TAMPA, Fla. — Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt felt like a marked man on Sunday.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman connected on two 62-yard plays in the Buccaneers’ 38-10 win over the Chiefs — and Routt, despite pretty decent coverage, was the victim each time.
The Buccaneers scored the only touchdown of the first half on a spectacular catch by wide receiver Mike Williams from Freeman. Routt had inside position on Williams, but Williams reached over Routt and wrested the ball away at about the 35, escaped from Routt and stepped out of safety Kendrick Lewis’ attempt at a shoestring tackle for the score with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
And in the fourth quarter, Freeman, on third and 11 from his 21, went deep for Tiquan Underwood, who seemed to be adequately covered by Routt. But Underwood leaped a little higher, tipped the ball to himself like a volleyball player setting up a spike and then came down with it for a 62-yard gain. The play set up a field goal that gave Tampa a 24-10 lead.
“It will be like this sometimes,” Routt said. “That’s all I can say. Usually when you tip the ball, it goes to the ground or whatever. It’s a game, and we have to make more plays. That’s all.”
Even Underwood praised Routt’s coverage.
“It was a great play by the defender,” Underwood said. “He got inside and had a great PBU (pass breakup) but fortunately enough, the ball bounced where I could still catch it. I just had good concentration and just tried to make a play for our offense.
“Josh put the ball where it needed to be, and we were executing pretty well throughout the day.”
Williams said the Buccaneers expected single coverage from Routt and cornerback Brandon Flowers (who drew a defensive holding penalty against Williams in the second quarter) but believed they could exploit it.
“We have been saying all week, that it’s disrespect to us,” Williams said of the single coverage. “They are both good corners, but we still think that’s disrespect toward a receiver when you play single-high man coverage, and (Freeman) called double go, and he threw it up … just put it in the air. I’m not going to fail … because it’s either going to be incomplete or it’s mine.”
Although Freeman was the 26th-rated passer and 31st in completion percentage coming into the game, he had completed 13 passes of 20-plus yards. Besides the two 62-yarders, he tossed a 42-yard catch-and-run to running back Doug Martin, who made a nifty move on linebacker Justin Houston.
All Routt could do was shrug about the Buccaneers’ performance.
“It’s football,” he said. “You’re out there playing on an island. You can’t get down on yourself. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other guy. It’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“You’ve got to keep playing. There’s always another day.”
Tipped passes go the other way — Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster called it a “once-in-a-million” play, but it seems to happen week after week to the Chiefs.
Once again, tipped balls doomed the Chiefs on Sunday in a 38-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Brady Quinn, subbing for the injured Matt Cassel, was just as snakebit when it came to passes clanging off the hands of receivers and going straight to defensive players for interceptions.
“We tip it, and they catch it,” bemoaned Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel.
No one’s quite sure what happened on a pass intended for McCluster in the third quarter. The Chiefs were trailing 14-3 when Quinn, from the Tampa Bay 28, appeared to slip a pass between two defenders to McCluster for first-down yardage at the Buccaneers 22.
But Buccaneers cornerback E.J. Biggers — starting for suspended Aqib Talib — jarred the ball from McCluster’s grasp as they went to the turf. The ball hung in the air, went behind McCluster’s back, grazed his right elbow but never touched the ground.
Tampa Bay’s five-time Pro Bowl safety Ronde Barber, who was making his franchise-record tying 221st start, picked the ball out of the air and went 78 yards for the touchdown and a backbreaking 21-3 lead.
“I was trying to compete for the ball,” McCluster said. “The defensive back made it hard for me. It was a tight window. … The quarterback got it in there, but he (the defensive back) was able to get a hand in there. Luck of the draw, it didn’t hit the ground, and it bounced their way.
“I didn’t even know where the ball was at all. It didn’t feel like I had a lot of control over it, and I pretty much didn’t know where it was, and when I looked up, it was in their hands. I thought the ball was on the ground, and when I looked up, I saw him running.”
The replay assistant reviewed the play and confirmed the call on the field was an interception and not an incomplete pass.
“E.J. actually made a great play; he’s gotten the assist on a couple of my interceptions the last couple of years,” Barber said of the ninth career interception return for a touchdown in his career and second-longest to a 92-yarder in the 2002 postseason. “Give him more credit than me.
“I just snatched it off the ground before it hit.”
The Chiefs weren’t totally convinced.
“We thought it hit the ground and then bounced up, and he caught it,” Crennel said .
In the first quarter, a pass by Quinn from the Tampa Bay 16 went in and out of the hands of tight end Steve Maneri and into the grasp of Buccaneers strong safety Mark Barron, killing a scoring threat for a team that has not scored an offensive touchdown in the last two games.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Maneri, who caught four passes for 45 yards.
Quinn was just as frustrated.
“That’s the most frustrating part, when our players have their hands on the ball first, and it gets in (the opponents’) hands,” Quinn said. “It’s obviously something we need to work on and get better at. I’ve never seen a play like the Ronde Barber play before.”