Teammates had a hard time believing the play WR Joe Jurevicius made at Philadelphia in the 2003 season opener
[Editor's Note: The following feature first appeared in Volume 2, Issue 9 of Tampa Bay's groundbreaking game program, *Buccaneers Review. In addition to extensive coverage of the Buccaneers' opponent, exclusive Q&As, in-depth football analysis, statistical breakdowns and more, each Buccaneers Review includes a lengthy feature article that explores some aspect of the team's history or its current play. With the retirement of Mike Alstott and the hiring of George Yarno to the coaching staff, it seemed like the right time to share this review of some of the most unusual plays in franchise annals.]*
Today we're going to talk about a play…a type of play, that is.
A category of plays, if you well. Not a category as in "runs" or "passes" or "punts," but something more specifically defined, something less mundane. Something rarer.
This type of play doesn't have a name, per se, but oh boy, you know it when you see it. It's not in any team's playbook, and that's the point. These plays are never meant to be…then they happen, and then you never forget them.
Put it this way: You know that play that makes you stand up in front of the television set and yell, "No, no, no, no, no…YES!?" That's the play.
Just what are we talking about here? Why, another Buccaneers Review list, of course. And since we've already established that this thing we're listing doesn't have a name, we're going to have to come up with one.
Call them "Memorable Buccaneer Plays That Didn't Go As Expected But Still Turned Out Great." Yeah, that has a nice ring to it. And we've got seven MBPTDGAEBSTOGs to share.
Some of them were brilliant bits of improv on the fly. Some were fortunate bounces. Some were two teammates finding each other at just the right moment. And some were simply inexplicable, even after the fact. All of them failed to "Go As Expected" but still "Turned Out Great."
Now, to be clear, we're talking about plays attempted by the Buccaneers, not by their opponents. It is tempting, of course, to include such moments of good fortune as the one visited upon the Buccaneers two weeks ago in New Orleans. Would Tampa Bay have won that critical division contest if the Saints hadn't curiously decided to run a pitch-reverse in the game's closing minutes, and then tossed that pitch on the ground for the Bucs to recover? It certainly would have been a lot more difficult.
That play was reminiscent of Steve Smith's fumble on a punt return late in the 2002 contest at Carolina that the Buccaneers won, 12-9. Who knows how Tampa Bay's season would have unfolded without that victory, but the Bucs never had to find out because Smith muffed the catch without being touched, leading to the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Neither of those plays fits the bill, however. We're talking about moments created by the Buccaneers, ones that snatched success from the certain clutches of failure. The Saints' errant pitch and Smith's shocking fumble were simply well-timed gifts.
Here's an example. If this was a list in Steelers Review, the perfect example would be the Immaculate Reception, a pass intended for one player that likely wouldn't have changed the game before it bounced off a defender and was plucked by another player just before it hit the grass and run in for the game-winning touchdown. If this was Packers Review, we'd probably include the unforgettable overtime touchdown on which Antonio Freeman caught a deflected pass while lying on the ground after it had rolled around on his back for awhile.
What plays fit the bill on a Buccaneer list? Read on.
1. Jurevicius Runs the Tip Drill…By Himself
Though the 2003 season would eventually devolve into a 7-9 disappointment, after one week the Buccaneers looked like the class of the NFL. Coming off their victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs began their title defense on a Monday night in Philadelphia, against the team they had upset in the previous winter's NFC Championship Game.
The Bucs dominated, winning 17-3, and the star of the game was wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, who accounted for both touchdowns. His first touchdown was impressive enough, a leaping toe-tapper over Lito Sheppard in the back corner of the end zone. His second score, midway through the fourth quarter, made everyone forget the first.
Jurevicius ran a shallow out toward the right sideline, just in front of the Philly goal line. Brad Johnson's pass was behind the receiver, putting it in danger of falling into the hands of cornerback Troy Vincent. Jurevicius responded by reaching back with his right arm and purposely tipping the football over Vincent's head and towards the end zone. The receiver then spun, just staying inbounds and dived over the goal line to snatch the deflection just before it was caught by another diving Philly defender.
After the game, Jurevicius insisted he did the whole thing on purpose. "I didn't want him to be able to pick that ball off and take it down for the score," he said. "So I just tried to get it in the air and it worked out. I was able to get it high enough that I had time to turn around and make the play.
"That's the first time I've done that. Sandlot, maybe."
2. Tate Does the Flip, and Keeps Right on Rolling
Trailing 24-23 to the Phoenix Cardinals on September 18, 1988, the Bucs had the ball just across midfield, needing a yard. With 11 minutes remaining in the game, they faced a third-and-one at the Cardinal 47, and they called upon running back Lars Tate to run a dive straight over the middle.
The two lines collided violently, creating a mass of bodies that Tate was able to leap over, acrobatically. As he cleared the top of the mountain of men and slalomed down the other side, he rolled completely over and ended up landing on his feet.
First down, mission accomplished, play over, right? The rookie back out of Georgia wasn't so sure.
"It was so weird," Tate said later. "I didn't hear a whistle or feel any hits, so I just kept jogging and looking back. Next thing I knew, people on the sideline were yelling, 'Go, go,' so I figured the play was still alive and I took off."
What the Bucs' sideline had figured out took a little longer to register on Cardinal defenders, and Tate was able to dash the rest of the way to the end zone for the go-ahead score. The play was reviewed by instant replay, which confirmed that nothing but Tate's feet had ever hit the ground. Phoenix would eventually counter with their own late touchdown to win the game, but Tate and the Buccaneer fans who witnessed his miraculous moment had a lasting memory.
3. Pitch Perfect: Dunn & King Keep the Bucs Alive
Somehow, this play manages to pop up on just about every list we do. Still, reliving this singularly inspired moment never gets old.
On one play, two former Buccaneers made split-second decisions that saved the day in a wild, 38-35 Buccaneer victory over the high-powered St. Louis Rams. One current Buccaneer, then a Ram, was caught in the middle of it all.
Late in the relentlessly back-and-forth contest, the Bucs trailed 35-31 and were facing a second-and-10 at their own 35. Quarterback Shaun King handed off to running back Warrick Dunn, who started towards the right end of the line only to see massive defensive end Kevin Carter in his path. Carter grabbed Dunn, but in his efforts to throw him to the ground, ended up spinning the nimble back around so that he was facing King. Thinking quickly and knowing the Bucs would be in dire straits if they lost yardage, Dunn pitched the football back to King.
King thought fast, too, first making a move to his left, then suddenly reversing field and running around two defenders to get past the line of scrimmage. Not only did he gain 15 yards on the play, but a late hit by LB Mike Jones tacked on 15 more. Dunn scored the game-winning touchdown eight plays later with 53 seconds left in the game.
4. McCardell Flashes Through the Pack
The game that included this bit of off-the-cuff magic is much less fondly remembered than the 2000 victory over St. Louis, though it ended in the same score. This contest was a 2003 Monday-nighter against the Indianapolis Colts at Raymond James Stadium, the painfully memorable contest in which the visitors overcame a 35-14 deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the final 3:37 of the fourth quarter, then won the game in overtime.
One of the reasons the Bucs were able to build such an enormous lead – it was 28-7 at the end of three quarters – was the alert move of wide receiver Keenan McCardell on a wild two-turnover play at midfield. The result was McCardell's second touchdown of 50 or more yards in the first quarter, but this one was no simple reception.
The play started badly for the Buccaneers when safety Mike Doss intercepted a pass down the middle intended for tight end Ken Dilger. Doss started back upfield towards the Bucs' end zone but John Wade dove at him at the Bucs' 44 and knocked the ball out of Doss' grasp. The ball took one hop directly into the arms of a sprinting McCardell, who then ran untouched 57 yards for his second touchdown.
"It was a hustle play, basically," said a downcast McCardell later, stung by the loss. "I was coming back to make the tackle and it just so happened that he was coming my way and he fumbled and it came to me. I just picked it up and kept running."
5. Yarno Boots His Way into Team History
This one differs a bit from the other entries on the list in that the player in question actually executed the play just as he was supposed to. However, it's safe to say that when the sun rose on the morning of December 18, 1983, no one had envisioned a 6-6, 270-pound offensive lineman kicking the Buccaneers' last extra point of the season.
It was a fitting end, though, to a season marred by kicking woes throughout. Bill Capece, who had put together two reasonably strong seasons as the Bucs' kicker in 1981 and 1982, struggled mightily in 1983. Capece missed 13 of his 23 field goal tries and even three of his 26 extra point attempts, and he was replaced for the season finale by free agent Dave Warnke.
Warnke's NFL career lasted all of one game, but his hold on the Bucs' kicker job didn't even last that long. He made the extra point after Jerry Bell's touchdown catch in the first quarter, but it was all downhill from there. When Kevin House caught a 20-yard TD pass in the second quarter, the barefoot kicker who had been to training camp with the Lions shanked the extra point, leaving the Bucs only up by three, 13-10. Then, in the third quarter, with the game tied 13-13 and the Bucs in possession after a fumbled punt by the Lions, Warnke was sent out for a 29-yard field goal try. This one wobbled out short and to the left.
It's safe to say those two misfires had an effect on the Bucs' strategy. Early in the fourth quarter, with the game still tied, the Bucs faced a fourth-and-goal at the five but elected to go for it rather than try another short field goal. Jack Thompson's pass was incomplete, and the Lions took the lead for good on their next drive.
Still, the Bucs rallied, and Thompson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Carter with 1:22 left in the game. Head Coach John McKay had obviously seen enough of Warnke, because he sent out reserve lineman George Yarno to try the extra point. Eschewing the soccer-style kick for a straight-ahead approach, Yarno booted the ball with the toe of his left foot. When it went through the uprights, setting off a massive celebration among his fellow linemen. Warnke did get one more chance to address the football, but his onside-kick attempt wasn't much better and the Bucs lost 23-20.
6. Third Try's a Charm for Alstott
Yes, one could probably populate this entire list with Mike Alstott runs, as he has made a career of turning seemingly mundane plays into stunning, pinballing wonders. However, it's safe to say that the one-yard touchdown he scored against Minnesota in the second game of his second season set the tone for everything that was to come in his stellar career.
The Bucs were trying to build on a 7-3 lead late in the second quarter when they drove 84 yards to the Vikings' one-yard line. On third-and-goal, Trent Dilfer handed off to Alstott, who tried to dive over the pile and into the end zone but was stood up by a wall of Minnesota players.
For most backs, that would have been the end of the run. Alstott, however, used that initial denial to showcase his amazing blend of balance and power.
First, the strong-willed back landed on his feet, behind his own line. He immediately took off to the left, trying to get around the end and across the goal line. However, Viking defenders had reacted quickly, too, and Alstott's second crack at the touchdown was foiled, too. Still not giving up, he fooled one Viking defender a hard fake, in the process getting turned around so that his back was now facing the end zone. At that point, Alstott used the only option he had left – he simply pushed his way in. Digging in with his heels and pushing two defenders toward their own end zone, Alstott powered his way backwards into the end zone, giving the Bucs a 14-3 lead en route to a 28-14 victory that heralded Tampa Bay's arrival as a playoff threat in '97.
Alstott took the whole thing in stride. "It was just second and third effort," he said. "Nobody had me tackled and I just bounced outside. When I [did], I kind of got spun around and I just kept pushing with my legs. That's my running style."
He would spend the next decade proving those words right.
7. Barber Turns Deflection into Seven Points
There are 141 different players who have returned a kickoff for the Buccaneers at some point in team history. There are only 53 different men who have returned a punt for the franchise.
It's not that the Bucs are three times as indecisive when it comes to picking kickoff return men. It's that, given the nature of the formation on a kickoff return and the fact that the ball is live for the kicking team at all times, non-returners end up with their hands on the football every now and then. Alstott never once lined up as the designated returner on kickoffs, and yet he still has five career returns, all on very short kicks. On a short punt, in contrast, everyone just gets out of the way.
So how is it that cornerback Ronde Barber, who has never been a designated returner, has one of the seven punt returns for touchdowns in team history? For the answer, we look to November 29, 1998, with the Buccaneers visiting the Chicago Bears.
With four minutes left in the first half, the Bears lined up to punt from their own 18-yard line. Bucs linebacker Jeff Gooch got around the Chicago protection just enough to get a hand on the football as it left Mike Horan's foot. The kick was sent veering off course, but it still went a few yards forward, so it technically remained a punt, not a blocked punt. So, when the ball settled down just off the left sideline and Barber was the first one to get to it, what he had himself, technically, was a punt return. Barber weaved through traffic and didn't stop until he was in the end zone with a 23-yard return and the first of his 11 career touchdowns.
"Plays like that have been beating us all year," said Barber after the game. "We've been unfortunate this year. A lot of things rolled our way today. We were lucky today. We got some good bounces."