WR Joey Galloway's speed changes a game, even when he doesn't have the ball in his hands
The ball landed about three yards in front of Joey Galloway. That was still closer than any Atlanta Falcon was to the play.
It was an incompletion, where an on-target pass would have meant seven easy points for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had sent the rocket-fueled Galloway on a deep post on third-and-one, correctly guessing they could catch the Falcons unaware. The play didn't work, but maybe we should give quarterback Brian Griese a bit of credit for accomplishing that didn't seem possible: He overthrew Galloway on a deep ball.
After the play, which occurred midway through the third quarter in a game the Buccaneers were winning 20-0, Galloway came back to the sideline with a wry smile on his face. He knew an opportunity had been missed, but he also knew that there would be more. Five games into his comeback from a severe groin injury that cost him most of the season's first half, Galloway had his biggest game as a Buccaneer yet, even without that catch, and it looks as if his production will continue to rise.
In fact, the score was 20-0 because Griese and Galloway had successfully made a deep connection just two minutes earlier.
Having taken the ball from Michael Vick and the Falcons on Simeon Rice's sack and forced fumble in Atlanta territory, the Buccaneer offense came out and immediately went for the jugular. Galloway lined up wide right at the Falcons' 36 and ran around rookie CB DeAngelo Hall, who gave the receiver a quick chuck toward the sideline then stayed put in an underneath zone. Unfortunately for the Falcons, nobody was over Hall, and Galloway's speed allowed him to quickly find a wide-open spot down the sideline. Griese hit him in stride and Galloway cut back inside the safety near the 10-yard line and darted into the end zone. It was his first touchdown as a Buccaneer.
That play, and the deep pass a few minutes later, demonstrated that the Buccaneers are starting to look for more creative ways to get Galloway involved. It's not hard with a man of his unique talents. He finished the game with four catches for 63 yards and one touchdown, all season highs.
"He made a big play yesterday for the touchdown," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I thought he showcased what he's capable of doing. The imagination is a lot bigger, broader when you've got a guy who can run like that. You've got big guys in [Joe] Jurevicius and [Michael] Clayton operating with him – that's something that turns me on. I don't know about anybody else."
Well, the Raymond James Stadium crowd, for one – or for 65,556, actually – was clearly inspired by the site of Galloway running free through the deep part of the Atlanta secondary. Big plays in the passing game have not really been the Bucs' trademark over the years, in part because the team has rarely had a true speed threat that scared the opposition.
So keep that in mind, too, when judging the one deep ball that got away – even an incompletion can have an effect on the defense. The Bucs' running game worked to the tune of 132 yards and 4.2 yards per carry against the Falcons after being held to 68 yards and 3.0 yards per carry in Atlanta three weeks ago. The threat of the deep play surely played a part in the more penetrable Falcon run defense.
"Since I've been in Tampa I haven't seen that," said Gruden. "I haven't seen a guy jump on the back end of a coverage like Joey Galloway did. Now, we missed him on third-and-short, but this guy, when he's healthy, is a rocket. He can really run. He gives us something that I think, hopefully for the next couple years, is something that we need here. You've got to have a guy who can stretch it, who can really change the game."
The Buccaneers came out of Sunday's big win with an injury report that is broad but not all that limiting, like a shallow bruise. Gruden mentioned eight players the team will be keeping an eye on this week, but only safety Jermaine Phillips has been ruled out for Sunday's game in San Diego.
In fact, the other seven players on Gruden's list are all expected to be probable when the Bucs publish their first official injury report of the week on Wednesday.
That list includes two tight ends: Ken Dilger, who has strained ribs, and Dave Moore, who is fighting an ankle sprain. Both injuries occurred in the Falcon game. Moore may not practice much this week, but he is a good bet to play, which is important since he is the team's long-snapper. Dilger is the back-up snapper.
Running back Michael Pittman is the only other offensive player on the list; he has a left knee bruise that could keep him out of portions of practice on Wednesday. K Jay Taylor came out of his first game with a mild calf strain in his right (kicking) leg but should be able to reprise his debut performance in San Diego.
On defense, safety Dexter Jackson (hamstring strain) an defensive linemen Greg Spires (knee sprain) and Dewayne White (calf strain) are all expected to be on the injury report, though they will be probable. Phillips will miss his fourth straight game as he continues to recover from surgery to repair a right forearm fracture.
Gruden didn't go through a whole lot of teeth-gnashing or brow-furrowing – no more than usual, of course – before deciding to send first-year kicker Jay Taylor out to try a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. It was the first kick of Taylor's NFL career; had he missed it, Atlanta would have taken the ball at its own 40, trailing by just a touchdown.
Still, Gruden's decision wasn't a tough one, he said. Here's how he recreated the conversation on Monday morning:
Gruden: "Go out there and make it. Can you make this, Jay?"
Taylor: "Yes, I can."
Gruden: "Okay, go do this."
That, said Gruden, was the extent of his thought process. There were other factors, but they had already been figured in. The weather was nice, there was no discernable wind, and Taylor had looked good on the practice field and in pregame warm-ups. And Gruden badly wanted to take a double-digit lead on the dangerous Falcons.
Perhaps it was a bit of a risk. But, said Gruden, "A 10-point lead was well worth the risk."