio Bryant's for real," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of the potential free agent. "We found a receiver. That's something we've been looking for here, (a player) that can run all routes, play in all the games and be an every-situation type guy."
Running — and throwing — the Bucs for a loop
Things were looking up for the Bucs after they took a 24-14 lead 3:33 into the fourth. But the Raiders had a little trickery in their playbook.
On first and 10 from their 45, JaMarcus Russell handed off to 6-foot-1, 245-pound Michael Bush, who at that point had carried 17 times for 54 yards. But instead of running, he rolled to his left and let loose a wobbly pass down the left sideline. Todd Watkins appeared in position to make the catch, but he was rammed by safety Will Allen, who was flagged for pass interference (a 43-yard penalty).
Russell struck on the next play with a 12-yard touchdown to Johnnie Lee Higgins in the left corner of the end zone to make it 24-21 with 9:53 left.
"Actually, it was designed to go to the right, and (injured running back Darren McFadden) was supposed to throw it," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "But at halftime, I kind of drew it up in the dirt and said, 'Here's what we're going to do, and the left side is going to do this.' And it worked. If he'd have thrown it a little sooner, it would have been a touchdown. But we got what we needed out of it, a big chunk."
"Even though it wasn't a pretty ball, I got it out there to him," Bush said. "And with that pass interference call, it was good."
Undone by an unknown
With the Bucs up only 24-21, Jeff Garcia's fourth-down pass to Michael Clayton fell short. Oakland took over at its 33 with 7:16 left, and the entire complexion of the game changed in a heartbeat.
Michael Bush took the first-down handoff, busted through a hole at the line and never looked back, running by Derrick Brooks, who had strained his right hamstring on the previous play. The 67-yard touchdown was part of Bush's big day: 27 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
"All I know is I saw my line block a guy on the inside … my tackle had a good kickout block, and I hit it up there." Bush said. "I just saw a guy's arms. I felt somebody grab me, and I saw daylight as well. I thought to myself, 'I can't let them bring me down with an arm tackle.' So I picked my legs off and just took off and hoped nobody would catch me."
Bush couldn't have been happier to remind his coaches that he can do more than play fullback.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," he said. "They've been trying to get me to play fullback the whole season. And I didn't really want to do that. But they needed me (Sunday), and I just wanted to make sure I was ready."