Clayton comes through in OT
When the Bucs won the coin toss to start overtime, they needed somebody to step up with a big play to get the offense rolling. Enter wide receiver Michael Clayton, who continued his impressive resurgence after three difficult seasons.
After electing to receive, the Bucs went to work at their 26 following a 22-yard kick return by Clifton Smith. Quarterback Jeff Garcia, throwing out of the shotgun, connected with Clayton on what looked like a 3-yard gain over the middle. But the fifth-year pro cut back across the field to the left sideline, breaking a tackle en route to a 29-yard gain to Kansas City's 45.
An offsides call moved the ball to the 40. And four plays later, on second and 11 from the Chiefs 36, Garcia found Clayton again for a first-down reception of 11 yards — putting kicker Matt Bryant within range to win the game several plays later.
"It was a great catch and a great run after the catch," coach Jon Gruden said of Clayton's clutch overtime contribution. "Those are the kind of plays that will bring him back to life again, I think, and really allow him to explode back on the scene in the NFL. He did some great things today."
Gruden quipped that he felt like "jumping in front and helping out" from the sideline. "He got a good block from somebody, but I can't tell you who it was. He's just a football player. For all the things he's been through in the last few years, for him to make a signature play in a game like this is huge for him. Huge for us."
"It was a slant call," Clayton said. "And I went in there and saw Jeff roll out. I put my foot in the dirt and rolled back out. Jeff delivered a good ball. I was able to catch it and get upfield. The defender took a bad angle and I was able to break a tackle and get some yards after the catch. I had some great blocking on the perimeter and we were able to make it work."
Jackson's maximum impact
It was a bizarre sequence that ultimately turned the game around — thanks to a highlights-reel play by Tampa Bay free safety Tanard Jackson. Early in the fourth quarter, trailing 24-13, the Bucs were driving for a touchdown. But running back Clifton Smith fumbled after gaining 3 yards on a pass from Jeff Garcia, and Chiefs defensive end Turk McBride recovered the loose ball at the 10. So much for the Bucs getting back into the game.
On Kansas City's next play, however, backup running back Jamaal Charles came around the left side and was slammed by Jackson, jarring the ball loose. Jackson not only caused the fumble, he pounced on it at the 3, and the Bucs were back in business.
Earnest Graham completed a halfback option touchdown pass to tight end Alex Smith on the next play, cutting the deficit to 24-19. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Jackson had changed the momentum in a major way. "It was the play of the day, really," coach Jon Gruden said. "(Jackson) is a great player — should be a potential Pro Bowler this year."
"My mind-set is always to make a play," Jackson said. "At that particular time, it was a gut check for our defense. We hadn't created a turnover all game. They'd been moving the ball on us up and down the field. And we had to make a stand somewhere."
Trickery paid off early
The low point of the day for the Bucs occurred early in the second quarter, when the Chiefs employed some impressive razzle-dazzle to leave the defense in the dust. With his team leading 14-3, quarterback Tyler Thigpen had moved the offense to the Bucs 37.
Then came the flea-flicker: wide receiver Mark Bradley running a fake reverse, bobbling the pitch momentarily but regaining control in time to lob a perfect bomb to Thigpen, who had lined up at receiver on the right side. The quarterback jogged off the line, then sprinted past cornerback Ronde Barber and sped all alone into the Bucs secondary. He caught the ball in stride for a 37-yard touchdown, giving the Chiefs what looked like an insurmountable 21-3 lead.
"We all thought the (ball) was on the ground," Barber said. "It goes for a touchdown to Thigpen. If things could have gone worse, I can't imagine. I can't think of a game where we started like that down pretty bad in the first (half) but we found a way to get out of it. Give them credit for devising a game plan that they thought could beat us. … And they executed the heck out of it in the first half."