WR Joey Galloway's speed is almost unmatched in the NFL, but it's what he does after the ball is in his hands that makes him special
The Chicago Bears defensive back had an angle on Joey Galloway, otherwise things might have been gloriously different on Sunday afternoon in Raymond James Stadium.
Galloway's Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the visiting Bears on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 13-10 decision when the home team's fourth-quarter rally came up short due to a missed, 29-yard field goal. Galloway set up that final three-point try with a 30-yard catch-and-run that was an enormous boost to his team at the five-minute mark in the ballgame. In retrospect, he probably regrets that it wasn't a 69-yard play.
It was a vintage Galloway moment, the kind of extra effort that has been at least as responsible for his string of big plays this season as has his straight-line speed. Galloway ran a comeback route up the right hash marks, about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, and QB Chris Simms delivered a low, hard pass that greeted the receiver's hands sharply as he turned back.
Galloway's back was to the defense on the catch, but he knew where safety Chris Harris was behind him and guessed at the route he would be taking to that spot. As he caught the pass, Galloway immediately cut back to his left and traced a wide but fast semi-circle to get around Harris. That freed him up down the left sideline. Earlier in the year, a very similar play resulted in an 80-yard touchdown at San Francisco; in this case cornerback Charles Tillman, whom Galloway had beaten on a simple, 39-yard fly earlier in the game, had an unbeatable angle and Galloway was forced to the sideline at the Bears' 39-yard line.
The drive continued on unabated from there, but it faded out on a third-and-two-incompletion at the 11 and then shockingly came up empty when reliable kicker Matt Bryant missed on the tying field goal from 29 yards out.
Galloway didn't lose any faith in Bryant over the missed kick, but he did remind himself why he works so hard to get every pass into the end zone, if possible.
"Sometimes it happens," said Galloway of the miss. "That's why, offensively, you want to put points on the board in the end zone. We didn't do that, so we came up short."
It would be hard to fault Galloway for that. He finished the game with seven catches for 138 yards, numbers that have almost been the norm for him this year. No other player in the game, for either team, had more than four receptions or 50 receiving yards. Six of his seven receptions resulted in first downs, which means he was responsible for 40% of the team's 15 first downs on the day. After that aforementioned 30-yarder, Galloway also dragged his toes to make a 16-yard catch on the same sideline down to the Bears' 19.
Many were shocked last week when Galloway, averaging seven catches for 109 yards and one touchdown over the previous seven games, did not have a single reception in the Bucs' 30-27 win at Atlanta. The Bucs were intent on running the ball in that contest and also had only 46 offensive plays from scrimmage, so in retrospect Galloway's zeroes weren't too surprising.
It might have been a shock, however, had he been held down for two straight weeks. Instead, his numbers returned but the Bucs took the loss. Take a wild guess as to which game Galloway preferred.
"It was okay because we won," he said of his no-catch day in Atlanta. "It's tough when you go through games and you don't get catches and you lose. I've been on those sides, and that's tough but it's not tough when you win games. Today, I feel worse than I did last week and I had some catches today and I feel worse because we lost the game."
Cadillac Williams, Chris Simms, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks – there are other Bucs in the same boat on Monday. There really isn't much pleasure to be taken in a fine individual effort encased in a loss, especially a late-November loss in the midst of a playoff race.
That doesn't mean Galloway's teammates, coaches and fans can't be impressed. It's hard to imagine the Bucs even being in position to win Sunday's game without his contributions.
"Joey was big today," said Simms. "He really was. I think he did a great job of catching the ball and getting upfield for some big yards early and then of course in the second half. He's a guy they just constantly have to respect and they don't like to get too close to him because he's going to go by them. Sometimes those intermediary routes are the best thing going for him."
Head Coach Jon Gruden called Galloway "clutch" after the game, and also noted how well Simms ran the offense during crunch time. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Simms is certainly aware of the great advantage of having Galloway on his side.
That advantage, specifically: "Knowing that he can go 90, even if I throw it three yards," said Simms.
Galloway finished the game up neatly, with exactly 1,000 receiving yards on the season. He has averaged 17.2 yards per catch on his 58 grabs and is within two end zone trips of the team's single-season receiving touchdown record. Even with those zeroes in Atlanta, Galloway is on pace for 1,454 receiving yards this season, which would establish a new Buccaneer standard.
Galloway doesn't know how neatly he snuggled up to the 1,000-yard mark on Sunday, though. He famously refuses to look at or discuss his numbers, even threatening half-humorously to end interviews if the stats are thrown in his face. There's only one category that Galloway is counting, and that's wins.
As such, he was already looking forward to next week's road game against the Saints on Sunday evening.
"We'll prepare like we always do," said Galloway. "It's the most important game we have in our season coming up next week. We'll go down there and try to win it."