View Full Version : Steelers bounce back with 20-3 victory vs. Buccaneers

12-03-2006, 11:47 PM
Monday, December 04, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved almost perfect foils for a week-old gaping wound in the Steelers that opened in Baltimore.

Yesterday, the Buccaneers dropped passes, their rookie quarterback threw three interceptions and overthrew receivers, and they took the unusual step of kicking a field goal on the final play of the game to avoid a shutout as the Steelers pasted Tampa Bay, 20-3, in Heinz Field.

The Steelers' offense wasn't much better except, for a change, they avoided all but one turnover, a Ben Roethlisberger interception, and they did not have to play against their own defense.

"It's how we needed to play after playing bad last week," said linebacker Joey Porter, who had two sacks in a game for the third time this season and referred to the previous Sunday's 27-0 loss to the Ravens. "We just wanted to come out here and get a win, no matter how we did it."

It was the third time in four games they have won, raising their record to 5-7. Tampa Bay slipped to 3-9.

Roethlisberger overcame a first-quarter interception to throw touchdown passes in a most unusual way -- to two different tight ends. Jerame Tuman caught a 2-yard pass in the first quarter and Heath Miller his 16-yard scoring toss in the fourth quarter. Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 50 and 39 yards.

Roethlisberger looked like his old self, scrambling outside the pocket and successfully throwing on the run. He completed just 12 of 25 passes for 198 yards, but he was sacked just once after the Ravens dropped him nine times in the previous game.

The Steelers, though, had a tough time running again as Willie Parker managed only 61 yards on 22 tries and they had 76 overall, a week after they managed a 34-year low. Tampa Bay even outdid them on the ground with 110 yards, although main-man Cadillac Williams was held to 27 on 11 carries.

"I don't think we ran the ball particularly well," coach Bill Cowher said. "It seems like it's taking us too long to get on track. We've been there two weeks in a row really."

For all that has gone wrong with the Steelers this season -- including a loss in Oakland when the Raiders could not gain 100 total yards -- they weren't going to pass on Tampa Bay's early-in-the-season gift-giving, especially when it came wrapped.

When rookie quarterback and Dormont native Bruce Gradkowski wasn't getting sacked five times, his receivers were dropping his passes, including one to wide-open Michael Clayton at the 15 that would have been a 39-yard touchdown. Gradkowski also threw three interceptions and Cadillac Williams lost a fumble.

"We have to play a lot better than we did to win in this league," Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said when asked if he is thinking of changing quarterbacks. "It's not just the quarterback."

Both quarterbacks threw interceptions in the first quarter; only the Steelers took advantage of it.

The Steelers had a first down on Tampa Bay's 38 on their first drive when Roethlisberger tried to throw to Nate Washington on the right. Problem was, he threw it straight into the hands of linebacker Derrick Brooks in front of Washington.

The Buccaneers went nowhere after that and later in the period, Gradkowski threw an interception that looked just like the one Roethlisberger threw. The ball was supposed to go to Joey Galloway on the right, but it flew straight into the hands of linebacker Larry Foote. He returned it 11 yards to the Buccaneers' 27.

"We were just a step ahead of him," said Foote, who thought Gradkowski was a little nervous "especially when there's nobody open, he's going to get nervous."

Five plays later, Tuman caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger. The Steelers lined up as if to run and Tuman slipped behind a linebacker over the middle.

"We run a lot of runs off that formation and motion," Tuman said. "So the first thing they're thinking is 'run' down there."

Reed kicked a 50-yard field goal -- the longest by a pro in Heinz Field's six-year history -- for the only points scored in the second quarter and the Steelers led, 10-0, at halftime.

The Buccaneers were poised to close the gap near the end of the third quarter when they moved to a first down at the Steelers' 3. Gradkowski tried a fade pass -- the kind that hurt the Steelers so often this season -- to wide receiver Maurice Stovall in the left corner of the end zone. Instead of it becoming a touchdown, as it had so many times this season, cornerback Bryant McFadden intercepted it.

"When they brought him in he was a taller guy," McFadden said of the 6-5 Stovall, "so I kind of figured that's what they would probably try to do in that situation because I hadn't seen him out there much in the first two quarters."

That sparked a quick drive to the Steelers' second touchdown. They moved 80 yards in five plays with nearly half coming on a perfectly thrown pass by Roethlisberger scrambling to his left to Washington along the left sideline for a 36-yard gain.

Roethlisberger drilled his next pass off another scramble into the back of the end zone to Miller for a 16-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead. The tight end broke off his route when he saw his quarterback scramble.

"If a play breaks down in practice, we still keep going through it," Miller said. "On plays like that, Ben's one of the best in the league, getting out of the pocket and finding guys downfield."

That essentially ended matters, except for some unlikely drama at the end. Reed missed a 32-yard field goal when his plant foot slipped on the all-dirt middle of the field. He then kicked a 39-yarder with 1:56 left.

Tampa Bay moved down field against a Steelers defense packed with backups until there were four seconds left and the Buccaneers found themselves planted on the Steelers' 9.

Gruden opted to kick a 27-yard field goal on the game's final play and Matt Bryant converted. Cowher said he understood why Gruden did it but given that chance the previous week in Baltimore to kick a field goal and avoid a shutout, he tried for a touchdown instead.

"I'm sure I'll be criticized for that," Gruden said. "I just wanted our quarterback to leave Pittsburgh with something. We left Pittsburgh with a field goal."