All Tim Brown was hoping for when he joined the Tampa Bay Bucs this summer was a chance to show he can still make a difference, that even at the advanced age of 38 he has a few tricks to prove he's still a viable NFL commodity.
Sunday, the 17-year NFL veteran and likely Hall of Famer made a statement.
The numbers weren't mind-boggling by any means _ a team-leading seven catches for 49 yards and a pair of punt returns for 15 yards (along with three fair catches). But in an offense that is struggling to find its identity _ and suddenly finds itself in a transition to the youth movement with second-year quarterback Chris Simms _ Brown's steady play in the 10-6 loss to Seattle and his calm leadership could prove to be an asset.
"I was really involved today, it was kind of fun," said the alumnus of the Oakland Raiders who came to Tampa Bay with more than 1,000 career catches. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can do. That's what I told the guys when I signed my contract. Whatever I can do to help is what I'll do. And I think I did all of that today."
Brown was far more visible than in his Tampa Bay debut a week ago, a 16-10 loss to Washington in which he caught four passes for 23 yards and wasn't involved in punt-return duty. One of his contributions Sunday was a clutch 14-yard reception over the middle from Simms to end the third quarter.
The Bucs were trailing 10-3 and the play kept alive a promising drive, giving them a first down at their 40. He followed two plays later with a 6-yard catch, but the drive _ along with much of the Bucs offense Sunday _ fizzled.
So what's holding the unit back?
"We're just not putting it all together," said Brown, the last player out of the locker room. "When you look at what happened out there, we had more playmaking going on today than we did last week. That's for sure. We're just not doing it all _ you know, we're making great plays to get down to the 5-yard line and end up kicking a field goal from the 10-yard line. We get down to the 1-yard line and can't punch it in. So we're just not putting it all together."
In his long career, Brown was occasionally on the receiving end of the bruising Bucs defense. Now, he knows D is the key to keeping the Bucs competitive as they try to find their offensive groove. "If they keep playing (like this), we've got a shot," he said, adding, "I know they will, because that's what they always do."
Meanwhile, he's going to do whatever he can to help Simms. "I'm just trying to get him to see the whole field at times," he said. "And again, this is his first week. Each week, he's going to get better. He's going to make his mistakes and things are going to happen."
For example, Brown pointed to the pass Simms threw to running back Jamel White on second and goal from Seattle's 2. Simms had directed an impressive drive, starting from his 23, but he made a beginner's mistake on the read, resulting in a 1-yard gain that was followed by his fumbled snap. As a result, the Bucs settled for a 24-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica and a 10-3 deficit.
"It was a full-field read, and I think he went from one to two and he never came back _ and me and (tight end) Rickey Dudley both were sitting in the middle of the field wide open," he said. "But that's just how it's going to be. And you try to encourage him as much as you can."
Does a quarterback change so early in the season suggest that the goal of a Super Bowl championship _ a dream Brown never realized as a Raider but hopes for as a Buc _ will give way to the reality of a rebuilding year?
"If we were in a different offense, then I would say, "Yeah, we don't have a shot,' " he said. "But hey, I know this offense. I've been in games where we've played three or four different quarterbacks in a game because of injuries and that kind of stuff. And we figured out a way to do what we needed to do."
Meanwhile, Brown has made his presence felt in another capacity _ tutoring Bucs rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton, who caught six passes for 61 yards, following his seven-catch, 53-yard debut against Washington. His 13 receptions lead Bucs receivers.
"He's been nothing but positive," Clayton said. "We work together on everything. . . . He has a lot of experience and knows a lot. I just take advantage of it, Every day at practice, every route I run, he's telling me something different. Watch out for this, watch out for that. And it's made me a better player."
Says Brown of Clayton: "No matter what the situation is, no matter whether he makes a good play or a bad play, I'm always giving him some advice: think about this, think about that. The kid's gonna be a great football player. Not a good player. A great one."