When the Bucs’ 53-man roster was released, only two things were for certain when it came to Tampa Bay’s wide receiver corps; Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were the two biggest weapons in Josh Freeman’s arsenal. After several roster moves, a third wideout has emerged as a go-to playmaker in the Bucs’ playbook.
Tiquan Underwood rejoined the team September 20th after falling victim to the final roster cuts three weeks prior. In his debut, Underwood was targeted only once – a seven-yarder in the Bucs’ final drive against the Cowboys.
The following week, Underwood caught all three passes thrown at him for a total of 39 yards, but more importantly, his first two receptions were converted into first downs and the third brought kicker Connor Barth close enough to make a 47-yard field goal.
This past Sunday, Underwood made two key plays, grabbing two of three targets. The first was a six-yard reception during Tampa Bay’s first drive that converted the Bucs’ first of nine third downs on the afternoon and the incomplete pass came in Freeman’s unsteady second quarter drive where the fourth-year QB threw five total incompletions before getting it together in the second half.
Part of Freeman getting it together was the exceptional play by his receivers, one of which was Underwood.
A little over a minute into the fourth quarter, Freeman released a bomb to the left side of the field where Underwood was being covered tightly by Chiefs CB Josh Wilson; Wilson tipped the ball away, but Underwood kept his concentration and was able to snatch the ball pass for a 62-yard gain which set up Jackson’s second TD of the game.
Although only targeted three times, Underwood saw a lot of action in the Buccaneers’ 38-10 victory over Kansas City and may have emerged as Tampa Bay’s legitimate third receiver.
A fan favorite due to his positive, humble demeanor and famous high top fade hair, Underwood has made an impression on his teammates as well.
“Yeah, that was a huge catch he made.” Carl Nicks said. “He’s a hard worker. I don’t doubt that [why] he’s on our team, he’s always going to put in work, so he’s special. Keep throwing him the rock I guess, right?”
Williams said that Underwood’s catch was the “best catch of the day,” and in true Underwood form, he downplayed the compliment and threw it back on his teammate.
“I wouldn’t say that," Underwood said, "His touchdown grab was a pretty great play and it really got us going (Sunday).”
Since Underwood first arrived in the spring, he has been a model of hard work and dedication. The former Rutgers standout has kept the same ideology through training camp, preseason, his release, and even today.
“For me, I just control what I can control.” Underwood said. “So I just try and go out there each and every practice, each and every game and just try to make plays when the ball comes my way.”
Because Williams and Jackson will see the bulk of Freeman’s passes, Underwood understands he and the rest of the receiving corps have to make every catch thrown their way.
“Mike (Williams) and Vincent (Jackson) have been playing very well and like you said are going to get the majority of the balls.” Underwood said. “So for me and Arrelious (Benn) and Roscoe (Parrish), when the ball comes our way we have to cash in and that’s just going to make our offense better.”
Making the offense better is Underwood’s top priority and has been since he was re-signed last month. However, Underwood acknowledged Monday that maximizing those opportunities will afford him more opportunities in future games.
“When the coaches trust you and the quarterback trusts you," Underwood said, "The ball tends to come your way.”
Based on Underwood’s performance so far, more balls may indeed be coming his way.