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Ill-advised leaps aside, Bucs receiver Scotty Miller finally is back on his feet

Mostly invisible in 2021, the fourth-year speedster is enjoying a resurgence.
Published Nov. 15|Updated Nov. 17

The botch is the first order of business. Perhaps it’s fitting that Scotty Miller addresses it head-on, considering how that tight Tom Brady spiral smacked him in the helmet.

“It was just poor technique by me,” the fourth-year Bucs receiver said of that end-zone drop with 2:02 remaining against the Rams on Nov. 6.

“The ball just kind of caught me by surprise. I should’ve caught it in my hands; it went over my body and hit me in the facemask. ... Definitely something you hope don’t happen again.”

It did, almost. In the second quarter of Sunday’s 21-16 victory against the Seahawks in Germany, Miller unnecessarily left his feet to snag a Brady pass over the middle, only to have the ball bounce off his torso when he landed on his backside.

Fortunately for him, it bounced straight up, allowing him to secure it for a 22-yard catch that set up Leonard Fournette’s 1-yard scoring run two plays later.

“When you’re pressing, when you’re worried, that’s what happens,” Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network’s broadcast of the game. “(Miller) jumped last week (against the Rams) when he didn’t have to, and he jumped here when he didn’t have to, because he’s pressing and he’s worried.”

Still beats last season, when a lack of targets — not necessarily technique — was Miller’s greatest concern.

Robbed of his raw fleetness by a turf-toe injury, Miller — affectionately known as “Scooter” by teammates — missed seven games and finished the regular season with only five catches. He had a mini-resurgence in the playoffs (five catches for 46 yards), but appeared in danger of losing his roster spot this past summer when a trio of undrafted free agents emerged during training camp.

Yet in the crucial moments of this teetering season, Brady has reestablished his connection with the 5-foot-9 speedster, whose 39-yard touchdown catch in the NFC title game following the 2020 season remains one of the franchise’s indelible moments.

“I haven’t felt that kind of energy and emotion for the game since a couple of years ago,” Miller said a few days after that triumph against the Rams. “When you’re out there playing and in the the thick of it, it’s a lot different than standing there on the sideline. So it felt good to kind of get out there, get active.”

Wide receiver Scotty Miller (10) runs after a catch during the Bucs' 16-13 win over the Rams Nov. 6 at Raymond James Stadium.
Wide receiver Scotty Miller (10) runs after a catch during the Bucs' 16-13 win over the Rams Nov. 6 at Raymond James Stadium. [ PETER JONELEIT | AP ]

With 21 catches for 170 yards, Miller already has doubled his 2021 reception total (including playoffs). He had a career-high seven catches in the 16-13 win against the Rams, four of them coming on the next-to-last drive as the Bucs tried to erase a four-point deficit. His fifth target of the drive was the end-zone drop.

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Yet Brady went to him twice in a row on sideline routes on the ensuing game-winning drive, the first a 14-yarder on third-and-6 with 19 seconds to play. Miller darted out of bounds after both catches, setting up Brady’s 1-yard TD throw to Cade Otton with nine seconds remaining.

“He’s a guy that we trust — I trust,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said.

“It’s more important how he made the plays in that second half (against the Rams). He was down-and-distance-aware, he was time-aware, he was situational-football-aware, doing those things, getting out of bounds, but that’s just Scotty. Scotty has always been there for us when we needed him.”

With one frustrating exception.

Bucs wide receiver Scotty Miller takes a break on the field during warm ups before a game against the Rams Nov. 6 in Tampa.
Bucs wide receiver Scotty Miller takes a break on the field during warm ups before a game against the Rams Nov. 6 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Miller, who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at Bowling Green’s pro day in 2019, suddenly found himself unable to accelerate last autumn. When he returned from a seven-game absence, he was targeted only six times over the final seven contests, and was inactive for the 33-27 home win against the Bills.

Veteran Breshad Perriman, who had been signed while Miller was sidelined, had the walkoff 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

“Your toe, something small, you don’t think it’s going to be that big,” Miller said. “But especially for a receiver, it’s everything. My toe and really the inside of my foot was just swelling up. I couldn’t cut, couldn’t push off of it, so really everything I do — especially being a faster guy or an explosive guy — everything was really tough for me.”

A year later, the burst has been restored. Evidently, so has Brady’s trust.

Miller’s 10 targets in the last two games are tied for third-most on the team in that span.

“Scotty has always been a guy that’s made plays for us,” Leftwich said. “Since he’s been here as a rookie, he’s done a really good job when he gets his opportunities. (He) takes advantage of them.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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