TE Jerramy Stevens put the Bucs in position for their only TD with this clutch, 31-yard catch in the third quarter
Coming into Sunday's contest against the Vikings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had not scored on their first possession in the third quarter of any game in 2008 and had been outscored by a total margin of 41-16 in the nine combined third periods.
Trailing Minnesota 13-6 as they headed out of the locker room after the halftime break Sunday, the Bucs could ill afford another lackluster performance in the third stanza. After a very promising drive to start the second half began to fizzle, it looked as if they were headed towards yet another third-quarter frustration.
On the drive, quarterback Jeff Garcia moved the Bucs from their own 20 all the way to the Vikings' 17-yard line in just eight plays. But as has been the case all too often this season, the Bucs began to struggle after entering the red zone.
Consecutive holding penalties — including one that nullified a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Bryant — moved the ball to the fringe of field goal range as the Bucs found themselves staring at second-and-25 at the Vikings' 32.
But in a matter of seconds, what looked certain to be yet another red zone short-out turned into a first-and-goal, a breath of new hope, and a brand new ballgame.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens, asked to play a larger role in Sunday's contest due to an ankle injury that forced usual starter Alex Smith to the sideline, ran a perfectly-executed seam route, beat his defender and made an excellent over-the-shoulder grab on a delicately-placed pass from Garcia before being brought down at the one-yard line. Stevens beat LB Ben Leber on the play but had to hold onto the ball after being crushed by S Darren Sharper at the one.
"I was running past [Leber] most of the day, so coming up to that play, I told Jeff, Ã¢â'¬ËœIf it goes Cover Two and he's running down the middle, I've got him,'" Stevens said. "Jeff just had enough trust in me to get it done and throw me the ball and I was able to make a play for him.
"It was real frustrating with the penalties out there, real frustrating. It was good to make a play and put us back in to position to score. I'm just glad I made that play, because I want Jeff to have that trust in me that he can put the ball up and I'll go make the play for him. It was big."
Added Garcia: "To me it just looked like they played a cover-two man and he was matched up against a linebacker with the safeties playing somewhat wide, playing the halves of the field. That was a tough stretch of plays because we had some great things happening and then some bad things. Fortunately, I was able to put a ball in a place, a position where he could make a catch. He made a great grab and was able to extend that drive in a very difficult situation and get that touchdown on the board which was our only touchdown of the day, but it came on the opening drive of the second half. That was a big drive for us."
One play after Stevens' long catch, fullback B.J. Askew punched it in from a yard out, but Stevens came this close to crossing the goal line himself.
"I didn't know if I was on top of him or not, I was a little bit dazed when he came over and hit me so I just knew I was close," Stevens said. "So I stretched out to see if I could get it across the plane. I didn't know exactly where I was at, but I knew I was inside the (five-yard line) though."
Although Stevens wasn't able to cap his huge catch by scoring a touchdown, Askew's plunge gave the Bucs their first points of the year on an opening drive of the third quarter, and those points proved to be the difference.
Askew's score evened the things up at 13, and the Bucs — led by their defense — never looked back, outscoring the Vikings 6-0 the rest of the way to secure a seventh win of the season.
All year long the Bucs have recited their mantra of stepping up in the face of adversity. When one man goes out, the entire team expects the next person in line to continue to produce, and Stevens was just the latest example. His six catches for 84 yards led the team in both categories and were both season highs – and actually career highs for Stevens.
While a few touchdowns in place of Matt Bryant field goals could have put the Vikings away much sooner, Stevens' big day helped spark the offense and led to points on the scoreboard, even if they came in groups of threes instead of sevens.
"We definitely need to put some touchdowns on the board," Stevens said. "Matt came through and bailed us out with all the field goals and our defense played great, but we've got to score. That's what we know we need to do on offense. The defense is doing a great job. Holding Adrian Peterson under 100 yards, that's a great deal. We all know we've got to improve, but we're sticking it out and getting wins any way we can."