K Matt Bryant's third field goal of the day was a 34-yard game-winner in overtime
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers found a unique and thrilling way to head into their bye week: The biggest comeback victory in team history. Since a week of rest was on the horizon, the Buccaneers didn't mind playing an extra quarter to secure a 30-27 road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Matt Bryant kicked a 34-yard field goal, his third in three tries, with 10:27 left in overtime to complete the rally. Down 24-3 with two minutes left in the first half, the Bucs erased a three-touchdown deficit in a victory for the first time in the team's 33-year history.
Tampa Bay's biggest previous rally was a pair of 17-pointers, the most recent of which was 25 years ago. The Bucs beat Chicago, 26-23 in overtime on January 2, 1983 after trailing 23-6 and also defeated Baltimore 29-26 in overtime on September 9, 1979 after trailing 17-0.
This marks the second overtime win of the season for the Buccaneers, who rallied for a 27-24 victory in Chicago on Sept. 21 after trailing 24-14 in the fourth quarter. Prior to that game, the Bucs' last rally for a win from down even 10 points was on Dec. 12, 1999 against Detroit.
QB Jeff Garcia led the rally by completing 31 of 43 passes for 339 yards, one touchdown and one interception. With 25 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, he threw a scrambling, 24-yard touchdown pass to WR Antonio Bryant in the back left corner of the end zone. TE Alex Smith caught a low pass to complete the ensuing two-point conversion and tie the game at 27-27 at the end of regulation.
Bryant caught eight passes for 115 yards, marking his third 100-yard game of the season; his first came in the win at Chicago, in which he caught the long pass that set up the game-winning field goal. Bryant also had two impressive one-handed catches on Sunday at Arrowhead, one of which got the ball into the red zone on the game-winning drive.
It was fellow WR Michael Clayton who made the big play to get the Bucs close to their winning score on this day. On the first play of the opening possession of overtime, he caught a two-yard pass with two defenders on him but somehow escaped, found the right sideline and dashed down it for 29 yards. Clayton later caught an 11-yard pass on a hard slant to get the ball into field goal range.
The Bucs needed their stunning comeback because the first half of the game was a coming-out party for the Chiefs' second-year quarterback, Tyler Thigpen.
According to Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden earlier in the week, sometimes all a young quarterback needs for the light to turn on is a little success. Thigpen had a small taste of success in New York in Week Eight, nearly leading the Kansas City Chiefs to an upset win over the Jets. Perhaps that did flip the switch for the second-year passer, as on Sunday at Arrowhead he led the Chiefs to that early lead by throwing for one touchdown and catching another.
Thigpen, in just his third professional start, completed 14 of 25 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He helped the Chiefs' offense gain 384 yards of offense against a Tampa Bay defense that was coming off two straight games of allowing opponents fewer than 180 yards. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on each of their first three drives.
Rookie RB Clifton Smith actually got the Bucs comeback rolling late in the first half with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the longest in team history. That was only the second kickoff return for a score in the Bucs' 33-year history, following Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard groundbreaker last December. To that point, it had been an afternoon of unexpected firsts, and not many of them favored the visiting team.
For instance, Thigpen's touchdown pass to WR Dwayne Bowe at the end of the game's opening drive marked the first time all season that Kansas City had reached the end zone in the opening period. The Chiefs, now 1-7, had just six first-quarter points through their first seven games.
Moments later, Buccaneers RB Earnest Graham, easily one of the team's most valuable and productive players this season, fumbled for the first time in 2008. Kansas City recovered and drove for another first-quarter touchdown, this one a one-yard run by Kolby Smith after CB Ronde Barber was flagged for holding TE Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. That was the first rushing touchdown allowed by Tampa Bay's defense all season, and it was also Smith's first TD of the year.
Graham, who had 91 combined rushing and receiving yards on the day as well as a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, fumbled again with less than three minutes remaining and the Bucs all the way down at the Chiefs' two-yard line.
Certainly, it was a first for everyone in attendance when the Chiefs scored their third touchdown on a 37-yard pass from WR Mark Bradley to Thigpen, the quarterback. That amazingly creative play came after rookie RB Jamaal Charles took the snap from under center and pitched to Bradley on an end-around.
All of this on the Buccaneers' first trip to Arrowhead Stadium in 22 years. Those new and unfortunate occurrences put the Bucs in a 21-3 hole five minutes into the second quarter.
The Bucs rallied a bit, helped by Smith's return and a "first" of their own: Graham's scoring strike to Alex Smith on a halfback option, the first pass of Graham's career. That made it 24-19 after the Bucs tried but failed to move within a field goal with a two-point conversion. After the Chiefs made it an eight-point game with a six-minute field goal drive, the Bucs drove right back down the field but saw their chance to tie bounce away on their fourth turnover of the day, Graham's second fumble of the day and the season, this one into Kansas City's end zone.
The Bucs' four turnovers matched a season high (also at Chicago) and were a critical reason the Bucs almost fell to 1-4 on the road this season. The defense also struggled mightily to stop the run despite the absence of Chiefs RB Larry Johnson. Substitute starter Smith ran for 46 yards on 10 carries before suffering a knee injury and giving way to rookie Jamaal Charles. Charles then blasted for 106 yards on 18 carries to pace a 184-yard rushing attack, the most the Bucs' defense has allowed this season.
LB Barrett Ruud led the Bucs' defense with 13 tackles and a sack and safety Tanard Jackson had four tackles and a critical forced fumble and recovery in the fourth quarter to set up a Buccaneer touchdown. The Bucs' defense allowed 260 yards, 24 points and 15 first downs in the first half but only 124 yards, three points and six first downs after the break.
Ruud sacked Thigpen for no gain on the game's first play but the Chiefs QB then fired a 11-yard strike to Gonzalez for a first down. Smith's first run of the game gained 11 yards, too, and the Chiefs were quickly in Buccaneer territory. Thigpen and Gonzalez hooked up again on a 16-yard pass down to the Bucs' 12 on a third-and-five, and then the second-year passer converted a third-and-five from the seven with a quick TD strike to Bowe against a Buccaneer blitz.
The Bucs' first drive was quite a bit worse...and shorter. Graham's fumble on the first play from scrimmage gave the ball right back to Thigpen and the Chiefs at the Bucs' 41.
From there, it was a short drive to seven points for the home team. Gonzalez made a sliding catch down at the Bucs' 12, and a defensive holding call on Barber in the end zone – against Gonzalez, naturally – made it first down at the one. Two plays later, Smith dived over the pile for the game's second score.
Tampa Bay's offense came back with a strong drive of its own, running Graham up the gut three times for an opening first down and then converting a third-and-eight with a 12-yard catch by Clayton. On the next play, Garcia threw deep down the right side to Bryant, who made a shocking, one-handed catch over Chiefs defender Maurice Leggett. That 21-yard gain brought the ball down to the Kansas City 13 as the first quarter came to an end.
The Bucs got down to Kansas City's five but, on a third-and-two, a misdirection pitch to RB Michael Bennett was sniffed out by the Chiefs defense and shut down for a loss of two. Matt Bryant got the Bucs on the board with a 25-yard field goal.
The Chiefs' offense continued to roll. A 16-yard run by Charles out of the "Wildcat" formation converted a third-and-two and his 10-yard gash on the next play put the ball at Tampa Bay's 37. After a Chiefs timeout, Kansas City lined up in the Wildcat again, Charles pitched to Bradley and Bradley lofted a perfect 37-yard spiral back to Thigpen who was wide open running into the end zone.
The Bucs moved back into Chiefs territory rather quickly but gave the ball away with their second turnover, as Garcia tried to go deep to TE Jerramy Stevens and instead threw it a bit far into the waiting hands of rookie CB Brandon Carr. Carr returned his pick 35 yards to the Kansas City 42.
The Bucs defense nearly got the ball back on a fumble by Gonzalez, but the play was challenged and overturned. It was thus first down at the Bucs' 46, but Tampa Bay's defense then held for the first time, forcing a punt that went into the end zone for a touchback with 5:27 to play in the half.
Tampa Bay's offense failed to gain a first down, however, and after the punt Thigpen went deep on first down with a 56-yard strike to Bradley, down to Tampa Bay's 12. The Bucs did manage to hold at that point but the Chiefs still tacked on Connor Barth's 39-yard field goal for a 24-3 lead.
Smith's 97-yard return followed and made it 24-10 at the two-minute warning. Unfortunately, a short kickoff and a facemask penalty on Ruud quickly got Kansas City back to the Bucs' 43. Fortunately, the Bucs' defense held again, forcing a punt with a little over a minute to play.
Tampa Bay looked to be on the verge of punting back when DE Turk McBride was flagged for roughing the passer on a third-down incompletion. That and a 22-yard strike to Galloway put the ball at Kansas City's 44 with 33 seconds to play. Graham caught an 11-yard pass that put the ball at the 25 with four seconds to play, giving Matt Bryant a shot at a 43-yard field goal to end the half. He nailed it to give the Bucs a little momentum going into the intermission.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half and got good field position when the Chiefs apparently hit the kickoff short to avoid Smith. WR Brian Clark got it instead and got back to the 35. A nine-yard catch by TE John Gilmore and two Graham runs put the ball into Chiefs territory, one-yard over the stripe. The drive stalled moments later, however, and Clark just missed downing Josh Bidwell's punt at the one-yard line.
Another exchange of punts put it back in Thigpen's hands at the Kansas City 15 with five minutes to play in the third quarter. Thigpen immediately moved the chains with a 13-yard scramble to the 28. However, a third-and-six toss to Gonzalez came up two yards short and the Chiefs had to punt again.
The Bucs started anew at their own 37 and moved into Kansas City territory on a seven-yard third-down run by Graham and a 16-yard catch-and-run by Gilmore. From the Kansas City 32, as the fourth quarter began, Garcia scrambled left and hit Bryant for another 16-yard gain.
That set up a two-play exchange of turnovers. Smith caught a pass at the 10 but fumbled it, with McBride recovering for Kansas City. On the Chiefs' first play from scrimmage, Charles was forced wide on a sweep left and had the ball poked away by S Tanard Jackson. Jackson also fell on the ball at the three before it rolled out of bounds.
The Bucs needed just one play to put it in, using a little trickery of their own. Graham took a handoff and, after one step towards the line, pulled up and lobbed an easy touchdown pass to TE Alex Smith. The Bucs went for two to try to pull the game within three points but Hilliard had to fall out of the end zone to catch Garcia's pass.
Buchanon appeared to give the Bucs another quick turnover two plays later but his interception was negated by an illegal contact against him. Bowe then took a short pass 22 yards to the Bucs' 49 and Charles tacked on a 22-yard run down to the 13. The Bucs held there but the Chiefs regained an eight-point lead with Barth's 28-yard field goal with 7:38 to play.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 33. Hilliard made a fine catch of a high pass over the middle to gain 23 yards to the Kansas City 29. Garcia looked to Hilliard again on a third-and-four at the 23, darting a four-yard strike into the receiver's body to move the chains. It was Hilliard again two plays later, catching a swing pass out to the left and powering forward for a gain of 12 to the seven.
That's when disaster struck again for the Buccaneers. Graham took a pitch to the left and was fighting his way to the end zone when the ball came loose and bounded into the end zone. Kansas City fell on it first for a touchback with 3:24 to play. The Bucs challenged the play, almost out of necessity, but the play was upheld and Kansas City got the ball.
The Bucs got the stop they needed before Kansas City could get a first down but the clock ran down to the two-minute warning before Steve Weatherford's punt. Smith's 14-yard return took the ball to midfield and two plays later Garcia tried to hit Galloway in the end zone on a deep post. Smith then converted a third-and-three with a 10-yard run on a draw play and Bryant made an amazing one-handed catch of a ball behind him to get it down to the 19.
A false start penalty on the attempted spike cost the Bucs a 10-second runoff, down to 25 seconds, but the Bucs scored on the next play. Garcia scrambled left and was able to lob a touchdown pass over the defense's head to Bryant, who got two feet inbounds near the edge of the end zone. The Bucs had to go for two and succeeded when Alex Smith held on to a low pass from Garcia despite being twisted painfully over his ankle.
The Bucs had to kick off with 19 seconds left and the game now tied at 27-27. A pooch kick and a short return put the ball at Kansas City's 32 with 14 seconds left. Former Chief Jimmy Wilkerson knocked the ball out of Thigpen's hand on a first-down pass attempt, leaving seven seconds, and the Chiefs decided to kneel and go to overtime.
The Bucs won the toss, elected to receive and started at their own 26. They got a big play right away when Clayton somehow escaped a tackle, kept his feet and turned a two-yard pass into a 29-yard gain to the Chiefs' 45. A three-yard catch by Hilliard made it first down at the 35 and a bullet of a slant to Clayton got 11 yards and a first down at the 25.
A run by Smith got the ball down to the 21 and Gruden sent in the field goal unit on third-and-five so that Matt Bryant could try a 38-yard field goal. The Chiefs called a timeout to "ice" Bryant and then, on the real attempt, the Bucs false-started, which fortunately negated a miss by Bryant. Since it was third down, Tampa Bay sent its offense back on the field and Garcia threw an 11-yard pass to Cook to bring it down to the 16.
There was no icing timeout this time, and Bryant popped his 34-yard attempt high and right through the uprights for the win.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers are now 5-5 all-time against the Chiefs, including 2-3 in Kansas City. … QB Jeff Garcia's 16th pass of the game against Kansas City was his 500th as a Buccaneer. He had 527 Tampa Bay passes by the end of the game with a 92.7 passer rating in those throws. … For the first time this season, the Bucs had a change to their starting 11 on defense. S Sabby Piscitelli opened in place of the injured Jermaine Phillips at strong safety. In addition, the Bucs had rookie CB Aqib Talib on the field for his first NFL start when they brought out a nickel to combat the Chiefs' two-TE set, replacing SLB Cato June. … Tampa Bay is now 3-1 this season in games in which its opponent scored first … RB Clifton Smith's 97-yard kickoff return in the second quarter was not only the second in team history that ended with a touchdown, but it was also the longest kick return of any kind in Buc annals. RB Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard score against Atlanta on Dec. 16, 2007 was the previous longest kickoff return and former WR Jacquez Green's 95-yard punt return at Green Bay on Sept. 13, 1998 was the longest of that variety. … Spurlock's score ended a franchise-long drought that lasted nearly 22 seasons. It came on the 1,865th kickoff return in team annals. In contrast, Smith's touchdown broke a "drought" of only 34 returns since last December. … RB Earnest Graham's touchdown pass to TE Alex Smith in the fourth quarter was the third scoring pass by a running back in team history. Interestingly, the first touchdown pass by a Buccaneer belonged to RB Louis Carter, who improvised a one-yard toss to WR Morris Owens against Seattle on Oct. 17, 1976. James Wilder had the other touchdown pass by a running back, a 16-yarder to Adger Armstrong on Dec. 2, 1984 against Green Bay.
Inactives: The Buccaneers named the following eight players inactive before Sunday's game: QB Brian Griese, WR Dexter Jackson, S Jermaine Phillips, RB Warrick Dunn, FB B.J. Askew, G Arron Sears, WR Maurice Stovall and designated third quarterback Josh Johnson. Phillips, Dunn, Askew, Sears and Stovall were out due to injury.
The Chiefs named the following eight players inactive: P Dustin Colquitt, CB Patrick Surtain, RB Larry Johnson, LB Weston Dacus, T Andrew Carnahan, C Wade Smith, WR Jeff Webb and designated third quarterback Ingle Martin. Colquitt and Surtain were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, RB Earnest Graham suffered a knee contusion in the second quarter but did return. DE Gaines Adams sustained a shoulder injury in the third quarter and did return. G Davin Joseph left the game briefly with a hip injury in the third quarter but did return. TE Alex Smith sustained an ankle injury at the end of regulation and did not return.
For the Chiefs, RB Kolby Smith sustained a knee sprain in the second quarter and did not return. LB Derrick Johnson sustained a hamstring injury in the second quarter and did not return.