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Gradkowski, Bucs stun Bengals for first win of season

Oct 15, 2006 - 9:17 PM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are familiar with losing leads in the fourth quarter. They made the Cincinnati Bengals join the club.

Making his second start for injured Chris Simms, rookie Bruce Gradkowski hit Michael Clayton with an eight-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to lift the Buccaneers to their first win of the season, a 14-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams ran for 94 yards on 19 carries for Tampa Bay (1-4), which ended Cincinnati's eight-game winning streak against NFC opponents.

"That one hurts, when you lose a football game," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "We did some good things at times, but you have got to have an opportunity to close the football game out."

The Bucs' two previous setbacks came with the team holding fourth-quarter leads. On September 24, Tampa Bay fell to Carolina, 26-24, when John Kasay nailed a 46-yard field goal with two seconds left. Then last week, special teams allowed rookie Reggie Bush to return a punt 65 yards for a TD with 4:17 remaining in a 24-21 defeat.

On Sunday, the situation was the complete opposite as the Bucs faced a 13-7 deficit with 4:21 left.

"Gradkowski has had some moments of frustration, but it again just shows the promise this guy has," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "The will that he has and his ability to just put things aside. He made some great plays today. To bring your team down the field and score with (35) seconds left is a great accomplishment."

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Gradkowski took control on the Tampa Bay 46. He capped a nine-play, 54-yard drive with a strike to Clayton, who dove for the end zone, but lost the ball.

The original ruling on the field was an incomplete pass, but after a review from the booth it was ruled a touchdown.

"I felt pretty confident," said Gradkowski, who completed 25-of-44 passes for 184 yards with an interception. "I just wanted to get the ball in his (Clayton) hands and he would make the play."

"I know I stretched out across the goal line. I didn't have any doubt," Clayton said. "Some calls like that have been a little fishy. So I was a little scared. Not really a big fan of it

The Bengals tried to maximize the little time they had remaining.

Cincinnati's Carson Palmer found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 19 yards and then 17 more, setting up a 62-yard field goal attempt by Shayne Graham, who missed wide right and short.

"We thought we had an opportunity to kick the field goal if we got a little bit further than that," Lewis said. "But [Graham] said 'give me a shot.' Your chances of [scoring a touchdown] there from the 40 aren't very good the other way. So, that was out best shot to get the points."

Palmer threw for 261 yards and a TD and Houshmandzadeh hauled in 10 catches for 102 yards and a score for the Bengals (3-2), who have dropped two in a row.

"We're not playing that good on offense," Houshmandzadeh said. "But at the end of the day we had the ball, regardless of how the game was going, with five minutes left. You get a couple of first downs and with that one timeout, the game was over. We didn't."

"It's a tough loss," Palmer said. "It's a team we think we have a chance to beat and we should beat. We just didn't play well and we got outplayed."

Cincinnati opened the scoring 5:52 into the second quarter when Palmer hooked up with a leaping Houshmandzadeh for a 33-yard score.

Tampa Bay drew even with 6:43 left in the third quarter when Gradkowski found tight end Alex Smith from two yards out.

Graham added a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter for a 10-7 edge and after a 51-yard reception by Chad Johnson, Graham split the uprights from 47 yards with 10:39 left.

The loss by the Bengals kept them in second place in the AFC North behind Baltimore (4-2), which lost to Carolina.

The Bucs won the NFC South title last season after a 4-0 start. Now they are trying to recover from an 0-4 start.

"We have to dig ourselves out of this (1-4) hole one game at a time," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said.

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