TAMPA, Fla. — Chuck Long’s first pro pass might have received more attention, but the throw that really made the difference Sunday came from Joe Ferguson, who, you might have noticed, played the first 57 minutes and 54 seconds at quarterback.
It was early in the game, just over eight minutes left in the first quarter, and Ferguson had thrown three times. One short completion, one incompletion, one interception. The score was 0-0. Ferguson stepped up to the line on a first-and-10 from the Lions’ 26, looked to his left and liked what he saw.
“The guy covering Jeff (Chadwick) was playing up tight,” Ferguson said.
“The play we called was designed to go to Chadwick if the coverage was right.”
It was right. Chadwick knew it, too. He took off down the left sideline. Ferguson dropped back in the pocket and heaved the ball long. Chadwick kept running and he felt the defender, rookie cornerback Rod Jones, come up on his back and then he felt him no more.
Jones had fallen.
“I didn’t know it at the time,” Chadwick said. “On that particular play, I’m often used as a decoy, but when I saw them come up on me tight I said to myself, ‘Hey, Joe may go to me here.’ So I was really concentrating on a catch.”
It would turn out to be a cinch. With no one around him, Chadwick caught the ball near the sideline, then dashed toward the end zone.
If you can call it dashing.
Tampa Bay’s strong safety, Ivory Sully, came from midfield and brought Chadwick down on the 1.
“He had the angle, I was tired,” said Chadwick. He smiled. “Besides, I’m a slow white guy. How fast do you expect a slow white guy to run, anyhow?”
He laughed. It was fast enough. Mainly, it was far enough. Farther than any pass completion allowed by Tampa Bay this season. James Jones carried the ball in on the next play, the Lions had a quick 7-0 lead, and they established their passing game with authority. Tampa Bay would never catch up in the Lions’ 38-17 victory.
Before it was over, Ferguson would connect with Chadwick twice more — once for a touchdown — and would complete 14 of 21 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
If you talk to the Buccaneers this morning, they’ll say, “Chuck who?” The back-breaker for them was this 73-yard combination, Ferguson to Chadwick, that let them know early it was going to be a long — not a Long — day.