WR Antonio Bryant created a lot of extra yards after the catch on Sunday night
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played under the lights on Sunday Night Football, Antonio Bryant took the opportunity on that national stage to re-introduce himself to football fans across the country.
A talented wideout who cracked the 1,000-yard plateau the last time he played in all 16 games in a season with the Browns in 2005, Bryant signed on with the Bucs this offseason amid little fanfare. He had not suited up at all in 2007.
But after posting six catches for 115 yards – including a 47-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter – Bryant has put out some reminders that he's still a dangerous playmaking option.
Bryant's touchdown came on the Bucs' first offensive possession and gave the team a lead it wouldn't relinquish. The Seahawks brought a heavy blitz, and quarterback Jeff Garcia lofted a deep ball down the left sideline. The Seattle defender covering Bryant, cornerback Kelly Jennings, bumped into the receiver and tripped and fell, leaving Bryant all alone to make the easy grab and waltz untouched into the end zone.
"It was a blitz, something we had insight on all week during practice," Bryant said. "We were looking forward to it, and I think Jeff kind of wanted to go deep since we haven't had a completion over 40 yards. We wanted to make a big play down the field, so it all went together. He bumped me a little bit and I gave him a little bump. We got in the end zone and it felt good to get started early and get the team off to a jump."
Added Garcia: "They just came in an all-out blitz and it was one of those things where the offensive line and running backs did a great job of picking up the blitz, giving me enough time to look down the field. Antonio Bryant was in a one-on-one situation. I just threw a ball where hopefully he would have a chance to make a play and he did a great job of shielding off the defender and creating separation at the end and making a big play out of it."
Bryant didn't stop there. With fellow receiver Ike Hilliard missing in action after absorbing a violent helmet-to-helmet hit in the first half, Bryant became the Bucs' go-to guy for picking up first downs and keeping drives alive.
After his touchdown grab, each of Bryant's five other catches on the day went for first downs. Two of those came on third-down situations, one on third-and-nine and another on third-and-eight.
"It was unfortunate that we lost our big third-down specialist in Ike, so a lot of guys stepped up," Bryant said. "You saw a lot of tight ends make great plays and I saw Clayton make some great ones on third down before the half so we could keep the ball moving."
Now seven games into the season and fresh off of his best performance in his first year as a Buc, Bryant credited his ever-expanding comfort level in Tampa Bay as the reason for his success.
"I told [Personnel Executive] Doug Williams and [Wide Receivers] Coach Richard Mann after the game I felt real comfortable out there today," Bryant said. "I feel like I broke my brand new car in.
"You saw the game tonight. I felt really fluid and comfortable out there and just tried to make the most out of every opportunity. I realized [I was in a good situation] when I signed the contract. It was an opportunity, people that were going to welcome me here to come in and do what they know I'm able to do."
Garcia was certainly appreciative of Bryant's effort. With veteran wideout Joey Galloway sidelined for a fifth straight game with a foot injury, Bryant stepped up and was the Bucs' star on offense as Garcia threw for a season-high 310 yards.
"He just did a great job of continuing to work to find openings and I was fortunate to have time to move around in the pocket and give him balls that he could catch and run with after the catch," Garcia said. "I think that's one of the things that he does so well is that he's so explosive after he gets the ball in his hands. He really did a great job of creating yards after the catch."
Thanks in part to Bryant, the Bucs offense hasn't skipped a beat without Galloway in the lineup, but the Bucs' sixth-year veteran believes the best is yet to come.
"We haven't done anything yet," Bryant said. "We're still pushing and plugging and trying to find what works for us. Our coaches do a great job of putting together a formula for us to come out and be successful week in and week out. I think we're just trying to be consistent and find a formula that works each week."
And although some fans might have forgotten Bryant's name after his one-year hiatus, performances like Sunday's will certainly continue to turn heads as he tries to help the Bucs reach the ultimate goal.
"It just makes you realize how important it is to win these games and knowing that we are getting closer to what we are all trying to accomplish, and that's to play the Super Bowl here at home," Bryant said. "I think that's our number-one goal, but we know that we have to take it one game at a time. Next week, we've got Dallas up next and that's another game that we want to try to conquer."