The Buccaneers franchise played its first-ever regular season game in Buffalo on Sunday, and based on the results, Tampa Bay might not want to ever come back.
The Bucs trailed the Bills 17-0 by the end of the first quarter and wound up losing, 33-20, as Fred Jackson trampled Tampa Bay for a career-high 163 yards on 28 carries (5.8 avg.), and a swarming Buffalo defense took away the Bucs’ potent running game and picked off Byron Leftwich twice in the first 15 minutes, with safety Donte Whitner returning one interception 76 yards for a touchdown.
“We dug ourselves into a very big hole today,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich did rebound, completing 26-of-50 passes for 296 yards, and threw three touchdowns over the remaining three quarters, but it wasn’t enough to make up for a Buccaneers defense that has been shredded for exactly 900 yards over the first two weeks of the 2009 season.
After giving up 462 yards in a 34-21 loss to Dallas, Buffalo stampeded to 438 yards against Tampa Bay, including 218 yards on the ground on 35 carries (6.4 avg.) with Jackson leading the way due to numerous missed tackles.
“We’ve got to play better,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “We’ve got to tackle better. We’ve got to play faster. We’ve got to do some different things on defense to win. … We’ve got to be better at starting games and we’ve got to be better at finishing games.”
While the Bucs secondary tightened up its coverage after getting ravaged for 353 passing yards against Dallas, allowing just one big passing play – a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to Terrell Owens, who finished with three catches for 52 yards – Tampa Bay had no answer for Jackson.
“The plan today to stop the run was to use a seven-man front, and obviously we failed at that,” Morris said. “They have a very good running back in Jackson. He came up and ran the ball very well and broke some tackles and made people miss. They ran the football on us well today.
“We jumped into some cover 2 and some quarters and some man-free and they exploited a couple matchups. They won a couple and we lost a couple. We have to find a healthy balance and how to win football games.”
Because the Bucs fell behind early, the team was forced to pass more often than it wanted to in order to catch up, rushing only 19 times for 57 yards (3.0 avg.) just one week after rushing for 174 yards against Dallas.
“That’s not the kind of games we’re going to win,” Morris said. “When we have to go out there and throw it around like that and only have 19 rushing attempts – that’s not our type of game.”
The Bucs didn’t help themselves with penalties, racking up 112 yards on 13 penalties, including four facemask penalties for 60 yards, and have to get that cleaned up.
The Bucs also need to get star receiver Antonio Bryant healthy. Tampa Bay was playing without Bryant, who did not make the trip due to a knee injury, but tight end Kellen Winslow picked up the slack and led the way for the Buccaneers with 90 receiving yards on seven catches, including a 42-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Despite falling behind 17-0 early, the Bucs rebounded before halftime to close the margin to 20-14 thanks to a 72-yard fumble recovery by safety Sabby Piscitelli that set up an 8-yard touchdown catch by Cadillac Williams. Piscitelli rebounded from a tough outing against Dallas to record nine tackles and his first interception of the season in addition to the fumble recovery.
After the game, Morris said his defense and his team would bounce back from a 0-2 start and that the Buccaneers’ confidence isn’t shaken heading into a Week 3 home contest against the New York Giants.
“No, I’m not worried about the confidence, these guys just have to play better,” Morris said. “You could have been worried about Sabby’s confidence after last week, but he came out and made two big-time plays today. These guys bounce back. They’ll bounce back quickly. That front will respond. I don’t worry about this young football team.”
Buffalo used its first possession to open up a lead, starting from its own 46-yard line. Owens took a reverse for 13 yards to move the ball into Tampa Bay territory on first down. After Jackson picked up nine yards on two carries, Trent Edwards, who was 21-of-31 for 230 yards with two TDs and one pick, found Lee Evans down the right sidelines for a 32-yard score on third-and-1. Evans beat cornerback Ronde Barber on the play, and with 11:31 left in the first quarter, Buffalo led 7-0.
After Tampa Bay started off its first drive with a three-and-out, its second drive showed more promise. Leftwich moved the chains by completing a 12-yard pass to Cadillac Williams and a 23-yard strike to Stovall on third-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 38. The drive proceeded to the Buffalo 25 after a 10-yard pass to Sammie Stroughter from Leftwich, who was 4-for-4 on the drive until throwing an interception to safety Whitner on the next play. On first down, Leftwich’s pass to Williams was too high and picked off by Whitner, who raced 76 yards down the right sidelines for a touchdown to give Buffalo a commanding, 14-0 lead with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
Another Leftwich interception doomed the Bucs’ next drive that was highlighted by 27 yards on the ground in three carries by Derrick Ward, who led the Bucs with 32 yards on nine carries. After marching to the Buffalo 43, Leftwich’s pass to Stroughter across the middle was intercepted by safety Byran Scott at the 28 and returned 25 yards to the Tampa Bay 47. A facemask penalty on Winslow tacked on 15 yards to set up Buffalo at the Bucs’ 32. Morris challenged the interception because the ball flew out of Stroughter’s hands and came close to touching the ground before Scott made the pick, but instant replay upheld the decision on the field with 2:12 left in the first quarter.
The Bills picked up a first down when rookie tight end Shawn Nelson picked up a 13-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 13. But the Buffalo drive stalled and Rian Lindell was forced to attempt a 31-yard field goal, which was good. With nine seconds left in the first quarter, Buffalo increased its lead to 17-0.
Leftwich continued to sling the ball in the second quarter, hitting Ward with a 4-yard gain on first down, and finding Michael Clayton for 23 yards two plays later. On second-and-9 from the Buffalo 42, Leftwich hit Winslow with a touchdown strike across the middle. Winslow had a step on cornerback Terrence McGee and made a nice, fingertip catch and waltzed into the end zone. The Bucs’ five-play, 77-yard drive consumed 2:14 seconds, and with 12:55 left before halftime, Buffalo’s lead was cut to 17-7.
The Bills answered back on their next possession, driving 48 yards in nine plays. Edwards converted on fourth-and-inches at the Buffalo 36 with a 2-yard quarterback sneak. A facemask penalty on defensive end Gaines Adams tacked on 15 yards after Edwards’ run. Another facemask penalty, this time on cornerback Aqib Talib, who tackled Owens after a 2-yard gain, moved the chains for Buffalo again. But after advancing to the Tampa Bay 27, the Bills’ drive stalled at the 25 and Lindell was forced to kick another field goal. With 9:50 left in the second quarter, Lindell’s 43-yard field goal was good and Buffalo’s lead increased to 20-7.
It looked like Buffalo was going to put the game away right before halftime as it drove 83 yards down to the Tampa Bay 14-yard line thanks to 57 yards rushing from Jackson on five carries and a 20-yard scramble by Edwards. But on first down at the 14, Jackson was tackled for a 2-yard loss by Barber and coughed up the football, which was retrieved in mid-air by Piscitelli, who raced 72 yards down the left sidelines to the Buffalo 8 before being tracked down by Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish with 32 seconds left before halftime.
On first down at the Bills’ 8, Leftwich fired a strike to Williams near the goal line in between two defenders for a touchdown and with 27 seconds left in the second quarter, Buffalo’s lead had been cut to 20-14.
After Ward was stuffed for a 1-yard loss on a failed fourth-and-1 attempt at the Buffalo 43 with 4:56 left in the third quarter, Buffalo took over at its own 44. After picking up two first downs and marching to the Tampa Bay 32, Edwards overthrew Josh Reed and had his pass picked off by Piscitelli at the 10-yard line. Piscitelli lateralled the ball to middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who returned it 21 yards to the Tampa Bay 31. However, the Bucs couldn’t pick up a first down and had to punt after three downs.
Buffalo drove into Buccaneers territory to start the fourth quarter, starting with a 9-yard end around by Parrish. A 14-yard pass to Reed on third-and-3 picked up a first down and moved the Bills across midfield. Catches by Jackson for nine yards and Reed for 11 yards picked up two first downs and drove the Bills to the Buccaneers’ 12. But after Buffalo only picked up three yards over the next three plays, Lindell kicked a 27-yard field the Bills had a double-digit lead, 23-14 with 11:23 left in the game.
After Tampa Bay’s offense went three-and-out for the second time in the second half, Buffalo put the game away on its next possession. The Bills took just three plays to score a touchdown, which came on a 43-yard touchdown to Owens on first down. Owens had a step on Talib down the right sidelines and atoned for an earlier drop on a play that could have gone for a touchdown in the second quarter. With 9:16 left in the game, the Bills led 30-14.
Tampa Bay’s next possession started at its own 20 and Leftwich guided the team down the field with some clutch passing amid a blitzing Bills defense. Although a 17-yard pass to Williams advanced the ball to the Bucs’ 37, a 10-yard illegal block by Stroughter made the net gain only five yards. A 19-yard strike to Stovall gave the Bucs a first down at their own 47. On third-and-10, Leftwich flipped the ball to Williams for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the Buffalo 43. On fourth-and-10, Leftwich heaved the ball up and Stovall came down with it along the left sidelines for a 38-yard gain down to the Buffalo 5. On fourth-and-goal from the 6, Leftwich threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens, who made a nice, one-handed catch. A two-point conversion pass to Stovall failed, but Buffalo’s lead was cut to 30-20 with 5:27 left in the game.
But Jackson, who had gashed the Bucs defense all game, saved his biggest run for the Bills’ next possession. On second-and-7 from the Buffalo 46, Jackson ripped off a 43-yard run up the middle as Piscitelli, Ruud, Barber, Talib and Phillips all whiffed on making the tackle before Ruud and Geno Hayes finally got him down at the Tampa Bay 11. However, the Bucs defense held and Lindell was forced to kick a 20-yard field goal. With 1:57 left in the game, Buffalo’s lead swelled to 33-20, which would be the final score.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME Bucs strong safety Sabby Piscitelli had to endure a tough week of self-scrutiny, plus loads of criticism from fans, the media and undoubtedly his Tampa Bay teammates and coaches for allowing two big pass plays last week, including an 80-yard touchdown to Patrick Crayton in the Bucs’ 34-21 loss to Dallas. But the third-year defensive back rebounded quite nicely in Week 2, making a couple big plays against Buffalo that stymied two drives by the Bills offense.
With less than a minute left before halftime, Fred Jackson fumbled the ball while being tackled by cornerback Ronde Barber. The ball was tossed up into the air where an alert Piscitelli snatched it at the Tampa Bay 20 and raced 72 yards down the left sidelines for an apparent touchdown, but Piscitelli was tackled at the Buffalo 8-yard line by speedy receiver Roscoe Parrish. With 32 seconds left, the Bucs would score a touchdown to make the Buffalo lead only six points at the half.
That play was the third-longest fumble return in team history. Piscitelli also had a third quarter interception, the first of his season and the third of his young career.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… The Bucs were trailing 23-14 in the fourth quarter, but were still in position to win the game before Terrell Owens’ 43-yard touchdown catch with 9:16 remaining increased Buffalo’s lead to 30-14. Owens had a step on cornerback Aqib Talib and hauled in Trent Edwards’ bomb right at the goal line. The Bucs would score a touchdown with less than six minutes left, but Buffalo’s lead had proved to be insurmountable after Owens’ touchdown.
STATS THAT COUNT Sean Mahan got the start at center in place of the injured Jeff Faine, while Maurice Stovall started at split end in place of the injured Antonio Bryant. Stovall had a career-high 80 yards on three catches, including a career-long 38-yarder. … Backup quarterback Josh Johnson saw action in his first NFL game against Buffalo, lining up at wide receiver for two plays. … Tampa Bay gave up its first sack of the season when Byron Leftwich was dropped for no gain by defensive tackle Marcus Stroud in the first quarter. Leftwich was also sacked for no gain in the fourth quarter. … Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller recorded his first NFL sack when he dropped Trent Edwards for two yards in the third quarter. … Jimmy Wilkerson recorded his first sack of the season when he dropped Edwards for an 8-yard loss from the defensive tackle position. … Running back Cadillac Williams had a career-high seven catches for 56 yards and scored his first-ever receiving touchdown. … Tight end Kellen Winslow caught his second touchdown in as many games and leads the team with two. … Tight end Jerramy Stevens caught his first touchdown pass of the season. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the Bucs with 14 tackles, while weakside linebacker Geno Hayes totaled 10 tackles. … New Bucs defensive end Tim Crowder saw action in his first game with Tampa Bay, notching two tackles.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton TE Kellen Winslow LT Donald Penn LG Jeremy Zuttah C Sean Mahan RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Jerramy Stevens FB B.J. Askew RB Cadillac Williams QB Byron Leftwich
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Ryan Sims DT Chris Hovan RE Gaines Adams WLB Geno Hayes MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Quincy Black LCB Aqib Talib RCB Ronde Barber FS Jermaine Phillips SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Josh Freeman (emergency QB) C Jeff Faine WR Antonio Bryant DE Kyle Moore DE Dre Moore OT Demar Dotson OL Marc Dile TE John Gilmore
BUCS' IN-GAME INJURIES Nickel cornerback Elbert Mack left the game after tackling Trent Edwards after a 20-yard scramble in the last minute of the first half. He was replaced by Torrie Cox. Cornerback Aqib Talib was injured early in the third quarter after going low to tackle running back Fred Jackson, but returned on the next play. Linebacker Geno Hayes left the game at the 13:03 mark in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Matt McCoy for a series before returning.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium was 70,318 The kickoff temperature was 74 degrees under sunny skies with 44 percent humidity and a feels-like temperature of the mid-60s degrees.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (0-2) return home to Tampa to face the New York Giants (1-0) at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, September 27. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com