CB Donnie Abraham was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 11
CB Donnie Abraham had never had two interceptions in one game, let alone one quarter, before Sunday's game against the Falcons. No Buccaneer had ever hit two 50-yard field goals in a game either, before rookie K Martin Gramatica did so in the Atlanta contest.
And at no time has the National Football League ever bestowed two Player of the Week awards on Buccaneers on the same day before. Because Abraham and Gramatica pulled off their feats on Sunday, the NFL had no choice but to deliver its double award on Wednesday. Abraham was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and Gramatica was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. It was the first such honor for each player.
The performances of those two players were the key factors in Tampa Bay's dramatica 19-10 win over Atlanta, a last-minute victory that vaulted the Bucs into a first-place tie in the NFC Central Division. The Bucs entered the final period trailing 10-6 but scored 13 unanswered points, all by Abraham and Gramatica. With nine minutes remaining, Tampa Bay began a drive at its own 34 and got to roughly the same spot on the Falcons' side of the field before coming up just short on a third-and-eight pass.
A 50-yard field goal try with a rookie kicker, with only five minutes remaining and your team trailing by four is a difficult decision for a coach to make. Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy elected to give Gramatica the try, and the excitable rookie delivered. Gramatica further justified Dungy's confidence one drive and four minutes later, when, with 58 seconds remaining, he hit a 53-yarder dead center and with distance to spare to give the Bucs a 12-10 lead. Those two kicks added to the two he hit in the second quarter, plus an extra point, giving him a career-best 13 points.
Gramatica's 53-yarder was the longest last-minute game-winner in the NFL in over two years. He is now three of four in 1999 from 50 yards or beyond and 18 of 22 overall.
The Bucs' first field goal drive was set up by Abraham's first fourth-quarter interception. Abraham's second pick came after Tampa Bay had taken its first lead of the game and was trying to prevent Atlanta from going back ahead with a field goal of its own. The Falcons were facing a third-and-seven at their own 39 when Abraham hauled in a deflected pass and weaved 47 yards for the first touchdown of his career.
The NFL began handing out its weekly awards for offense and defense in 1984, adding special teams in 1993. Through the first 13 seasons of the awards, Tampa Bay players were honored just 19 times, and never more than twice in a single campaign (excluding the replacement games of 1987). However, with the upturn in the franchise's fortunes since 1997, Buccaneers have become more prominently featured in each Wednesday's announcements.
Tampa Bay players were awarded the honor five times in 1997 as the team went 10-6, though it dropped to just two such awards last year during the 8-8 campaign. Already in 1999, the Bucs have gathered five more Player of the Week awards, beginning with DT Warren Sapp in Week Two and continuing on to special-teamer John McLaughlin in Week Three and LB Derrick Brooks in Week Seven. In addition, Sapp was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.