Tampa Bay’s defense picked off Carson Palmer twice and scored 10 points in the last 1:26 of the game to stage an unbelievable, last-second rally to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, 24-21, to move to an astonishing 3-1 record this season. The Bucs won only three games a year ago and finished 3-13.
“They are a resilient football team,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of his team after the win. “They are young and they keep getting better and better.”
Leading 21-14 with 2:28 left and with Tampa Bay out of timeouts, the Bengals curiously elected to throw the ball on third-and-13 from their own 38 instead of running the ball to kill more time off the clock and then punt. Cornerback Aqib Talib made Palmer pay for that decision by stepping in front of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and picking him off at midfield.
“They threw the ball and we got an interception,” Morris said. “We got the ball back for our offense and Josh went out and executed like he had been all day. He knew exactly what to do with the football and get us a big-time win.”
On third-and-4 from the Cincinnati 44, quarterback Josh Freeman scrambled for a 9-yard gain down to the 35-yard line. On first down, Freeman hit rookie wide receiver Mike Williams for a 15-yard pass in front of cornerback Johnathan Joseph. On the next play, Freeman threw a fade pass to Williams, who out-jumped Joseph for the ball to score a 20-yard touchdown.
“The game is 60 minutes and it’s a matter of who can make the most plays and ultimately who has the most points on the board,” said Freeman, who completed 20-of-33 passes for 280 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “It’s not for who is leading the longest. It’s who is leading at the end of the game. Today we had a number of guys step up and make huge plays – look at Sabby [Piscitelli], Cody Grimm and Earnest Graham, who had a huge day. Also, Mike Williams stepped up big for us at the end. It was awesome to see him step up and respond like that because we hadn’t got him all that involved early on.”
The touchdown by Williams, who redeemed himself after fumbling the ball in the second half at the Cincinnati 4-yard line, tied the score, 21-21, with 1:26 left. The Bengals were driving into field goal range, but an offensive pass interference penalty negated a 9-yard gain and set the Bengals up with a first-and-20 situation at the Cincinnati 47. That’s when safety Piscitelli, who replaced Sean Jones in the starting lineup and played the entire game, caught a pass that bounced off Ochocinco’s hands and returned the interception 30 yards to the Bengals’ 34 with 14 seconds left.
“He went into a funk for a little bit,” Morris said of Piscitelli losing his starting job to Sean Jones, who was benched after being ineffective for the first three games. “It’s expected. I don’t expect you to lose your job tomorrow and bounce back out of it the next day. You are going to be in a funk for a little bit. You are going to have to fight through some demons. Me and Sabby have a great relationship and there is no person that can come into my office and sit down and talk to me like Sabby can. Sometimes it’s emotional. Sometimes it’s hugs. Sometimes it’s fights. … I knew he would bounce back and I knew that we would need him. That’s big of him to do today. I’m proud of him.”
On first down, Freeman rifled a 21-yard pass to Micheal Spurlock, who made a tiptoe catch at the Bengals 13 with five seconds left after previously fumbling the ball away on a kick return. Connor Barth, who has been perfect all year, came out and nailed a 31-yard field goal on the next play to cap off an improbable rally and prevail 24-21.
In the span of two minutes, the Bucs had picked off Palmer twice and scored 10 points in the final 1:26 in a furious comeback. Palmer finished the day 21-of-36 for 209 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bucs had three turnovers themselves – a Freeman interception, Williams’ fumble and Spurlock’s fumbled kick return – which led to 11 Bengals points, but managed to overcome them.
The game-changing play was the interception by Talib, who gave up a 43-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to Terrell Owens. It was extremely foolish for the Bengals to pass the ball on third-and-13 with just over two minutes remaining instead of running the ball, especially since running back Cedric Benson had rolled up 144 yards on 23 carries (6.3 avg.) and scored on a two-point conversion to put the Bengals ahead 21-14 early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s not my job to make decisions for the Cincinnati Bengals,” Morris said, when asked about the Bengals’ play call in that situation. “It’s my job to go out and coach the best game we can play. That was a situation he chose to do and we had to go out there and make a call.”
Tampa Bay’s defense was opportunistic, but for the second straight game, struggled to run the ball and defend the run and showed why they are the 28th-ranked team against the run. The Bucs gave up 149 yards and a 5.3-yard average to the Bengals ground game on 28 carries.
The Bucs rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries, but those stats were skewed by a 61-yard fullback dive by Earnest Graham, who also scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.
Cadillac Williams struggled running the ball and had 10 yards on nine carries at halftime before finishing with 33 yards on 11 totes. He also dropped all three pass attempts that were thrown his way.
Rookie LeGarrette Blount only got four carries – all in the second half – and finished with just three yards. Kareem Huggins had his first NFL carry in the first half, which went for four yards.
In order for the Bucs to continue their winning ways, the team will have to be more consistent running the ball and defending the run, especially against the 3-1 New Orleans Saints. The defending Super Bowl champions will come to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for a big NFC South battle.
On Sunday the Bengals got on the scoreboard first on a three-play drive that was set up by a 28-yard punt return to the Cincinnati 46 by Adam Jones. After a 5-yard reception by tight end Jermaine Gresham and a 7-yard run by Benson, Carson Palmer hit Terrell Owens with a 43-yard touchdown pass, who beat Aqib Talib in coverage down the left sideline. With 4:09 left in the first quarter, the Bengals led 7-0.
After Chris Bryan’s punt pinned Cincinnati back to its own 6-yard line, and a holding penalty set up the Bengals with a first-and-13 from its own 3, Grimm stepped in front of Owens in the left flat, intercepted Palmer and returned the pick 11 yards for a touchdown. With 14:32 left in the second quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
Tampa Bay had the chance for a potential scoring opportunity after Ken Huber’s punt was partially deflected by linebacker Geno Hayes and only traveled 28 yards before going out of bounds. Freeman was 4-of-4 for 46 yards, including a 15-yarder down to the Cincinnati 4 to rookie receiver Mike Williams, but Williams fumbled to end the drive.
That turnover would prove costly as the Bengals would march down and get a score right before halftime. On second-and-9 from the 19, Benson ripped off a 22-yard run out to the 41-yard line. Benson then caught a 13-yard pass from Palmer down to the Tampa Bay 41. Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for a 19-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 28. Palmer connected with Gresham for 10 yards down to the 18, but the drive was stymied at the 13 and Mike Nugent was brought out for a field goal. Nugent’s 31-yard field goal was good and with 33 seconds left in the first half, Cincinnati led 10-3.
The Bucs took the lead in the third quarter as Freeman began to heat up. He opened Tampa Bay’s second possession with an 18-yard strike to Arrelious Benn and then scrambled for 12 yards in a third-and-11 situation. Freeman then hit tight end John Gilmore with an 11-yard toss to the Cincinnati 40 before finding Winslow downfield for a 22-yard gain. Freeman then threw an incompletion to Mike Williams, but cornerback Leon Hall was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, which set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-goal at the 1. Earnest Graham, who had a 61-yard run on a fullback dive in the second quarter, scored a 1-yard touchdown from the halfback position. With 5:28 left in the third, Tampa Bay led 14-10.
The Bengals roared back with a scoring drive of their own. Benson ripped off runs of 18 and 11 yards on the first two plays of the drive and set Cincinnati up at the Tampa Bay 43. A 7-yard catch by Benson gave the Bengals a first down on third-and-6 before a 13-yard run gave Cincinnati another first down at the Tampa Bay 19. But the Bucs defense would stiffen inside the red zone and force a 35-yard field goal by Nugent. With 1:29 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was trimmed to 14-13.
Micheal Spurlock fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, giving Cincinnati the ball at the Tampa Bay 29. On third-and-9 from the 28-yard line, fullback Brian Leonard caught an 11-yard pass to move the chains. On the next play, Benson ripped off a 9-yard run down to the Tampa Bay 8. On the next play, Benson rushed for six yards down to the Tampa Bay 2. On second-and-goal from the 1, Palmer tosses a 1-yard touchdown to Gresham. Benson’s run up the middle gave the Bengals a two-point conversion and a 21-14 lead with 12:12 left before the Bucs’ rally.STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber made NFL history when he recorded his 171st consecutive start on Sunday. That ties the record held by Dick LeBeau for cornerbacks. … Rookie Arrelious Benn got his first NFL start at flanker in place of Sammie Stroughter and finished with two catches for 25 yards. Stroughter finished the game with three receptions for 39 yards. … Rookie split end Mike Williams had his best NFL game with seven catches for 99 yards and one touchdown. … Tight end Kellen Winslow had six catches for 75 yards. … Linebacker Geno Hayes deflected a punt in the second quarter. … Safeties Cody Grimm and Sabby Piscitelli recorded their first interceptions of the year. The INT was Piscitelli’s fourth of his career. Grimm’s pick, which was returned for a touchdown, was his first career INT. … Cornerback Aqib Talib registered his team-leading third interception on Sunday. Talib has an interception in three straight games. … Tampa Bay out-gained Cincinnati 391-358 yards and had a 45 percent (5-of-11) to 31 percent (4-of-13) advantage on third down conversions. … For the third time this year, the Bucs did not record a sack.SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS' STARTING OFFENSE
WR Mike Williams
TE John Gilmore
LT Donald Penn
LG Keydrick Vincent
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Arrelious Benn
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
C Ted Larsen
DT Ryan Sims
CB Myron Lewis
FB Chris Pressley
WR Maurice Stovall
WR Preston ParkerBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Tampa Bay strong safety Sean Jones suffered an injury on the first play of the game and did not return. He was replaced by Sabby Piscitelli, who played the rest of the game.
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was injured late in the first quarter after getting hit after throwing the ball by defensive end Frostee Rucker. Josh Johnson came in for a few plays before Freeman returned in the second quarter.
Center Jeff Faine was injured on Johnathan Joseph’s interception of Freeman in the second quarter. Faine was taken into the locker room for what was believed to be a quadriceps injury. Faine was replaced by Jeremy Zuttah and did not return to the game.
Defensive tackle Brian Price injured his right leg right before halftime, but did return in the second half.
Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes was injured with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and left the game but did return.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium was 63,888. The kickoff temperature was 82 degrees under sunny skies with 32 percent humidity. UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (3-1) will return home to Raymond James Stadium to face the New Orleans Saints (3-2) on Sunday, October 17. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised locally on Fox if the contest sells out.
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