As escorts go, this was a big and meaningful one.
Through a maze of sideline guests and media, Bucs receiver Joe Jurevicius ran off the field Sunday reveling in the Bucs' 23-10 victory against the Panthers. The man running with him, arm draped over his shoulder, was defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
In so many ways, the image of the team's defensive leader embracing one of its top receivers was an indication of more than just a victory. Much more.
The Bucs, maligned for offensive inefficiency during most of the season, are starting to get it together. Sunday, Jurevicius and fellow receiver Keenan McCardell showed the passing game is more than just Keyshawn Johnson.
Returning from injuries that kept them out a combined three games, Jurevicius and McCardell combined for six catches, 104 yards and one touchdown.
"The things they do with me, to have those guys back there makes a difference," said Johnson, who had seven catches for 74 yards and his fourth touchdown of the season. "In the past, my guys didn't quite give us that. We couldn't call certain plays because of that.
"Now we can call some plays because these guys are going to have the capabilities. If something happens to me, they can come right in and contribute."
For the first time in three games, the trio was healthy and dangerous.
"It's a blessing in disguise to have three guys who can make those kinds of plays," receivers coach Richard Mann said. "I was really pleased with Keenan and Joe. To come out and play like they did, that was a really good feeling."
Jurevicius, in his fifth season out of Penn State, has been patiently waiting for a moment to prove why the Bucs went after him. Then he missed the Vikings game with an ankle injury sustained against Carolina on Oct. 27.
Sunday, he had two catches for 48 yards, and more important, he did it the way he always does, punishing cornerbacks who get in the way of his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame.
"I try to look at myself as an aggressive receiver," Jurevicius said. "Any time I get a chance to get guys excited, whether it's blocking or catching a pass or putting a move on someone or sometimes trying to run someone over, then that's what I want to be known for. I want to be that blue-collar guy."
Turning simple routes into long gains now is a regular occurence for the Bucs.
"He's going to catch his little three catches and get 40 yards. That's all you need," Johnson said. "Give it to him. Let him hurt them. Stab them a few times. Make them feel it. You can put the third corner on him if you want to. Go ahead. I dare you."
Equally effective was McCardell. Out the past two games with a broken left scapula, the 11-year veteran displayed some of the moves that made him one of the offseason's most coveted free agents.
"I guess it was kind of like riding a bicycle. You never forget. I never forgot, but I was kind of anxious to get my first one," said McCardell, who had four catches for 56 yards and one score. "It took me a while to get my first touch, but that was part of it. My first touch was a good touch for me because it was across the middle.
"Everyone was wondering how my shoulder would hold up. Well, I'm back."
In the third quarter, on second and 13 from the Carolina 22, McCardell put a move on Terry Cousin that left Cousin out of the play. McCardell had time to catch the ball, turn around and jog into the end zone.
"I knew it was one on one, and I went out and stuck the guy real hard," McCardell said. "I didn't know it was going to make him fall down. I just expected to break a tackle off of him."
Mann said the Bucs know what they have in Johnson, McCardell and Jurevicius and are eager to see if they can continue to grow in the offense. Sunday, the signs looked positive.
"I don't think the Bucs would have brought us in here if they didn't think we can play," Jurevicius said. "The excitement we have on this team, whether it be defense, special teams or offense, the guys we have feed off of each other. So when Keenan makes one, I want to make one. And when I make one, I'm sure Keyshawn wants to make one.
"I wouldn't want it any other way."