QB Shaun King was amazingly elusive at times on Sunday
In April of 1999, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected LSU DT Anthony McFarland in the first round of the NFL Draft and tabbed Tulane QB Shaun King in the second round. Both are now key figures in the Buccaneers' immediate future. On Sunday in Washington, both were standouts in Tampa Bay's overtime loss to the Redskins.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coaching staff has encountered a little problem while watching film recently. They want to grade all of their players correctly, but that's hard to do when you can't tell who's who.
It seems that, every know and then on the game film, it's hard to tell which offense-busting defensive tackle is Pro Bowler Warren Sapp and which is newcomer Anthony McFarland.
Okay, so that's not exactly a problem. If your second-year player, the one you shoe-horned into the lineup in August because you couldn't ignore his potential, reminds you strongly of the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, that's actually quite far from a problem. That's a jackpot.
One Buccaneer insider believes that McFarland has played as well through the season's first three weeks as anyone on the team. On a unit that produced the three consecutive NFC Defensive Players of the Week, that's saying a lot.
Against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, it was easy to see why this Buc source is impressed. McFarland produced moments both big and small, making the visible plays that turn games around and contributing a strong but mostly unseen effort in the depths of the trenches.
For instance, every Buccaneer fan saw McFarland's contributions to the Bucs' first score. Late in the first quarter, McFarland busted up the middle of the Redskins' line and caught QB Brad Johnson for a sack. McFarland also knocked the ball out of Johnson's grasp and the Bucs recovered at Washington's 25. Five plays later, FB Mike Alstott ran two yards for the game's initial touchdown.
What was less obvious was McFarland's work when the Redskins tried to run up the middle. It's hard to react too positively to the Bucs' rush defense on Sunday, which surrendered 141 yards to RB Stephen Davis. However, most of the yards were gained on sweeps, which gave Tampa Bay trouble all night.
According to the final play-by-play, 17 of the Redskins' 32 rushes went up the middle, 16 by Davis. The 'Skins gained just 34 yards on those 17 totes, or two yards a pop. That is solid work in the middle, and much of it could be attributed to McFarland. Though the second-year player was credited with just three tackles, he commonly drove the Washington center, Mark Fischer, into the path of the play, slowing down Davis and allowing the rest of the Bucs' defense to swarm over him.
After his performance on Sunday, McFarland now has 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks in this, his first season as a starter. He and Sapp are developing into a fearsome duo in the middle of the Bucs' front seven, and that's good news, even if it is a little difficult during film sessions.
The Bucs had 130 seconds left, half the field to cover and a ten-point deficit to overcome.
And the football was laying on the turf, destined to be covered by a 300-pound lineman any millisecond.
The first 300-pounder to realize it was Dan Wilkinson, defensive tackle for the Redskins. He began falling, about to cover the Bucs' last chance at a comeback. But when Wilkinson hit the ground, the ball wasn't there.
On replay, the play is remarkable. QB Shaun King has had the ball knocked from his grasp as he stands in the pocket, looking desperately for an open man. To retrieve it, he has to run around a player in the way and, since there really isn't time for a second chance, he's not going to do the Bucs any favors by simply falling on it.
So King snatches the ball back just before Wilkinson covers it, pivots and runs towards the line of scrimmage. While running, he scans the field quickly and finds WR Reidel Anthony, who has been left alone deep by defenders who reacted to the fumble. Without breaking stride, King fires a deep pass to Anthony, who makes the reception, covers the final 10 yards to the goal line and dives into the end zone.
It was a remarkable play. If it was a lone moment in a pedestrian game, you'd call it simple luck. But King spent the fourth quarter of the Bucs' doomed comeback in Washington pulling rabbits out of hats.
Earlier in the period, with the Bucs down just three but backed up near their own goal line, King dropped back to his five but couldn't find a man. He held the ball a little too long and was caught by a Redskin lineman. He tried to twist away from the tackle but the lineman still had King's jersey in his hand.
Displaying the balance and fearlessness of a tight rope walker, King barely kept his feet under him, finally broke loose and scrambled right. He managed to complete an 11-yard pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson that would have been close to a first down had Johnson not had the ball stripped by CB Darrell Green.
Later, after Anthony's touchdown had shaved Washington's lead to three once again, King had the ball back in his hands at the Bucs' 25. There were only 43 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bucs had no timeouts. This is not a situation that has ended well for Tampa Bay very often.
Yet King found a way to get it done. On second down, he somehow escaped another sure sack – King was taken down four times in the game but it could have easily been eight – and once again threw a pass on the run, this one to RB Warrick Dunn cutting across the middle from right to left. It was the perfect decision and the perfect throw, as Dunn caught the pass on the run with a linebacker tailing him and was able to beat the defender to the sideline to stop the clock.
On the next snap, King was – stop us if you've heard this before – quickly flushed from the pocket. This time he scrambled right and motioned towards Johnson on the sideline, freezing the defender on Johnson. That gave King enough room to scramble for 15 yards, getting out of bounds just over midfield. The clock had drained to 24 seconds, but suddenly a game-tying field goal seemed like a possibility.
On the next snap, King waited for what seemed like an eternity and had to run up the pocket from the pressure. He then stopped and fired a 19-yard pass over the middle to a wide-open Johnson. Finally, King got his team to the line as the clock ticked down dangerously and ran a spike play, killing the clock with just three seconds left. The result was a 41-yard Martin Gramatica field goal that sent the game into overtime.
Tampa Bay had just one possession in the extra period, a quick three-and-out that started at the team's 15-yard line. Washington CB Deion Sanders effectively ended the game moments later with a 57-yard punt return to the Bucs' eight. King really didn't get a shot to work one more piece of magic in overtime, but he did finish the game with his teammates' confidence.
"That's just our quarterback," said DT Warren Sapp. "We knew he wasn't going to waver in any situation we had. He's been out there in games that were more chaotic than that and he's come through for us. So we knew we had a shot in this ballgame."
King was making just his 10th career regular-season start on Sunday in Washington. McFarland was making his fifth. The result wasn't what they had hoped for. But there are many victories ahead for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, without a doubt, many more impressive afternoons for the head of the team's 1999 draft class.