Jacksonville puts hurt on Bucs' hopes

Published: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 12:04 a.m.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.-- Jimmy Smith reached his milestone early, caught a touchdown late and sent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reeling toward playoff elimination.

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Jacksonville tight end Kyle Brady is upended, causing him to fumble and Tampa Bay to recover. The Bucs later kicked a field goal in the second quarter Sunday at Alltel Stadium.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun

Smith made a diving 48-yard touchdown catch with 10 minutes left Sunday night, lifting the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 17-10 victory over the defending champs.

Tampa (5-7) fell three games behind NFC South leader Carolina, and three behind Seattle for the last wild-card spot.

The winning catch was only one of the night's nice moments for Smith, who caught a season-high 10 passes for 136 yards to lead the struggling Jaguars (3-9). In the first quarter, he caught three passes to become the 16th player in NFL history to reach 700 catches.

He got there a few minutes earlier than his former teammate, Keenan McCardell of the Bucs, who caught eight passes, the second of which also put him at 700.

During the week, both players conceded they wanted to hit the magic number first, although winning was certainly on their minds, too.

Tampa Bay needed it worse, but didn't really play with any urgency. The Bucs were outgained 359-221 by one of the league's worst teams. Besides a good performance by McCardell and a decent one by Michael Pittman (10 rushes, 60 yards), none of the defending Super Bowl champs put in anything resembling a memorable performance.

In fact, the game was something of a slog, which made Smith's catch stand out even more.

Isolated outside against Bucs cornerback Tim Wansley, Smith was beginning to separate on the right sideline when Wansley started limping with a pulled hamstring. Smith moved under Byron Leftwich's high throw and dived to catch the ball for the 54th touchdown of his career.

Tampa got the ball twice after that, but never got into scoring territory.

Jacksonville basically wrapped up the game with 2:45 left, when Jack Del Rio chose to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the Bucs 40. Fred Taylor dived through the line for 3 yards, then Jacksonville ran out the clock.

Taylor finished with 118 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his six-year career.

The Jaguars won on the 10th anniversary of the NFL's surprise decision to award Jacksonville its 30th franchise. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in town; all night, the team's "greatest moments" were played on the scoreboard.

There were, of course, no highlights from this difficult season, although Sunday was certainly a welcome relief. The Jaguars are now just one win from matching their total from their 1995 expansion year.

Leftwich, the rookie Del Rio considered benching earlier in the week, finished 20-for-34 for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first to Kyle Brady in the second quarter.

Brad Johnson went 21-for-38 for 156 yards for the Bucs.

The Bucs likely will join last year's Patriots as the second straight Super Bowl winner to fail to make the playoffs the next year.

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