TAMPA - With the Bucs offense on the field for nearly eight minutes in the second quarter, Jon Gruden's play card worked overtime. The coach called 18 potential touchdowns.
The 18th did the trick.
Tampa Bay matched its longest touchdown drive of the season Sunday, covering 93 yards in 16 plays - plus two play calls negated by penalties - in Sunday's 19-7 victory against the Bears. The march began in the shadow of one end zone and finished in the other.
"Every play we have is designed to score a touchdown," Gruden said. "Sometimes they don't. I'm tired. That was a long drive, an exhausting drive."
Add it up and the Bucs get seven points.
"It's not always the big play down the field," quarterback Brian Griese said. "It's the third-down conversions that we weren't getting earlier in the year. It's staying out of third and long and maintaining a drive. Today we had two drives go more than 90 yards. That's hard to do in the NFL."
Leading 3-0 with 8:43 left in the second quarter, the Bucs took over inside their 10 for the second time. The previous drive covered 93 yards but stalled at the Bears 3 for a 22-yard Martin Gramatica field goal. Huddled once again on the Bucs goal line, Griese confidently told his teammates they were about to drive the length of the field.
He was right.
Running back Michael Pittman started it with a 9-yard gain. Rookie receiver Michael Clayton finished it with a 6-yard catch in the end zone. In between, four others got into the action as the Bucs converted four third-down plays and tallied seven first downs.
The first critical test came on third and 9 at the Bucs 33 when Griese found receiver Joe Jurevicius for a 13-yard gain. Playing for the first time since preseason back surgery, Jurevicius got up and dramatically extended his arm to signal a first down.
"I needed that," Jurevicius said.
Three plays later, Pittman gained 8 yards on third and 1. Three plays later, the Bucs again faced third and 1, but a 9-yard pass to tight end Ken Dilger was negated by an illegal formation penalty. At that point, with the Bucs having executed 12 plays on a warm October day without a stoppage, the game reached the two-minute warning.
After the timeout, Griese kept the drive alive with a 13-yard pass to Tim Brown at the Bears 20. In 15 previous trips to the red zone this season, the Bucs had scored four touchdowns. Prospects for the 16th trip didn't look good after consecutive incompletions and a false start penalty gave Tampa Bay third and 15 at the Chicago 25.
Gruden called a run.
Pittman, who rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time since Oct. 26, was not content to set up a second field goal. He bowled through tacklers for a 19-yard gain and first down at the 6. The next play was the touchdown.
"Certainly we benefited from some key third-down play making," Gruden said. "Brian Griese was great on that drive. He made some key decisions that no one knows about. And, obviously, Michael Pittman converting a third and long on his own, with some help from the line, was a great run."
Pittman rushed four times for 40 yards.
Griese was 6-of-9 for 50 yards.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Brian Griese because he's the quarterback who gets you together in the huddle and tells you, "Let's go, we're going to drive this football,"' said Jurevicius, whose two catches came on consecutive plays during the drive. "As much as we got a first down on my catch, I think Brian Griese needs to start getting a lot of credit around here."