WR Joey Galloway scored a touchdown and caught a 52-yard pass in Bruce Gradkowski's first game at the helm
Quarterbacks love Joey Galloway. Fantasy football managers? They might be getting a little frustrated.
It's not that Galloway isn't putting up numbers. He leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 21 receptions for 346 yards and two touchdowns despite the team's upheaval at quarterback. It's just that virtually all of those numbers have come in three games – three games that surely delighted Galloway owners. In the Bucs' other three games – vs. Baltimore, Carolina and Philadelphia – Galloway has a combined one catch for eight yards.
And it's not that Galloway is an up-and-down player. The Bucs list of concerns on any given Sunday does not include how their veteran receiver will perform. But a receiver can't catch a ball that isn't there, and he is always going to be susceptible, stats-wise, to a game that just doesn't flow his way.
"It happens sometimes," said fellow Buc receiver Michael Clayton. "I don't think it matters though at the end of the day as long as we come up with a win. That's the most important thing. Though Joey may not have caught many balls [against Philadelphia], he did a lot of significant things that got some people open, and we're grateful for that. On this offense sometimes you're just a role player, and it helps the guys who's catching the ball. We're all team players. We won't complain about anything. The most important thing is about getting the win, and we've been able to do that the last two weeks."
Actually, the only thing that separated Galloway from being the dutiful role player and the star of the game in last Sunday's win over Philadelphia was a missed opportunity. Or three. Twice Galloway got open on a deep route and was the intended target, but both times rookie Bruce Gradkowski missed him with his long throw. On a third occasion, just before the Bucs kicked the fourth-quarter field goal that put them up 20-14, a perfectly-called slant against an enormous Philadelphia blitz probably would have been six points had the quick throw been on target.
None of which is intended to lay the blame at Gradkowski's doorstep. On any given incompletion, the real culprit could be anything from the quarterback to an offensive line that allowed too much pressure to a receiver who ran an imperfect route to, simply, a defense that made a good play. That's how Galloway views the missed connections between him and Gradkowski in the last game.
"He's as upset about that as I am," said the speedy receiver. "It's not one of those things where I'm mad and he's not or he's mad and I'm not. We need to hook up on those things. I don't look at it as he needs to get better. I look at it as we both have to get better together."
Galloway also knows that Gradkowski can get him the ball. In his first two starts, the rookie passer hit Galloway 11 times for 177 yards and a touchdown. That included a dead-on perfect strike on a 52-yard post pattern the very first time he decided to try out the NFL's scariest deep threat. It should only get better.
"Bruce hasn't been working with Galloway for more than three weeks," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He hasn't really done a lot of the things that we're asking him to do and hopefully he'll improve at that the longer we practice and get to know one another."
What Gradkowski has done is win, and as Clayton suggested, that's the bottom line. The Bucs are 2-1 in his three starts and are probably one Reggie Bush punt return from being 3-0. Gradkowski has made a lot of significant crunch-time plays already, a sign that he can handle the pressure and be a long-term NFL player. Everything else will come as he gains more experience.
"I'm definitely feeling more confident," said Gradkowski. "The more I get out here and get reps and play the games, I'm feeling more confident with the guys around me. It's going to take time. There are still plays out there I see I can do better at and there's no question about that."
The Galloway-Gradkowski connection wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for the team's visit to the Meadowlands. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
CB Ronde Barber on if this game is extra special knowing it may be the last time he plays against his brother, Tiki: "It is. We've talked about it at nauseam with ourselves, with our friends. It'll be a good day for us. Regardless, that one of us has to lose, it'll still be a nice day."
Barber on if it's hard to hit his own brother: "It's not like it's the first time. I've done it on four other occasions and numerous times before that. It's Tiki. He's another player on Sunday. He's still my brother all those other days but he understands. It's our job and he'll be able to take it."
Barber on Tiki Barber's many activities: "Who, Tiki? He just is what he is. He's in a lot of places and doing a lot of things and he's good at it. He's obviously very loquacious. He can speak well. He controls the flow of information. It's just his dissemination of everything. Tiki and whatever he has to say, he has an ability to do it like nobody else."
DE Dewayne White on Tiki Barber: "We've got a huge challenge ahead of us. We've got to go out and stop Tiki Barber, hopefully make them one-dimensional and make them throw the ball a lot. That is the main focus, because we don't want to give up a lot of yards to him."
DT Chris Hovan on having to stop the running game first: "If we don't stop the run, it's going to be a long day in New York. We're going to have to shut down that run and make them one-dimensional because they ride on Tiki. As much as Atlanta rides on Warrick Dunn – because he's pretty much the secret engine over there in Atlanta – they ride on Tiki hard. We have to stop Tiki and set the tone for the day."
CB Phillip Buchanon on which is more difficult stopping the Giants' passing or running game: "Both of them are difficult. At the same time, we have to stop the run first and then they have Plaxico Burress on one side and they have Amani Toomer. They can make plays running the ball and passing the ball. Eli Manning is still learning and he's coming up and we just have to go out there and do what we have to do."
CB Juran Bolden on QB Eli Manning: "I see him. He's coming into his own. He's a good kid. He's a good quarterback. It's a good challenge. He has the potential to be like Peyton [Manning] but he's not all the way there yet to be as well as Peyton is. But he's a good quarterback. Our job is to not let him get like Peyton-like this week."
LB Derrick Brooks on last week's tackling criticism: "We tackled pretty good outside of one play and that's what we're going in here now to watch, critique ourselves one last time and get better. But, personally, I think the tackling has improved. It's just for one play it didn't. The plays where Donovan [McNabb] got out of there, we took away the downfield pass that they wanted and he made some plays, and you give him credit for that."
Brooks on how disappointed he was about the Brian Westbrook touchdown run: "I was disappointed I missed a tackle but, as I said before, I wasn't going to go home and kick my dog or slit my wrists. I was no more upset than the week before when I missed a tackle or felt I should have made a play. But, like I said, that's a personal critique of yourself but even more important than that is we found a way to win."
Buchanon on facing the top two offenses in the league in as many weeks: "Oh, man. We're just going against better offenses. So we just have to prepare better and go into the game and be confident and make plays."
Bolden on entering the starting lineup due to CB Brian Kelly's injury: "I guess that's what it is now. It's football time. I've been playing football for a long time, for my whole career. Being put in the starting role now is nothing new to me. I've started before. I knew if anything were to happen that I'd be the guy. So I can take that, I can take responsibility."
QB Bruce Gradkowski on the Giants' defense: "The Giants are definitely a tough defense. They have a great front-four and they do a great job at getting to the quarterback but we're going to have a good plan, we're going to work hard this week, and look to see what we can do and see where our advantages are."
WR Joey Galloway on the Giants' defense: "It will be a tough defense. We're going into their home. Everyone saw how well they played against Dallas and it will be a challenge for us. We expect them to play well again; we've just got to play better than they do."
WR Michael Clayton on if the Giants sack total has the attention of the Buccaneers: "It does, but we have full confidence. We go into a situation prepared for situations like that. We've seen a lot of film on those guys. We know they're really aggressive. Our game plan is to just do our best to shut it down and get the ball out of Bruce's hands as quick as possible."
Clayton on the philosophy of the Buccaneers offense: "Just to do what we normally do. It's obvious that we're getting better and better as the season goes on. The games are going to be tough, but we go into the games knowing that. It's going to be a tough game. We have to bring our A-game. They have a heck of a team. We just look to go in there and try to steal a win."
K Matt Bryant on if he feels making a 62-yard field goal was a big deal: "Yes, if you look back at it, it was. I guess your name goes a little bit in the history books. But that game's over with. That kick was part of the game. So, in a way, you have to put that behind you and get ready for the next game."
Bryant on his entire performance of the game: "I was fortunate to have a good day on that day. The biggest thing, and it really is true, me having a good day helped the whole team collectively to get a win which is what we need right now in big bundles. We're 2-0 this quarter and we're going to the third game of the quarter and hopefully we can continue this success."
Galloway on if it's tough to play in the Meadowlands: "I think any time you go on the road in this league it's tough. Everyone knows the New York fans are notorious for being rough, but they'll be in the stands and we'll be on the field and we'll be able to handle whatever the fans throw at us."
Gradkowski on what the last two wins have done to the emotion of the team: "The last two wins have been big. We've just been finding ways to pull them out at the end and it's just huge. We have a lot of momentum coming into this game in the second quarter of the season."
Hovan on how it's been around the team during the last two wins: "It's been a breath of fresh air. Guys are just really believing in each other right now. It's a brotherhood, and when I say brotherhood, these guys care for each other tremendously. We just want to keep this ball rolling and take it to New York and beyond."
White on the 2-4 Bucs being a few plays from either 4-2 or 0-6: "Yeah, that's the NFL. A lot of games come down to three or four points. I wish we were 4-2, but we're 2-4. It could be that easily – if we tackled [Reggie Bush] or [John Kasay] missed that long field goal – we could be 4-2 and sitting pretty on top of the NFC South."
Galloway on what it's like having Chris Simms around the team for meetings and practices: "It's annoying [laughing]. He talks a lot, he's disruptive. He's a great guy and he's fun to be around but that doesn't translate well into meetings."
Barber on the impact of going into the game with the bragging rights of bringing the Defensive Player of the Week award with him from last week: "That's last week. I'm a little more focused on us getting our third win in a row and trying to jump back in this thing. The bragging rights will slide down quickly after today and start worrying about being a really good football team."