Only this time, the play counted.
"Nobody is serious in practice, we just jump around a lot. But we know in the back of our minds there will be a time in the game when it will actually come into play," Bert Emanuel said. "It's one of those things you get a feel for it, you know what it's supposed to do and you know what your job is."
And the Buccaneers did it to perfection. Emanuel tipped Dilfer's desperation pass to Brice Hunter, who came in from out-of-bounds to catch the go-ahead touchdown at halftime as the Buccaneers beat the Chicago Bears 31-17.
"Some guy pushed me out of bounds when the ball was in the air and I just came back in and the ball was right there," Hunter said. "I caught it as if it was meant for us."
The ball looked like it might have hit the ground before Hunter caught it, but referee Ed Hochuli said officials were right there and it didn't.
"The ball didn't hit the ground," Dilfer insisted. "I could see it like it was in slow motion."
The victory was Tampa Bay's first at Soldier Field since 1989, and snapped a three-game losing streak for the Buccaneers (5-7). It was the fourth straight loss for the Bears (3-9), whose mistakes led o all but three of Tampa Bay's points.
Dilfer finished 13-of-22 for 153 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Moses Moreno, making his first NFL start as the Bears try to find some kind of offensive spark, was 18-of-41 for 153 yards and one touchdown.
"It was a crucial win. It's been a frustrating month," said Mike Alstott, who rushed for 43 yards and had a touchdown reception.
| Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber celebrates his touchdown on a return of a partially blocked punt against the Bears. (AP) |
Tell that to the Bears, who found out after the game that Erik Kramer will have season-ending surgery Wednesday on his throwing shoulder. Kramer has been hobbled by a strained rotator cuff and tendinitis for the past month.
Moreno will start for the rest of the season, coach Dave Wannstedt said.
"It was a rough experience," Moreno said. "It was a learning experience, but you've got to make plays at critical times."
The game was tied at 14 and both teams were struggling when Tampa Bay got the ball back with 25 seconds left in the half. After Dilfer threw two incompletions, the Buccaneers got another down when Bears end John Thierry was called for offside..
So he called the play they practice at least once a week. Only this time, Emanuel and Hunter reversed roles.
"I tipped it to him and I saw his hands go by," Emanuel said. "I was just hoping he'd grab it."
Though Hunter had been out of bounds, the 45-yard catch was good because someone else had touched the ball before he did.
The TD capped off a strange second quarter. The Bears set up for what looked like a 36-yard field goal attempt by Jeff Jaeger 13 seconds into the quarter. But punter Mike Horan, the holder on field goals, took the ball and threw a shovel pass to Ryan Wetnight, who scored on the 18-yard play to tie the game at 7.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Buccaneers let Jaeger's kick hit the ground untouched, and when it bounced high into the air, Wetnight came up with the ball at the Tampa Bay 23. Moreno connected with Curtis Conway on a 21-yard scoring pass, giving the Bears a 14-7 lead with 13:54 left in the half.
But about 10 minutes later, Jeff Gooch tipped a Horan punt, and Ronde Barber scooped it up at the Bears 23 and ran it in for the score.
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