TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- John Lynch mingled and posed for pictures
with old friends, then savored one more round of applause before
heading for the visiting locker room teary-eyed and deeply
The Denver safety's emotional return to Tampa Bay was a success
Sunday, with the Broncos beating the winless Buccaneers 16-13
despite a potentially game-turning gentlemanly mistake by the
five-time Pro Bowl selection with a reputation for delivering
"You caught me at a bad moment," Lynch said when told he
appeared to have tears streaming from his eyes when he walked
through the tunnel leading from the field.
"I think finally everything hit me. I anticipated that might
come at some point. Last night, to be honest, I didn't sleep a
wink. I don't know if I was that nervous for the Super Bowl."
Jake Plummer threw a 5-yard TD pass to Patrick Hape and Jason
Elam kicked three field goals to keep Denver (3-1) atop the AFC
West. Tampa Bay's only touchdown came on a play on which Lynch
failed to knock down a receiver who was getting up off the ground.
Instead, Lynch merely touched Michael Clayton on the back,
thinking the rookie was down. Clayton, whose helmet was knocked off
when his head was brushed by Lynch's knee, stood up and took off
for the end zone to complete a 51-yard pass play.
Lynch, who was fined for a hit on Kansas City's Dante Hall after
the Broncos' season opener, said he didn't want to risk a penalty
for hitting a player on the ground.
"It's a shame. Ultimately the responsibility lays on me. I've
got to tackle him," Lynch said.
"There's a new league emphasis. If they're laying down and you
hit them, you're going to get 15 yards. I tried to do the right
thing for the first time in my career and keep (the NFL) out of my
pocket, and I get burned."
Plummer completed 13 of 31 passes for 138 yards for Denver,
saving his best for the fourth quarter -- when he took advantage of
a 37-yard pass interference penalty to set up Elam's 24-yard field
goal that snapped a 13-13 tie with 9:03 to go.
The Denver quarterback also put together a long drive that
burned all but three seconds of the final 7:26 off the clock. Tampa
Bay inserted Chris Simms for the last play, and Lynch nearly
intercepted his desperation pass near midfield.
The loss was the sixth straight over two seasons for the Bucs
(0-4), who have dropped 10 of their last 13 games. The Bucs are 0-4
for the first time since 1996, and coach Jon Gruden fell to 1-8 in
matchups with Denver's Mike Shanahan.
"Clearly our objective, and my objective, was to come in here
and win," said Lynch, who spent 11 seasons in Tampa Bay. "But I
feel for my guys. There are some mixed emotions. I told them to
just keep fighting, and I know they will."
Lynch was presented with a key to the city after the Bucs, a
little more than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl,
released him in mid-March in a cost-cutting move that was very
unpopular with fans.
Many in the crowd of 65,341 wore No. 47 Broncos jerseys and
greeted Lynch, who played 11 seasons in Tampa Bay, with a loud
ovation when he ran onto the field for pregame warmups and again
when the starting lineups were introduced.
It was another frustrating day for the Tampa Bay offense, which
had some success moving the ball but had to settle for field goals
by Martin Gramatica of 28 and 30 yards on two possessions deep in
Michael Pittman returned from a three-game suspension for
violating the NFL's personal conduct policy and rushed for 72 yards
on 15 carries for the Bucs. Brad Johnson completed 15 of 23 passes
for 162 yards, including the TD throw to Clayton.
Denver moved 43 yards in seven plays after recovering a fumble
to take a 7-0 lead on Plummer's scoring pass to Hape, a former Bucs
tight end who was wide open heading into the right side of the end
Elam's 49-yard field goal made it 10-0 and his 50-yarder put the
Broncos up 13-7 after Clayton scored his first NFL touchdown.
The Tampa Bay rookie was still crouched over with his right hand
on the ground at about the 20, but his knees were clearly up when
Lynch -- running at full speed -- touched him on the back instead of
making the tackle.
"It was a perfect call, a perfect play, perfect coverage,"
Clayton said. "I wish it could have sparked us a little more."
Denver's Quentin Griffin rushed for 66 yards on 21 carries
after being held to 7 yards on 12 attempts by San Diego the
previous week. ... Tampa Bay's Tim Brown had one catch for 3 yards,
extending the NFL's longest streak with a reception to 176 games.