Spurlock locks up role
. Micheal Spurlock has gone from a player hoping to make the team to arguably one of its key receivers. On Sunday, Spurlock not only caught what proved to be the winning touchdown — a 33-yard pass on a go route from QB Josh Freeman — he also was the de facto No. 3 receiver.
With Maurice Stovall relegated to being inactive, Spurlock took on a bigger role and responded. On passing downs, he joined Mike Williams and Sammie Stroughter, with Stroughter moving to the slot.
It has been a long road for Spurlock trying to reach this point where he is considered a legitimate receiving option — not just a guy who returns kicks and happens to play receiver. Spurlock had two receptions for 49 yards.
"It's all about opportunity," he said. "You just have to take advantage. Make them have a reason to not take you off the field. So every time you go out, you just keep playing, and when your number's called, just cash in."
Graham coughs it up
. Sure-handed FB Earnest Graham had lost only four fumbles in his seven-year career entering Sunday. But he coughed one up at a most inopportune time, with the Bucs trying to put the game away at the Browns 2-yard line with 2:16 left.
It didn't come back to haunt the Bucs, but it made the win a little more challenging as Tampa Bay then had to play defense to protect a 17-14 lead.
"I just fumbled it. I don't know why or how," Graham said. "I thought I had it fairly secure. I'm not a guy who fumbles a lot. When the ball came out, of course I was pretty upset by it, especially at that point in the game. It's not a point when you can fumble, but the defense came out, and they had our backs."
New role for Crowder
. DE Tim Crowder can usually be found rushing the passer and, occasionally, lining up as a defensive tackle. But Sunday, the Bucs cast him in a role like a linebacker, dropping him into coverage and sending him chasing tight ends.
At times, he struggled. At others, he made plays, including a pass breakup.
"It was a little something we threw at them," he said. "I'm probably the most athletic defensive end, so I told them I'd do whatever they wanted me to do. I gave up that play where I should have made that tackle. But hey, not all the plays are going to be good. Hopefully I made up for it in the end."
He was referring to a short pass to TE Evan Moore where Crowder got tied up with SS Sean Jones and missed the tackle, allowing Moore to dash 49 yards.
Crowder might see this role against teams using tight ends as often as the Browns did.
Saturday night, as the defense gathered in its pregame meeting, coach Raheem Morris told his players something he wanted them to take to heart. "It's funny," CB Ronde Barber said. "Raheem made a comment in his team meeting with the defense: 'You can't wait around for Ronde to make a play.' " But turns out, that's what happened anyway. And the Bucs defense was never the same again. After Barber intercepted a Jake Delhomme pass and ran 64 yards to set up the Bucs' first touchdown, the defense went on to dominate the Browns. Cleveland's first possession of the second half resulted in a fumble. The Browns then had four straight possessions of three-and-out, the Bucs forcing them to punt each time. And their sixth possession of the half ended with another interception, from CB E.J. Biggers, that practically put the game away.
. It was quite a turnaround after the Browns gained 202 yards in the first half and converted 4 of 6 third downs to take an early 14-3 lead.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," LB Geno Hayes said. "The first game usually has that feel to it. Everybody's so excited, and you just have to calm down. You have to get comfortable. Once we calmed down, everybody really got on their P's and Q's and really started playing fundamental football. Everything started coming together piece by piece. This scheme works." It certainly worked for Barber, who was held without an interception in 2009. He has already bettered that in 2010.
"The pass came to the tight end," he said. "I was covering the slot wideout. Both of them kind of settled in the same position. (Delhomme) threw a bad ball. He's getting pressured, and he's going to the ground. It's just a matter of grabbing onto it." Biggers, playing in place of suspended CB Aqib Talib, got his pick in the fourth quarter on a jump ball intended for WR Mohamed Massaquoi, with the Browns attempting to mount a drive with 6:17 left. Biggers, who was playing in his first regular-season game, looked to the team's oldest player to settle his nerves.
"Watching a guy like Ronde, that's how he plays — with poise," Biggers said. "He doesn't get too high or too low. In the second half, I came out and said, 'I'm just going play my game and do what I do and I'll be fine.' "
. Having referred last week to his first meeting with his former Cleveland team as just another game, Bucs TE Kellen Winslow showed Sunday that it was anything but.
Even before kickoff, it was obvious this was much more. Winslow, the final player introduced, emerged from the tunnel waving a giant Bucs flag that he proceeded to wave boisterously in front of the Cleveland bench and in front of the many Browns fans seated nearby, who took great delight in booing him loudly.
But Winslow got the last laugh. And it felt good.
"I had good years there," he said of his time in Cleveland. "We didn't win very much over there. When I got traded, it felt very personal. I'm in a better situation now with a coach like Raheem Morris. When you get traded, cut or released, it is personal. I felt that wasn't the situation I should be in. (Coach Eric Mangini) came in, and he wanted his guys. That's all it is. I've moved on."
Winslow noticed how different the team is since his departure (he was traded to the Bucs in March 2009 entering Mangini's first season). Asked how many former teammates are still with the club, he ticked off all five by name.
"That's what happens when you don't win," he said. "They just bring in their own guys and go in what direction they want to head in. So, I wasn't part of that plan. … I have nothing against the players. This is our job. So when you get traded or demoted or anything like that, it's personal. So, you want to get some revenge, and you want to play as well as you can. But (waving the flag) was all in fun."
Winslow finished with four receptions for 32 yards, among them his 300th career catch. But he's looking for far greater achievements after playing sparingly in the preseason.
"It's good to be back and see some live action," he said. "But I have some ways to go. I didn't play well (Sunday) personally. I could have done a lot better."
. Players from both teams stretched shoulder to shoulder along their respective sidelines before kickoff and raised their index fingers in the air, a show of solidarity in support of the union's efforts in collective bargaining negotiations with the owners. Similar gestures were made in St. Louis, Seattle, Houston, Jacksonville and Buffalo on Sunday.
. Bucs S Corey Lynch got a finger on Browns P Reggie Hodges' first kick of the day, narrowly missing a full block. The punt went for just 34 yards.
. The Browns had relative success using Joshua Cribbs in the wildcat, picking up 5 yards (on a run), 9 yards and a first down (on a pass to Seneca Wallace) and 6 yards (on another first-down run) in the first half.
. Bucs K Connor Barth, who was perfect in the preseason, continued his streak with a 49-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
. New Bucs P Chris Bryan, a left-footer from Australia, had a mixed bag Sunday, downing two kicks inside the 20 and booming one for 57 yards. But he had one punt of 32 yards and 37 yards.
. During the two-minute warning near the end of the first half, the Bucs put together a poignant moment for the family of a serviceman serving abroad.
Nearly two dozen family members of U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Riley thought they were being invited to the game by GM Mark Dominik for a planned tribute to the troops Sunday. Turns out, they got much more.
Riley was due for a two-week leave from his post at Camp Virginia in northern Kuwait and arranged to fly to Tampa on Saturday. The Bucs were in on it. The family was not.
During the two-minute warning, a video message from Riley to his family played on the stadium's big screen, followed by Riley walking down the aisle to where his family was seated. From there, the tears flowed freely. Riley's wife, Tonya, and three young sons hugged him relentlessly as the stadium erupted in cheers.
Riley, part of Second Battalion 124th Infantry stationed in Sanford, deployed in January. He expects to be home for good by Christmas.
When asked before the surprise what he would say to his wife and family when he saw them, Riley said, "Probably not a whole lot. There will probably be a lot of crying."
The Bucs forced three fumbles, though they recovered only one. But the hard-hitting members of the defense and special teams that caused them took pride in what that represented. "That's what we're about," LB Geno Hayes said. "Our defense, on special teams, it's about pride, score, get the ball back. We capitalized on some of them. That's what we have to do. We've built our defense on (turnovers)." LB Barrett Ruud forced a fumble on Cleveland's first drive of the second half deep in Bucs territory, recovered by LB Quincy Black. DT Gerald McCoy and LS Andrew Economos also forced fumbles.