Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Clifton smith was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Wednesday for his performance in the Bucs' 38-28 win over the Green Bay Packers. This marked the third league award that Smith, who was voted to the Pro Bowl last year for his return prowess, has won in his two-year NFL career.
Smith was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his Week 9 efforts at Kansas City when he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. He was also named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November last year.
“It’s a great honor to be put up in that category again,” Smith said. “My teammates get all the credit for my success. They open up holes for me and they make my job easy. I just find the hole and hit.”
Smith's 83-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter helped inspire Tampa Bay's come-from-behind win over Green Bay, the team's first win of the season, which improved the Bucs' record to 1-7. The return was Smith's longest of the year and his first one over 45 yards.
“It’s good to finally know how it feels [again],” Smith said. “Now it’s just keep the ball moving. It was pretty much the exact same time as last year that I had my first one. I’m trying to go for it again.”
A Pro Bowl return specialist as a rookie, Smith is averaging 30.6 yards per kickoff return and 9.9 yards per punt return this season despite missing Tampa Bay's game in New England due to a concussion he sustained vs. Carolina. He still is looking for his first score of the year after reaching the end zone twice on returns in 2008.
However, Smith's 83-yard kickoff return helped set up Bucs rookie quarterback Josh Freeman's touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow, which pulled the Bucs within four points of the Packers. On the ensuing drive, Tampa Bay capped off its final offensive possession of the game with Freeman's game-winning TD pass to rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter on a fourth-and-4 play.
Smith finished Sunday's game with two kickoff returns for 107 yards (53.5 avg.) and four punt returns for 54 yards (13.5 avg.). In addition, Smith recorded three special teams tackles vs. the Packers.
The diminutive return man rebounded nicely from a concussion that he received from a cheap shot by Carolina safety Dante Wesley in Week 6 that caused him to miss the second half of the Panthers contest and the New England game in London.
“Everybody kept asking me if I was going to be afraid of catching the ball,” Smith said. “I pretty much answered the questions about playing the game without fear and not having to worry about getting hit in the chin again.”
This marks the second time a Tampa Bay player has been voted the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. After Smith sustained a concussion near the end of the first half of Tampa Bay's game vs. Carolina, Bucs rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter returend a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in Smith's place to earn the same honor.
PewterReport.com will have more on this story throughout the week.