Perhaps it was fitting that one of the Bucs’ most rock-solid veterans would finally secure the victory, as he did when he ended a crazy lateral-filled kickoff return in the game’s final second. Earlier, Graham had also turned in a 61-yard run and scored a touchdown on an acrobatic one-yard carry.
But Sunday’s win, which could prove to be a turning point for a very young Tampa Bay team, was as much about redemption and rebirth.
The redemption came in the form of a nearly-impossible clutch catch by third-year wide receiver
Spurlock’s catch was also part of the rebirth of the Bucs’ passing attack, which picked up 284 yards behind the precision passing of Josh Freeman, who shook off three sacks and numerous hard hits to complete 20 of 33 passes in the victory. Freeman has clearly found his favorite target, and it’s rookie
The Bucs’ secondary featured both rebirth and redemption.
After the team lost star safety
After Williams’ touchdown, the Bengals tried to drive into range for their own-game winning field goal in the closing seconds. However, Palmer’s first-down pass from the Bengals’ 47 with 25 seconds to play tipped off Chad Ochocinco’s hands and was hauled in by an alert Piscitelli, who then got 31 key yards on the return to make a last-second field goal possible. Spurlock’s ridiculous catch simply made things easier on Barth.
Grimm and Piscitelli ended up as the team’s two leading tacklers, with nine and seven stops respectively. CB
The lead changed hands three times in the second half. The Bucs rallied from a 10-7 deficit to take a 14-10 lead on Graham’s one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which followed a pass-interference call on CB Leon Hall, who was trying to cover the acrobatic Williams. The Bengals followed with a 55-yard field goal drive, then immediately got the ball back on Spurlock’s fumbled return. That led to a touchdown catch by rookie TE Jermaine Gresham and a two-point conversion that gave Cincinnati a 21-14 lead. When the Bucs’ offense had to punt the ball back after a three-and-out with 3:24 to play, the onus fell to Tampa Bay’s defense to counter with their own three-and-out. That would be difficult against Bengals’ RB Cedric Benson, who had already run for 142 yards (he would finish with 144 on 23 carries).
The Bucs did that one better with Talib’s interception, setting up a five-play, 50-yard drive. Williams’ touchdown and Barth’s last-second field goal gave the Buccaneers their second come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter this season.
The Bucs’ own takeaways on defense allowed them to overcome some of their own self-inflicted mistakes. Tampa Bay came into the game with a fine plus-four turnover ratio, having not coughed up the ball more than twice in any of their first three games. However, they gave it away three times on Sunday, and that helped make the dramatic comeback necessary. The Bucs lost two turnovers inside the Bengals’ red zone in the first half – a Freeman interception and a Mike Williams fumble.
Palmer started the day’s scoring with a 43-yard touchdown pass to WR Terrell “T.O.” Owens in the first quarter. Owens finished with seven catches for 102 yards while Ochocinco was held to 20 yards on three receptions. Palmer completed 21 of 36 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and three picks but the Buccaneers outgained the Bengals overall, 391 yards to 358.
The two offenses got off to a slow start, with each team’s opening drive getting just one first down before fizzling. The Bengals were hurt by two false start penalties while Freeman was pressured heavily on two straight incompletions to end Tampa Bay’s first try. A
The Bengals broke the deadlock on their next drive, however, after being set up near midfield by Adam Jones’ 28-yard punt return. Three plays later, Palmer went up top to Owens, who was wide open running down the left sideline.
The Bucs tied it early in the second quarter on their first defensive touchdown of the year. Grimm tried to hit Owens again in the left flat but Grimm read the play, intercepted the ball right in front of the receiver and walked untouched into the end zone.
The Bucs mounted the next scoring threat after a wild exchange of plays. RB Earnest Graham’s 61-yard breakaway run from Tampa Bay’s one-yard line was followed immediately by CB Johnathan Joseph’s interception deep in Cincinnati territory. The Bucs forced a punt and Kevin Huber hit it just 28 yards after it was nearly blocked by LB
Cincinnati took that possession most of the field to score the final points of the first half. Tampa Bay’s defense stiffened in the red zone but Mike Nugent gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead with a 31-yard field goal.
Click here for a detailed report of the game’s first half.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half and managed to drive across midfield but eventually had to punt it away, not getting much field-position help when
After a touchback, a precise crossing-route pass to WR
Cincinnati’s offense woke up in response, going to the no-huddle and pounding Benson up the middle repeatedly. Benson’s runs of 18, 11 and 13 yards helped get the ball into the Bucs’ red zone quickly, though Tampa Bay’s defense then forced a third-and-eight at the 17. DE
The Bucs’ next miscue was a potential killer, as Spurlock fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, giving Cincinnati possession at the Tampa Bay 29. FB Brian Leonard provided a key third-down conversion with an 11-yard catch and run, and Palmer found the end zone with a one-yard touchdown pass to Gresham on second-and-goal. The Bengals went for two following the score and got it on a draw play to extend their lead to 21-14.
The Bengals nearly took it away again on Tampa Bay’s next play, as blitzing S Chris Crocker forced a fumble by Freeman but
Cincinnati gave it back to Benson, who gained 16 yards on three consecutive carries. The Bucs held at that point, however, forcing a punt after Hayes upended a leaping Leonard on a third-and-two pitch to the left side. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Huber proceeded to blast a 72-yard punt that carried all the way to the opposite end zone for a touchback. The Bucs couldn’t move the chains and had to punt it away again, with 3:17 left in the game.
Fortunately, Talib came up with his big third-down interception, keeping the ball away from Huber and giving Tampa Bay another crack from exactly midfield. Freeman converted a third-and-four with a scramble around right end to the Cincinnati 35. Mike Williams then ran a fade-stop on the right sideline and Freeman threw a perfect pass for a 15-yard gain. On the very next snap, Freeman went to his rookie wonder again, simply lobbing it into the end zone for Williams to catch over the leaping defender.
That tied the game at 21-21 with 1:26 to play, and the Bucs cover team stopped Bernard Scott at the 16 on the following kickoff. However, Palmer found Owens on a post to the middle on first down and that was good for 29 yards to the 45. After a draw to Leonard gained nothing, the Bengals used their first timeout with 52 seconds left. Two more plays moved the ball to the Bucs’ 43 before Cincy used its second timeout with 31 seconds remaining. Owens caught a sideline pass on the next play but was flagged for pushing off, moving the ball back to the Bengals’ 47.
On the next Palmer’s pass went off Ochocinco’s hands and was intercepted by Piscitelli at the Tampa Bay 35. Piscitelli returned it 31 yards to the Cincinnati 34. The Bucs had just 14 seconds and no timeouts, so they ran a deep out to Spurlock, who made his stunning toe-dragging catch at the 13. The play was reviewed and upheld and Barth made the game-winning kick after the Bengals called one timeout to try to ice him.
The Bucs improved to 3-1 with the victory and will return home to face the New Orleans Saints next Sunday. The Bengals dropped to 2-3.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers now lead the all-time series with Cincinnati, 7-3, and have won six games in a row in the head-to-head matchup, dating back to 1995. That matches the franchise’s longest winning streak against any team; the Bucs also had a six-game victory streak over Atlanta from 1997-2003 and a six-gamer versus Chicago from 1997-2002. … The Bucs have now won four straight road games, dating back to the final two away games of 2009. That marks the team’s longest win streak away from home since a give-game run that crossed from the end of 2002 to the beginning of 2003. … Rookie TE/FB
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive for Sunday’s game: CB
The Bengals deactivated these eight players: WR Jordan Shipley, RB Cedric Peerman, S Roy Williams, C Reggie Stephens, DE Jonathan Fanene, T Anthony Collins and DE Carlos Dunlap. Shipley, Williams and Fanene were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, S Sean Jones suffered a back injury on the first play of the game and did not return. QB Josh Freeman was shaken up by a hard hit in the first quarter but was able to return after missing one series. C
The Bengals did not report an injury from the sideline during the game.