When they win, don’t these Bucs look strangely familiar?
They win by scoring on defense.
They win by not turning over the ball on offense.
They win by kicking field goals, sometimes dramatic field goals.
Hmm, isn’t that how it was back in the day?
Isn’t that how it was in Sunday’s 23-21 victory over the Eagles?
All things considered, the Bucs needed every bit of Ronde Barber’s dramatic two-touchdown effort to be in the game.
They also needed to find a way to overcome the Eagles 506 total yards (compared to their 196), to deal with the inability to score offensively and to handle the realization that with 33 seconds left in the game they were suddenly behind.
Somehow, they got that, too.
All the Bucs did was line up perfectly and avoid the false start. All Dave Moore did was get the snap off without a hitch. As for Josh Bidwell? All he did was catch the ball and place it cleanly, laces to the post.
Then, as time expired on the Bucs’ hopes for new momentum, all kicker Matt Bryant did was bang home a 62-yard field goal, the second longest game-winner in the history of the league.
Just like that, all the pain of the 0-4 start has vanished. All the criticisms of bad play-calling, bad offense, bad defense and bad karma have poofed away like the wind in the Eagles’ sails.
The Bucs are on a two-game win streak, alive and kicking.
“This is big for us,” said linebacker Derrick Brooks, whose missed tackle on Brian Westbrook’s 52-yard touchdown in the final minute of the game likely would have haunted him all night. “Who knows where it’s going to take us. But for right now, it’s probably one of the biggest wins in my whole career.”
Don’t accuse the veteran defender of exaggeration. Not only did Bryant’s blast help erase the mess of Brooks’ gaffe, but it underscored something more. The team’s hope for a successful 2006 season is a long shot. And even if it’s from a different county, a long shot is still a shot.
“I don’t make a living doing this, kicking (62-yard) field goals to determine outcomes of games, Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. “I am a big believer in working hard and probability and studying football and trying to manufacture plays and all that. But to count on a 62-yarder on a day like this is hard to do.”
Now, show some love to Bryant, who entered the game with no field goals farther than 28 yards this season and made the game-winner look relatively routine.
“I hate to say this because it’s going to sound like I’m lying,” Bryant said. “As soon as I hit it, I said, ‘Well, maybe.’ But I didn’t hit it as good as I thought I could have hit it. I saw it probably going three quarters of the way and then I lost sight of it and then somebody jumped on me and I heard a cannon go off and I said, ‘Well, I guess I made it.’”
While you’re at it, show some love to running back Michael Pittman, whose 37-yard kickoff return kept hope alive as thousands of fans began vacating the stadium like they were giving away free beer in the parking lots.
And give it up to quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, whose 9-yard scamper put the ball on the Eagles 44 and made Bryant’s kick a rational thought, as opposed to an act of absolute lunacy.
What it all means is that the Bucs, two weeks removed from obituaries, are back on the front page.
“Definitely, we beat two great teams back to back and we know we’re a good team,” Pittman said. “We started out 0-4 and now we’re ready to go. We feel great. Guys are very excited.”
What it also means is that this team, when backed into a corner turned, to its defense and special teams and found a way to win.
With a rookie quarterback and an offense still not in sync, and 10 games still to play, those aren’t bad trump cards to hold.