WR Joey Galloway was the Bucs' most explosive weapon during the regular season, but he was at less than 100% for the playoffs
It is hard enough, Jon Gruden said, to play in an NFL game with two good arms.
Joey Galloway tried to make it through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Wild Card playoff game against the New York Giants with a bum wing, and the results weren't encouraging. The Bucs' receiving yardage leader in the regular season had one catch for nine yards as the Bucs fell 24-14 to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
Like any receiver, Galloway is prone to a statistical shutdown if the other team makes a pointed effort to take him out of the game. For two recent examples, take Randy Moss and the New England Patriots' two AFC playoff games leading up to Super Bowl XLII. In such a situation, the feared receiver may have a significant impact on the game without racking up big stats, if only for his ability to draw defenders away from other playmakers.
Some of that may have been at play against the Giants when the Bucs met them in the Wild Card round. Still, the Bucs did try to get it to their best deep threat on several occasions in that game, and Galloway was clearly limited by his injuries.
"He [was] very frustrated that he couldn't compete at the level that he wanted to compete at," said Gruden, the Bucs' head coach, after the playoff loss to the Giants. "We needed him and unfortunately, he wasn't 100%. This is very important to him. He's played a long time and he wanted a shot at a championship and he knows he's a key cog here, one of the big reasons why we have a chance every Sunday."
The Bucs expect that to be true again in 2008, as the 35-year-old Galloway, still one of the league's fastest players, continues to defy the NFL's usual aging curve. The good news: Galloway has just had surgery to repair the shoulder injury that limited him in that playoff game, and he's expected to be back at 100% capacity soon.
"It was successful," said General Manager Bruce Allen of Galloway's procedure, which was performed last Wednesday. "He should be fine."
Allen went on to say that Galloway would be fully ready to go by the beginning of the Bucs' offseason training program in March. The Bucs wish they could have had their most explosive weapon at full-go for the 2007 postseason, but that sort of luck eluded them, as Galloway was injured during a brief appearance in a mostly meaningless game at San Francisco in Week 16.
Ironically, Tampa Bay sustained a number of injuries in the last few weeks of the regular season despite taking extra precautions to limit that sort of outcome. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall broke his arm at San Francisco, left guard Arron Sears sprained his ankle against Carolina and linebacker Cato June finished his cameo against the Panthers with an out-of-nowhere foot fracture. Then, as the playoffs began, starting free safety Tanard Jackson went down on the opening kickoff against the Giants.
The Bucs rested Galloway after his mishap in San Fran, but the injury proved to be more troublesome than originally feared.
"It was something Joey thought he could work out in the weeks after that game," said Allen. "He was still having some pain with it [after the season], so he got it re-analyzed and thought the best thing to do was to scope it."
The Bucs barely played Galloway in the season's last two weeks, and the speed receiver saw only occasional practice time in the days leading up to the Wild Card game. The Bucs took a very conservative approach with Galloway and many of the other dinged-up starters, and that decision will draw some extra scrutiny after the Giants went all the way after playing the Patriots hard in Week 17. That scrutiny is fair, but in the Bucs' case the decision to pull back was out of their hands.
"We really didn't have a choice," said Gruden. "People can question it, here I am and I'll answer any more questions. We tried to get Galloway and Arron Sears and a number of guys to the game. The best way to do that was to get them an opportunity to rest and heal."
Galloway was one of the Bucs' most important weapons throughout the division-winning campaign, but his injury before the Giants game certainly didn't help.
"Joey is one of our best players, and obviously a weapon," said Gruden.
That, the Buccaneers believe, will be true in 2008 as well.