TAMPA — On a Bucs team in which nearly a third of the players have been signed off waivers or practice squads since the final preseason cuts, Tiquan Underwood had a fitting place in the end zone in Sunday's win at Detroit. Underwood's 85-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter from rookie Mike Glennon provided the winning margin in a 24-21 victory and put the spotlight on a player who typifies the resilience needed to bounce back from an 0-8 start to three straight wins. "I think Tiquan is an incredible story; an unselfish, humble guy who just (has) persistence," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "The guy just keeps coming back. That I'm really proud of because I've known him since he was probably 14 years old."
Underwood, who starred for Schiano at Rutgers from 2005-08, appeared in only 19 games and caught 11 passes over his first three years (though his 23.4 yards per kickoff return for the Jaguars in 2010 were 20th in the NFL).
The fourth-to-last pick in the 2009 draft, he had been cut six times, including by the Patriots the night before they played in Super Bowl LXVI after the 2011 season, before joining the Bucs in spring 2012. But Schiano, too, would let Underwood go in the final cuts before each of the next two seasons then sign him back.
"When you're cut, it's part of the business," said Underwood, who re-signed with the Bucs on Oct. 2 and has started four of seven games since. "You can either lie down or continue to work hard and fight. The way I was raised, I just continued to work. I trust in God, and I trust in the abilities that he's blessed me with."
Underwood returned to the Bucs as a replacement for disappointing free agent signee Kevin Ogletree and became a starter after Mike Williams was lost to a season-ending hamstring injury last month.
Sunday, Underwood already had caught a 7-yard touchdown pass when he made his 85-yard catch. Those 85 yards were more than he'd ever totaled in a game, and the two touchdowns were as many as he'd ever had in a season. He finished with 108 receiving yards, his first 100-yard game since a breakout 2007 season at Rutgers, during which he had six.
"What a great story of persistence and steadiness and work ethic, and an excellent young man, too," Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Wednesday. "Him stepping up and making the plays, (I'm) just so happy for him because he does put in a lot of time into it. So to see him make the most of that opportunity really is a testament to his work ethic and his character and his ability to persevere."
Underwood — easily recognizable with a hi-top fade that extends a few inches above his 6-foot-1 frame — said he has taken inspiration from Bucs star Vincent Jackson. Jackson caught only three passes for 54 yards as a rookie in 2005 and didn't get a 1,000-yard season until his fourth year but now is closing in on his fifth.
The Bucs have 15 players on their 53-man roster like Underwood, who were signed off waivers, off practice squads or from previous cuts. They include Bobby Rainey, who rushed for 163 yards two weeks ago in a win against the Falcons.
Underwood's speed has helped the Bucs develop a downfield threat to open up the rest of the field. There are 200 players in the NFL with as many catches as Underwood (13), but only three have more yards per catch than Underwood's 21.1.
The 26-year-old said he called his uncle right after Sunday's game and told him, "Man, I've waited five years to have a performance like that. I haven't played like that since college." He enters the final five games of the season optimistic about being in position for more of the same.
"For it to finally happen, it just helps your confidence, gives confidence to the coaches and quarterback," he said. "(Glennon) is a young guy still finding his way, so you want to be a guy that he can count on."