RB Clifton Smith's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Sunday was the longest kick return of any kind in team history
It took Clifton Smith only two games in his NFL career to earn his first NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. On Wednesday, the NFL announced that Smith has received that honor in recognition of his outstanding efforts against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Nine.
Amazingly, he's not the fastest player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history to claim such an honor.
Well, Smith could be the fastest Buccaneer special teams honoree ever in terms of raw foot speed – he outran the entire Kansas City Chiefs coverage squad for a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown on Sunday – but he's not quite the quickest to get a plaque from the league. That honor belongs to wide receiver Jacquez Green, who was the NFC choice for that award in Week Two of the 1998 season. Green had missed the opening contest of his rookie campaign due to injury, but in Week Two returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in a narrow Buccaneer loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
Green's 95-yarder was the longest kick or punt return in team history until last Sunday, when Smith quieted a raucous Arrowhead Stadium crowd with his 97-yard jaunt just before the two-minute warning in the first half. Smith's touchdown was the Bucs' first of the day and it ignited the biggest comeback in franchise history. With that TD as a springboard, the Bucs rallied from 24-3 down to win 30-27 in overtime.
Smith's touchdown was just the second in team history on a kickoff return. Micheal Spurlock recorded the first just last December, a 90-yarder against Atlanta that earned Spurlock a similar award.
The tide-turning touchdown alone might have been enough to make Smith the conference's top special-teamer of the week, but it was only the top highlight in a day full of great returns for the undrafted rookie out of Fresno State.
On the day, Smith returned six kickoffs for 232 yards and two punts for 27 yards. Combined, his 259 kick-return yards were the most ever in a single game by a Buccaneer. Adding in Brian Clark's 22-yard kickoff return in the second half – the Chiefs were clearly kicking away from Smith on that one – and Tampa Bay also set a team record with 281 total return yards on the day.
Smith consistently provided the Buccaneers with good field position, though it took the offense awhile to begin taking advantage of it. He took Kansas City's first kickoff out to the 35, but the Bucs fumbled on the next play. In the second quarter, Smith dashed from his own four out to the 40 but that drive ended in an interception.
In the closing minutes, however, the Bucs made the most of Smith's special teams boost. Fielding a punt at his own 36 at the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Smith got 14 yards back to the midfield stripe. From there, the Bucs needed just five plays to score the game-winning touchdown.
Smith even played on kickoff coverage and had one tackle on the afternoon.
The rookie back, who was just activated to the 53-man roster on October 25, has been a revelation in two games. He doesn't qualify for the league lead in either return category yet, but he currently has averages of 32.7 and 15.6 yards on kickoff and punt returns, respectively. Smith has returned seven punts through two games and, incredibly, every one of them has been good for at least 13 yards.
The NFL first began giving Special Teams Player of the Week awards in 1993 and Buccaneer players have now taken the honor 23 times. Smith is the 14th different Buccaneer to be so honored and the second this year. Kicker Matt Bryant took the award in Week Four after he made three field goals and three extra points, including the go-ahead three-pointer in the fourth quarter, against the Green Bay Packers.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week Four. The Buccaneers have not had an Offensive Player of the Week this season.