Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bucs get a break & break into win column

A questionable call on Cincy is followed by a favorable call for Tampa Bay in their 14-13 win over the Bengals
This catch & dive byBucs wide receiver Michael Clayton was originally ruled incomplete but was overturned upon review and called the game-winning TD.

I tell you what, it's getting to be that in order to tackle the quarterback in the League these days you first must lay down a pillow bed made of goose feathers and lamb's wool so that the poor guy doesn't get a boo-boo on his elbow.

Make no mistake about the fact that the Bucs were (just) good enough to win this game today, and the Bengals were most definitely bad enough not to deserve a win. But also make no mistake that the roughing the passer penalty called on Cincy DE Justin Smith was a horrendous, game-altering call that should never, and I mean EVER be called on a lineman making a legal sack during the course of the game action.

But that's exactly what happened as the Bucs were attempting to drive for the go-ahead touchdown with just under 3:00 to go in the game. On the play Bucs QB Bruce The Rocket Gradkowski dropped back to pass but was enveloped by the massive onrushing lineman Smith. As the Rocket went into a ball to absorb the sack, Smith brought him to the ground next to his own falling body with a thud. Now 'way back in the day' when I began watching the NFL, you know circa 1983, that was called A SACK! I mean what was Smith supposed to do, land first and then pull Gradkowski on top of him to prevent slamming his body to the ground? It's just ludicrous the amount of protection these guys are getting nowadays.

The irony of it all is that the play can be indirectly blamed on Bengals QB Carson Palmer himself. It was during last year's 1st round playoff game between the Bengals & Steelers in Cincy when Pittsburgh lineman Kemo von Olhoffen rolled up on Carson's leg on his first pass of the game, ripped up his knee and forced him to miss the rest of the playoffs; Palmer is still trying to regain his pre-injury form (and by the looks of his play today-only 24/37, 261 yds, 1TD vs a battered & badgered Buc secondary) still hasn't. That tackle, low & to the legs but not technically dirty, instituted this wave of change in the rules this year which, loosely translated to laymen speak, says that if you do anything other than fart in the QB's general direction you will be called for a 15 yard personal foul penalty. Double-irony alert: the rule is generally referred to as the Carson Palmer Rule.

After the call instead of the Bucs facing 2nd & 18 from their own 40 yard line they had a favorable 1st & 10 from the 25; 3 plays & a TB penalty (1 of their 9) later it was 4th & 3 from the 8 with :43 seconds to go. The Bucs called their last timeout and then came out with their final play of the game, either way. Gradkowski dropped back and passed it to Clayton in the middle of the field. He quickly caught it, spun around and lunged for the goal line at the same time. Just as he dove for the plane of the goal line the ball hit the ground and bounced out of his hands. The crowd thought it was a TD. The Bucs thought it was a TD. The Bengals thought he dropped it. The refs called it incomplete. But nobody was sure what would be the call on the play; even though the Bucs could not challenge because they were out of timeouts, any questionable call within the final 2 minutes of a half or game will automatically be reviewed by the booth. My buddy JT, whose seats are right where the play occurred about 5 rows up told me it was impossible to see with the naked eye which came first-the catch & dive or the fumble/drop. But watching at home and with the benefit of DVR replay it was clear that Clayton caught the ball, made a "football move", which must happen in order to establish possession of the ball, and then reached the ball over the line, breaking the plane before the ball hit the ground and popped out of his hands. Touchdown, game over, and the Bucs had their 1st win of this season and first of the Rocket's brief career.

Up until that spectacular & miraculous ending the game had all the charm of an episode of Flavor of Love. It was another Buc snoozer, filled with penalties (the 2 teams combined for 19 flags accepted for 159 total yards), dropped passes on offense & defense (both teams combined to drop at least 4 potential INTs), and anemic 3rd down efficiency (CIN:3-14; TB:6-16; OUCH!) The highlights were few: 2 terrific Palmer passes, one a 33-yarder to TJ Whosyourmama that made it 7-0 Bengals going into the half, and then a gorgeous 51 yard bomb to Chad Johnson ( I told you he would break his season long of 18yds) in the 4th that set up a FG to make it 13-7 Cincy.

Buc highlights included the continued improvement of the running game (they rushed for 126 yards, with Caddy gaining 94, including a season-long 38 yarder) and the continued maturation of Gradkowski as an NFL quarterback. His poise and perseverance under pressure in this game were nothing short of amazing, and his fondness with his coach and a legion of fans hungry for a new hero/face of the franchise has brought a wave of good feelings to the greater Tampa Bay area. I hate to say it, but as CBS showed a recuperating Chris Simms in civvies on the sideline I couldn't help but think that we will not see him on that sideline again after this season is over. The Rocket has assured that you can bank on that.

"Yeah, I do kinda dig this NFL starting quarterback stuff, Carson."

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