The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their fastest start of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh, but what really mattered was how they finished.
Vincent Jackson diving five-yard catch in the end zone gave the Buccaneers a thrilling 27-24 comeback victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field. The Buccaneers had squandered the 10-0 lead they built in the game's first five minutes, but second-year QB Mike Glennon led two heady drives in the game's closing minutes, and the last ended in the winning points.
Glennon first drove the Bucs down to the Pittsburgh 14 with two minutes to play, getting big plays from TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was playing for the first time since opening weekend, and WR Russell Shepard, whose key 22-yard catch-and-run on third down was his first NFL reception. However, The Bucs threw four incompletions from there and gave the ball back to the Steelers with 1:44 to play.
Tampa Bay's defense got the ball back with a three-play stop, and Pittsburgh rookie P Brad Wing shanked a 29-yard punt that stopped at the Bucs' 46. Two plays later, Glennon hit WR Louis Murphy – who just re-signed with the Buccaneers on Tuesday – over the middle for a gain of 41 to the Steelers' five. After a spike and an incompletion in Jackson's direction, Glennon and Jackson hooked up for the winning score.
Marcus [Arroyo] Right when he called that last play in, I knew it was going to be a touchdown," said Glennon. "It was a great call and an even better catch by Vince because I really didn't put it in a good spot."
The play was reviewed but upheld and the Bucs had their first victory of the season, improving to 1-3. Jackson, who had just two catches before that last play, ended up as the hero with his all-out dive.
"The guys have been real physical down the there all game," he said, describing the play. "I just ran a little slant-and-stickout. I went in there, just ran the route as hard as I could, knew Mike was going to give me a chance at the ball on the outside and I just went out there and competed."
Glennon completed 21 of 42 passes for 302 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His only turnover came on a deep third-quarter pass on which Evans pulled up with a groin injury, allowing CB Cortez Allen to make the easy pick. Glennon was also sacked just once. Evans caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown before his injury. Amazingly, it was Murphy, who was with the team during the preseason but lost out on his spot on the depth chart to Chris Owusu, that led the team with six catches for 99 yards. The play that got Murphy open down the middle in the final minute had only been installed in practice on Friday.
"You've got to give him a ton of credit," said Glennon of Murphy. "He wasn't even with us five days ago and he's out on the field making the catch to set up the play that won the game. I'm proud of him. That's the kind of guy I knew he was all camp. For him to go out do that speaks a lot to his character and his competitiveness."
Evans' touchdown catch
came on the Bucs' second play from scrimmage, and Glennon's first pass of the season, as the latter was starting in place of the injured Josh McCown. The play was set up by a Michael Johnson forced fumble on Pittsburgh's third play from scrimmage, as Johnson and DT Gerald McCoy had back-to-back sacks in the game's opening moments. Both linemen were returning after missing significant time due to injury, and the difference was obvious
"It was just a great team win," said Glennon "The defense did a great job of getting us good field position at first. We struggled for a little bit but we came back, never gave up – offense, defense, everyone made big plays. It's great to get our first win in this fashion."
Rookie K Patrick Murray kicked two field goals, including a 50-yarder that gave the Bucs a 10-0 lead just five minutes into the game. However, the Steelers scored the next 17 points and controlled most of the first half. They had nearly 21 minutes of possession before halftime and had a yardage edge of 253-64 at the intermission. That the Bucs closed that gap to 390-350 by game's end is a testament to the fight they showed throughout the second half
"A lot of games in this league are decided by a field goal or a touchdown at the end," said Jackson. "You've got to be prepared to finish, whether on offense or defense. Hats off to our defense and special teams for getting the ball back to us in great field position and giving us a chance to win. We finished. It's a good start for us to hopefully get something good going. It's been a rough start, but the guys have stayed the course, continued to work and believed in what our coaching staff has put together for us. Hopefully we'll just continue to get better."
McCoy, Da'Quan Bowers and Scott Solomon all had sacks for the Bucs' defense. LB Lavonte David led the way with 12 tackles, including three for losses. The Bucs did not intercept a pass but they did end up even in turnover differential after losing that battle each of the first three weeks.
The Bucs got a quick start to the
second half, as well, driving 80 yards on eight plays to tie the game on a three-yard Doug Martin run around left end. Rookie WR Mike Evans made an impressive, toe-tapping 40-yard catch down the sideline to put the Bucs in position to score. Evans was a bright spot for the Bucs' inconsistent offense, catching four passes for 65 yards and a score, but he suffered a groin injury running a deep fly route in the second half. Pittsburgh's Cortez Allen got an easy interception on the play after Evans pulled up lame.
The Buccaneers got the fast start they've been seeking. McCoy and Johnson got back-to-back sacks on the Steelers' second and third plays from scrimmage, and Johnson also stripped the ball from Roethlisberger, with Jacquies Smith recovering for Tampa Bay at the Pittsburgh nine. The Bucs scored two plays later, when Glennon lobbed a pass into the right corner of the end zone and Evans fought off tight coverage from Allen to make a dazzling touchdown catch as he fell to the turf.
Bell's first two runs of the game were bottled up fairly well, as S Mark Barron stopped him at the line on first down and LB Lavonte David stood him up after a four-yard gain on second down. The Bucs got off the field when McCoy reached up with his bandaged hand and batted down Roethlisberger's third-down pass. Better yet, WR Solomon Patton got 25 return yards on the ensuing punt, putting the ball at the Bucs' 45 for their second drive.
A good second-effort run by Martin had a facemask penalty tacked on the end and the Bucs quickly had a first down at the Steelers' 35. Two plays later, Evans made another sparkling catch in the corner of the end zone but didn't quite get two feet in bounds. On third-and-seven, the Steelers blitzed and the Bucs' line gave Glennon a reasonable amount of time but his throw downfield to Jackson sailed out of bounds. Murray came on to try a 50-yarder and he just snuck it over the crossbar for another three points.
The Steelers' next drive reached Buccaneer territory when WR Markus Wheaton leaped high to make an impressive catch down the middle of the field for a gain of 31. Wheaton caught a 14-yarder on the right sideline on the next play to get the Steelers to the Bucs' 28…the play was challenged by Lovie Smith but upheld. Brown's buttonhook to the Bucs' nine picked up 19 more yards. The Bucs' defense wasn't fooled by an end-around or a fake end-around and quick pass to TE Heath Miller, as each play gained just a single yard. CB Johnthan Banks broke up a third-and-goal pass to WR Justin Brown in the end zone and the Steelers' settled for Shaun Suisham's 25-yard field goal.
The Bucs' next drive went
Photos from the first half of Buccaneers vs. Steelers
nowhere and Michael Koenen punted from the 23 and it was fair caught at the Steelers' 40. Bell found open room to run for the first time two snaps later and got the ball to the Bucs' 44, but he gave all but one yard back on a taunting penalty. The Steelers got it back into Buc territory, helped by Bell's 13-yard run and Roethlisberger found Brown at the eight-yard line. A short pass over the middle and a false start made it second-and-goal from the same spot. David sniffed out a swing pass to Bell and shot in to drop him for a loss of three, but Roethlisberger got it in from there with a TD pass over the middle to Brown in front of the Bucs' coverage.
The Bucs' next drive began with a 16-yard catch by TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, which took the ball close to midfield on the final play of the first quarter. The second period opened with a run by Martin on which he made a sharp cut to elude a tackler at the line of scrimmage and then darted for nine yards. On second-and-inches, Martin made another good move at the line and was able to power for a first down. DE Cameron Heyward followed with a 15-yard sack of Glennon. A screen to Martin got nine back, but the third-down pass was incomplete and the Bucs had to punt from midfield. Koenen's kick was downed at the Steelers' seven.
An 11-yard run by Blount gave the Steelers some breathing room and a 14-yard catch by Wheaton made it first down at the 34. After a hands-to-the-face penalty on William Gholston created another set of downs, the Bucs forced a third-and-long thanks to Scott Solomon's sack. However, a catch over the middle by Lance Moore put the Steelers within inches of a first down and Roethlisberger snuck it up the middle to keep the drive alive. Now at the Bucs' 43, the Steelers avoided a long third down on a defensive holding penalty against Leonard Johnson. Michael Johnson followed with his second sack of the game but Roethlisberger hooked up with Brown on the next play for a 27-yard touchdown pass that completed a 93-yard drive.
The Bucs went to a hurry-up with five minutes left in the half but quickly got backed up on penalties for holding and, on consecutive plays, delay of game. That made it second-and-30 at the 12, and a draw play to Rainey lost a yard. A dump off over the middle to Rainey gained 16 before the Bucs punted away from the 27 at the two-minute warning.
Roethlisberger was left with enough time to bring the Steelers back into scoring territory. He took a third-down snap with 32 seconds left but never got the pass off because Bowers swept around behind him and pulled him down from behind for a six-yard sack. The Steelers tried a 50-yard field goal but Suisham pushed it wide right.
The Bucs came out in a hurry-up, starting with a seven-yard catch by Seferian-Jenkins and a Martin run for a first down. After two incompletions, Glennon threw a laser over the middle to Jackson 19 yards and a first down at the Steelers' 48. Glennon then went up top down the left sideline to Evans who leaped to catch the ball over the Steeler defender and tapped both toes for a 40-yard gain down to the three. Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling but it was confirmed, making it first-and-goal. After an incompletion, Martin bounced a second-down handoff to the outside and ran to the corner pylon for a game-tying touchdown.
After a touchback, Roethlisberger tried a first-down shot downfield but overthrew Wheaton. He then found Miller wide open down the right seam for 16 yards. Bell nearly found the right corner on a reverse-of-direction run two plays later but CB Alterraun Verner dashed up to make the tackle for a loss of two. On third-and-10, Roethlisberger found Brown downfield near the sideline for a gain of 27, though the Steelers had to challenge the initial ruling of an incompletion to get credit for it.
After the stoppage of play for the review, the Steelers came back with a trick play, with Brown throwing a 17-yard pass to Bell, down to the Bucs' 20.. The Bucs forced a third-and-goal at the five but Roethlisberger was able to zip a hard pass to Miller between several defenders for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Bucs faced a third-and-eight at the start of the next drive but Glennon threw a sharp out to Evans, who turned it up for a gain of 17. Glennon converted another third down moments later with a seven-yard strike over the middle to WR Louis Murphy just past the sticks. On the next play, Glennon tried to go deep to Evans, but the rookie receiver suddenly pulled up with an apparent leg injury. That left Allen all alone to continue the route and intercept it at the 11. With only the hobbled Evans anywhere near him, Allen was able to easily return it to the Bucs' 38.
Bell's 10-yard run on third-and-short gave the Steelers a first down at the Bucs' 44. David closed quickly on a third-down scramble by Roethlisberger, forcing a fourth-and-three at the 37. The Steelers lined up as if they were going to go for it, then had the quarterback kick a pooch punt, but the play was erased by a false start. The Steelers then ran a traditional punt and downed it at the Bucs' eight.
The Bucs faced a third-and-one as time expired on the third quarter, then opened the fourth quarter with a successful three-yard run up the middle by Martin. Rookie WR Solomon Patton came on for a rare appearance on offense and took an end-around to the left for a gain of 19. A facemask penalty against the Steelers moved the ball another 15 yards to the Steelers' 46, and three plays later Glennon converted a third-and-nine with a perfect strike down the middle to Murphy for a gain of 31. The next third down was from the nine, and S Troy Polamalu jumped in front of a pass intended for Murphy down the middle, nearly picking it off. The Bucs settled for Murray's 27-yard field goal to cut the gap to 24-20.**
Photos from the Bucs' victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
- The Buccaneers declared the following players inactive before Sunday's game: WR Robert Herron, QB Josh McCown, RB Mike James, DE Larry English, LB Mason Foster, T Kevin Pamphile and G Kadeem Edwards. McCown, English and Foster were out due to injury.
- The Steelers' seven inactive players were: QB Landry Jones, WR Martavis Bryant, CB Ike Taylor, LB Ryan Shazier, DL Daniel McCullers, OL Wesley Johnson and G Ramon Foster. Taylor, Shazier and Foster were out due to injury.
- Sunday's game was the 600th regular-season contest in Buccaneer history. The Buccaneers won their 100th game (against Detroit, 23-21) and 400th game (against Detroit, 15-12) but lost the 200th, 300th and 500th games.
- Michael Johnson recorded his first two sacks as a Buccaneer on Sunday. He is the first defensive end to post a multiple-sack game for the Buccaneers since Michael Bennett against Philadelphia on Dec. 9, 2012.
- Mike Glennon's 302 passing yards are a new career high. He is the first Buccaneer quarterback to post a 300-yard game since Josh Freeman against St. Louis on December 13, 2012.