By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 14, 2005
TAMPA, Nov. 13 -- For Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden, there was a brief moment of indecision about going for two points and the victory instead of kicking an extra point and playing for a tie and overtime in the final minute of his team's 36-35 victory over the Washington Redskins Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Kicking the extra point, he said, "crossed my mind, but after the second penalty, I wouldn't have been able to wake up tomorrow not knowing what we would have done with Mike Alstott. Our goal-line offense has been pretty good, and I wanted to give him a good look. We were inside the 1-yard line and I just thought it was the thing to do given the fact that Washington had moved the ball very well. There are no guarantees what happens in overtime."
And with Alstott, a 248-pound fullback who has made a 10-year career of short-yardage gains either on third down or near the goal line, there's an almost certain guarantee of success, even if Alstott has had a mostly diminished role in carrying the ball this season. Once again, Alstott came through, scoring from a yard out for the winning two points, even if the Redskins insisted they had stopped him short of the goal line.
"I'm not going to be that every-down feature back," Alstott said. "So if we can stay in the ballgame and we don't have to go to the passing game, then my role is going to increase. Luckily today, we were in the ballgame the whole time."
Alstott had scored two touchdowns on runs of two and one yards earlier in the game, his first two-touchdown game since the 2003 season. His carries have been fewer and further between this season because of the emergence of rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft, but he has still been used mostly as a blocking fullback to clear the way for Williams and backup Michael Pittman.
This season, Alstott only had 11 carries for 32 yards in the Bucs' first eight games, though he did catch 13 passes for 104 yards. On Sunday, his nine carries and 21 yards represented season highs, and after his heroics against the Redskins, his workload now seems likely to increase.
"We're going to try to keep him around here for years to come," Gruden said. "I realize his role as a ballcarrier has been reduced. But that could change as the season unfolds. We're working hard to get the running game going. He is a premier pro football player and one I'm just proud to be associated with. We're going to get a lot more out of him in the next seven games."
That would be just fine with Alstott, who publicly thanked the coach for putting the game in his hands at the end against the Redskins.
"We have less than a minute and he [Gruden] calls my number," Alstott said when asked how his performance Sunday ranked with his greatest moments with the franchise. "Other than the Super Bowl, yes, there's no question about it. It's probably number two with the Super Bowl, no question about it."
Alstott and several other Bucs praised Gruden for gambling on the two-point conversion.
"You have to put the trust in your team and your players and say, 'The heck with it,' " Alstott said. "You have to gamble once in a while, and when it happens and it's successful, it's always great. For me, it's a time to sit there and just grab it all in. Of all the ups and downs in my career, especially in the last three years, it's the best."
Cornerback Ronde Barber, Alstott's longtime teammate, said he was "excited" when Gruden went for the two points and gave the ball to Alstott.
"You can't second-guess him," Barber said. "It would be the worst thing for us to do as a team. He has the decisions. It's his fight. He's trying to establish a personality for us, and that was it."
Cornerback Juran Bolden also was thrilled for Alstott, whose name has been chanted in recent games by fans wanting Gruden to give him more playing time.
"Mike's been sitting around and everybody's been wanting to see Mike get the ball," Bolden said. "He's been so quiet in the locker room and he deserved to get in there. He gets my game ball, put it like that."