Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris indicated that this week’s game against the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers would serve as a measuring stick for his undefeated club. As it turns out, this young Tampa Bay team is still in a rebuilding mode and just don’t measure up yet, losing to Pittsburgh 38-13 in front of a crowd of 60,000 fans evenly split between Steelers and Bucs fans.
“We played a heavyweight today,” Morris said. “They were more physical and more aggressive and more opportunistic. We missed out on a lot of our ops in the first half and we weren’t able to capitalize.”
Quarterback Josh Freeman, who was 20-of-31 for 184 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, was a bit more optimistic despite the fact that the scoreboard was lopsided in Pittsburgh’s favor.
“That loss does not feel like a loss like we had last year like we had playing the Jets and playing the Giants,” Freeman said, referencing two games last year in which the Bucs lost by a combined 50-3 margin. “It doesn’t feel at all like that. They didn’t come out and really dominate us. I mean, the scoreboard will show that, but at the same time, I feel like our team’s mentality was that we could play with those guys – we just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were presented.”
“For our offense it was about not capitalizing on our opportunities and hurting ourselves. Our defense put us in a great position. It would have been awesome to come away with seven points rather than three. We were unable to do that.”
The Bucs had to settle for two field goals in the first half and were only trailing 7-6 at one point before Pittsburgh ripped off 31 unaswered points.
“Field goals don’t win games in this league,” Freeman said. “You have to come away with seven when you get down in the red zone. We were unable to do so when we needed to do that this week.”
While some may have thought Tampa Bay was catching a break by not having to play Ben Roethlisberger, who is still serving a suspension, or Dennis Dixon, who suffered a knee injury last week, 13-year old veteran Charlie Batch showed he can still deliver as a starter. After throwing an interception on his first pass, Batch connected on 12 of his next 16 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bucs defense, which came into the game allowing only 21 points all year, had surrendered 28 at halftime and could not stop Pittsburgh’s ground game, which was led by Rashard Mendenhall, or wide receiver Mike Wallace.
The loss of free safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended for a year this week due to another failed drug test, was felt immediately. Jackson’s replacement, rookie Cody Grimm, a seventh-round draft pick, did not fare well and gave up two touchdowns – one to Wallace in the first quarter and another one to Hines Ward in the second quarter right before halftime as Pittsburgh built a 28-6 lead.
After the game, Morris refused to say that Grimm was overmatched.
“No, you don’t want to say that,” Morris said. “You have to go watch the film and evaluate what is going on. I remember the one play from Cody – the deep ball – but other than that, we’ll have an opportunity to go look at the tape.
“You don’t judge a man on the first game of his professional career. If that was the case, Tanard Jackson would have never been a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.”
Jackson’s stout run defense was also missed as Mendenhall gashed the Bucs for 143 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries as the Steelers rolled up 201 rushing yards, while Wallace had three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone.
The Steelers defense shut the Bucs down on third down and sacked Freeman four times and produced a pick-six in the fourth quarter.
Yet for as much as Pittsburgh beat Tampa Bay, the Bucs did a pretty good job of beating themselves. Three bad bounces cost Tampa Bay 21 points.
The first untimely bounce happened when Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams fumbled the ball right into the hands of safety Ryan Clark at the Tampa Bay 41-yard line in the second quarter.
“Some days we’re going to be the team that catches those bounces and picks up the fumbles and things like that,” Williams said. “We weren’t that team today. They were the better team today. We just have to fight back.”
Two plays later, cornerback Aqib Talib had an easy interception bounce out of his hands and into the arms of Wallace for a touchdown that put Pittsburgh ahead 14-6.
“That’s why he plays cornerback – they can’t catch,” Wallace said. “I always got to play the ball. He made a good play on it, but he dropped it and I caught it.”
The third mishap occurred in the fourth quarter when Freeman’s pass bounced out of the hands of Sammie Stroughter and into the arms of defensive end Brett Keisel, who returned the interception 79 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers up 38-6.
“Sometimes it bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t,” Freeman said.
As the Bucs enter the bye week, Morris stressed the positive, 2-0 start rather than dwell on Tampa Bay’s 38-6 drubbing at the hands of Pittsburgh.
“We are 2-1 and looking at the big picture going into the bye,” Morris said. “We’re 2-1 and there are a lot of things to be positive from this first part of the season.”
Talib picked off Batch’s first pass attempt, which was intended for Wallace, at the Pittsburgh 31 to kick start the Bucs’ scoring. But after going three-and-out, Tampa Bay had to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Connor Barth. With 12:10 left in the first quarter, the Bucs opened up a 3-0 lead.
After a three-and-out, Pittsburgh took advantage of the loss of Jackson as Batch connected with Mike Wallace for a 46-yard touchdown over Grimm, who had replaced Jackson in the starting lineup. With 7:53 left, Pittsburgh claimed the lead, 7-3.
On their next drive, the Bucs marched 74 yards in 15 plays, consuming 8:45 off the clock, but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Barth when Freeman’s pass to wide receiver Sammie Stroughter only picked up six yards on third-and-goal from the 10. Blount made his Buccaneers debut on this drive, picking up 26 yards on four carries, including a 12-yarder on his first tote. With 14:08 left in the second quarter, Pittsburgh’s lead was cut to 7-6.
Pittsburgh answered on its next possession, with Mendenhall and Batch leading the way on a six-play, 67-yard drive. Mendenhall ripped off a 15-yard run on first down from the Pittsburgh 33. On third-and-6 from the 48, Batch scrambled up the middle for a 24-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 25. On the next play, Batch hit tight end Heath Miller for a 22-yard reception down to the Tampa Bay 3. Mendenhall’s 3-yard touchdown run on the next play gave Pittsburgh a 14-6 lead with 10:19 left in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay had a turnover on its next drive as Williams fumbled the ball into the hands of Clark after a 9-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 44. On second-and-7, Batch fired a pass to the end zone that appeared to be picked off by Talib, but the cornerback bobbled the ball right into the hands of Wallace for a 41-yard touchdown. With 7:20 left in the second quarter, Pittsburgh went on top 21-6.
Pittsburgh put the game out of reach after an 11-play, 79-yard drive resulted in the Steelers’ fourth offensive touchdown of the day. Batch hit Antwaan Randle El for a 13-yard gain on third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 37. Batch then completed passes to Wallace, Hines Ward and Mewelde Moore for gains of 13, 19 and seven yards. On third-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 3, Batch fired a strike to Ward in between middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and Grimm. With 16 seconds left in the first half, Pittsburgh’s lead swelled to 28-6.
The Steelers added a 24-yard Jeff Reed field goal with 2:23 left in the third quarter to go up 31-6 and then tacked on a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter. After a 46-yard screen pass to fullback Earnest Graham set up Tampa Bay at the Pittsburgh 17, Keisel picked off Freeman’s pass that bounced off the hands of Stroughter and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. With 14:44 left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh’s lead grew to 38-6.
Josh Johnson replaced Freeman with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter and engineered a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Johnson was 5-of-5 for 58 yards with rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn accounting for 33 of those yards on three catches. Rookie running back LeGarrette Blount scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal. With 1:54 left in the game, Pittsburgh’s lead had been reduced slightly to 38-13.
For all of the Bucs fans that were upset that ownership didn’t step up and purchase the few thousand remaining tickets to this game to ensure it would be blacked out, the Glazers actually did them a favor. Most Tampa Bay fans would be glad they didn’t witness this massacre.STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson saw his first action of the year on Sunday. He threw a 9-yard pass in the second quarter as Tampa Bay’s wildcat quarterback and then replaced Josh Freeman with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter. Johnson finished the game 6-of-6 for 67 yards. Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib had his second interception in as many weeks and is tied for the team lead with Ronde Barber, who also has two. Barber and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud were tied for the team tackle lead with nine. … Bucs strongside linebacker Quincy Black had his first interception of the season and the second of his career on Sunday. … Bucs wide receiver Arrelious Benn made his first NFL reception, a 13-yard gain, in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with three catches for 33 yards. … Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Cadillac Williams were tied for the team lead with five catches. Williams, the receiver had 55 yards, while the other Williams had 33 receiving yards. … Bucs punter Chris Bryan had a horrible day with a 31-yard average and a 29.4-yard net.SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Mike Williams
LT Donald Penn
LG Keydrick Vincent
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE John Gilmore
WR Sammie Stroughter
FB Earnest Graham
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Kyle Moore
DT Gerald McCoy
DT Roy Miller
RE Stylez G. White
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Cody Grimm
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
RB Kareem Huggins
C Ted Larsen
DE Michael Bennett
CB Myron Lewis
LB Niko Koutouvides
WR Maurice StovallBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Tampa Bay did not have any reported injuries during the Pittsburgh game.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Steelers game at Raymond James Stadium was 61,036 and the stadium was nearly at capacity thanks in large part to Pittsburgh fans. The kickoff temperature was 90 degrees under cloudy skies with 62 percent humidity for a 100-degree heat index. UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (2-1) have a bye week and will travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals (2-1) on Sunday, October 10. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised locally on Fox.
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