CB Aqib Talib and the Bucs' defense had trouble containing Buffalo's Fred Jackson (22), who finished with a career-best 163 rushing yards
Prior to the 2009 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had never played a regular-season game in Buffalo. After Sunday, they won't be in a hurry to go back.
The Buccaneers will have bad memories of Buffalo after suffering a disappointing 33-20 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium to fall to 0-2 in 2009. Buffalo struck quickly on both offense and defense, scoring on Lee Evans 32-yard touchdown catch and Donte Whitner's 76-yard interception return before the game was 10 minutes old, and never relinquished the lead.
The Bucs rallied to a 20-14 halftime deficit but couldn't slow down Buffalo's offense long enough to complete the comeback. The visitors clawed back into the game just before the intermission when S Sabby Piscitelli caught RB Fred Jackson's fumble in midair and raced 72 yards down the sideline to the Buffalo eight. QB Byron Leftwich threw a touchdown pass to RB Cadillac Williams on the next play.
Piscitelli's long return was actually Tampa Bay's first takeaway of the game, and of the 2009 season as a whole. It was a bright moment in a day that was otherwise another struggle for the Buccaneer defense. After surrendering 462 yards to Dallas in the season opener, the Bucs' were stung for 438 by Buffalo, including 218 on the ground. The Buccaneer secondary had hoped to stem the tide of big plays after giving up four passes for 42 or more yards in the opener. Unfortunately, it took just four plays for Evans to get free down the right sideline for a 32-yard touchdown pass, with the receiver just slipping inside the pylon.
Tampa Bay's defense mostly avoided the big play after that, but Buffalo repeatedly ran Jackson out of spread formations and he finished the day with 188 combined rushing and receiving yards, including a career-best 163 on 28 carries. Edwards spent most of the middle of the game throwing short crossing routes, but he did eventually go deep again, this time hitting WR Terrell Owens for a 43-yard touchdown down the right sideline in the fourth quarter.
That score essentially put the game away with nine minutes to go, although Leftwich did tack on an impressive fourth-quarter TD drive that included two fourth-down conversions. Jackson answered immediately with a 43-yard run that set up Rian Lindell's fourth field goal in four attempts.
The Bucs appeared to have Owens contained until his late touchdown, allowing him just two receptions for nine yards before that. That may have had something to do with the design of the Bills' attack, which often operated out of a no-huddle spread. Thirteen of QB Trent Edwards' 21 completions went to tight ends or running backs, with Jackson and TE Derek Schouman catching six passes each.
After gaining momentum just before halftime, the Bucs tried in vain to take the lead in the second half. Their best chance may have come late in the third quarter when a short punt gave them the ball near midfield. However, a fourth-and-one gamble at Buffalo's 43 failed when the Bills' defense stopped RB Derrick Ward for no gain. The Bucs did drive 80 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, culminating in an impressive one-handed TD catch by TE Jerramy Stevens, but that left the visitors down by 10 with just over five minutes to play.
Ward looked strong in the early going but the Buccaneers' rushing game slowed down considerably in the second half. Ward led the team with 32 yards on nine carries but the Tampa Bay ground game, which was good for 174 yards the week before, gained just 57 on 19 carries, averaging 3.0 per handoff. The rushing attack was largely abandoned in the second half as the Bucs were down by two scores for most of the final 30 minutes.
The Buccaneers actually racked up 204 yards of offense in the first half but repeatedly hamstrung themselves with mistakes, beginning with two Leftwich interceptions. The Bucs were also penalized six times before halftime, with three false-starts and three personal-foul facemasks. That subtracted 60 yards from the Bucs' efforts and helped Buffalo consistently start with good field position. Tampa Bay added a fourth facemask flag in the second half and finished the game with 13 penalties for 112 yards.
The second Buffalo interception, by S Bryan Scott on a pass that deflected off WR Sammie Stroughter, set up the first of Lindell's four field goal. The Bucs finally got on the board early in the second quarter when Byron Leftwich threw a perfect deep post pass to TE Kellen Winslow for a 42-yard touchdown. Winslow, who finished the day with seven catches for a team-high 90 yards and that score, has now found the end zone in both of his games as a Buccaneer.
The Bills appeared to be in position to put the game out of reach just before halftime, but CB Ronde Barber caught Jackson in the backfield for the tackle that led to the fumble Piscitelli caught on a dead run. Piscitelli also snared the Buccaneers' first interception of the season late in the third quarter, ending another Buffalo threat in Tampa Bay territory.
Leftwich finished the game with 26 completions in 50 attempts for 296 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leftwich took a lot of punishment on the day but was sacked just twice for no yards on 50 dropbacks. The Bills blitzed on seemingly every play in the fourth quarter and Leftwich often delivered passes just before he was hit. Though he hit the ground on almost every dropback in the late-going, Leftwich just missed his first 300-yard passing game as a Buccaneer and now has 572 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games.
Winslow and Williams led the Bucs with seven receptions each but Leftwich found nine different targets on a day that the offense played without its top receiver, Antonio Bryant. Bryant stayed in Tampa over the weekend to receive additional treatment on a sore knee.
On defense, the Bucs were led by LB Barrett Ruud's 14 tackles, while Barber added nine tackles, a pass defensed, a quarterback pressure and a forced fumble. The Bucs' two sacks were turned in by DE Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie DT Roy Miller.
The Buccaneers' defense started the second half with a stop, but the offense also stalled on its first drive when Stroughter couldn't quite hold on to a third-down pass. Dirk Johnson's punt bounced down to the Buffalo six, a kick of 63 yards.
Unfortunately, yet another facemask penalty helped the Bills get away from their goal line, and an 11-yard catch by Schouman led to a first down at the Buffalo 36. The Bucs' defense held at that point, however, as Wilkerson sacked Edwards for eight yards due to tight coverage downfield.
After the Buffalo punt, Leftwich faked a handoff and zipped 17-yard pass to Winslow out to the Bucs' 48. The Bucs faced a fourth-and-one at the Bills' 43 and elected to go for it, but the Bills' defense stoned Ward for no gain, taking the ball back near midfield.
A pass over the middle to Schouman gained a first down at the Bucs' 42 as Buffalo went back into its no-huddle. Moments later, Edwards threw a pass well over the head of Evans near the 10-yard line and it was easily intercepted by Piscitelli. Piscitelli flipped it to Ruud, who returned it to the Bucs' 31.
The offense couldn't do anything with it, unfortunately, losing three yards and punting away. Each team committed a penalty on a pair of Johnson punt attempts, the upshot being Buffalo's ball at their own 27 with two minutes to play in the third quarter.
The ensuing drive crossed into the fourth quarter and into Buccaneer territory again. LB Geno Hayes timed a blitz well but Edwards got a quick pass off over the middle just as he was hit, complete it to Jackson for nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 26. The Bills moved down to Tampa Bay's 12 in their no-huddle offense but two Edwards incompletions made it third-and-10 from there. The Bucs held but Buffalo still got a third Lindell field goal and a nine-point lead that put the Bucs two scores down.
After a touchback on the kickoff, former USF LB Kawika Mitchell timed a blitz perfectly to disrupt Leftwich's first-down pass. Leftwich did complete a pass to Winslow on third-and-10 but Winslow was stopped three yards short of the sticks. WR Roscoe Parrish followed a high punt with a nice 15-yard return that allowed Buffalo to start at its own 46.
Two plays later, Edwards went up top again, this time finding Owens for a 43-yard touchdown, his first as a Bill. CB Aqib Talib appeared to have tight coverage all the way down the sideline but Owens timed his leap perfectly and hauled the pass in as he crossed the goal line. That pushed Buffalo's lead to 30-14 with nine minutes to play.
Tampa Bay did try to rally, taking the next drive into Buffalo territory thanks in large part to an amazing play in which Leftwich got a lob off as he was being dragged down and Williams fought for just enough yards for a first down at the Buffalo 43. However, three incompletions from there made it fourth-and-10. Leftwich had enough time in the pocket on fourth down to fire a long pass downfield to WR Maurice Stovall, who made an impressive leaping catch at the Buffalo five.
Unfortunately, the Bucs faced another fourth down moments later from the six. After using a timeout, the Bucs scored when Leftwich put up a blind lob and Stevens reached out to snare it with his right hand as he stumbled into the end zone. On the necessary two-point conversion attempt, Leftwich's attempted pass to Stovall was tipped at the line and incomplete.
A short kickoff gave Buffalo the ball back at the their own 43 and two plays later Jackson broke free for an amazing pinball run for 43 yards down to the Bucs' 11. The Bills faced a fourth-and-three at the Bucs' four when the two-minute warning arrived, then kicked their fourth field goal after the break to make it 33-20.
Leftwich absorbed a late hit for a 15-yard flag on the first play of the next drive, then completed another fourth-down pass with an 11-yard strike to Winslow on the left sideline. With time running out, Leftwich tried two deep passes into the end zone but neither was completed.
Game Notes: Sunday's game marked the Buccaneers' first-ever regular-season trip to Buffalo. Tampa Bay did play one preseason game in upstate New York during the 1977 preseason…The Bucs and Bills have met eight previous times in the regular season, and the Bucs hold the all-time series edge at 6-3. … On his 42-yard touchdown pass to TE Kellen Winslow in the second quarter, QB Byron Leftwich surpassed 10,000 passing yards in his career. Leftwich finished the day with 296 passing yards and 10,196 in his career. … S Sabby Piscitelli's 72-yard fumble return in the second quarter was the third-longest fumble return in Buccaneer history. It was also the longest non-scoring fumble return in team annals. … RB Cadillac Williams' eight-yard scoring catch in the second quarter was the first touchdown reception of his career. … Williams also finished the game with career highs in both receptions (seven) and receiving yards (56). … Rookie DT Roy Miller got his first NFL sack early in the second half with a two-yard drop of Buffalo QB Trent Edwards. … P Dirk Johnson's 63-yard punt early in the third quarter was the longest of his career. … Buffalo is the first NFL team to score a touchdown on an interception return in each of the first two games of the season since Seattle in 1998. … Reserve QB Josh Johnson lined up at wide receiver on one snap in the first half, though the play was a run.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: C Jeff Faine, OL Marc Dile, T Demar Dotson, TE John Gilmore, WR Antonio Bryant, DT Dre Moore, DE Kyle Moore and designated third quarterback Josh Freeman. Faine, Bryant, Gilmore and Kyle Moore are out due to injuries.
The Bills deactivated these eight men: WR Steve Johnson, WR Justin Jenkins, DB Ellis Lankster, CB Drayton Florence, LB Paul Posluszny, T Kirk Chambers, DE Chris Ellis and designated QB Gibran Hamdan. Posluszny was out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, rookie DT Roy Miller sustained an ankle injury in the second quarter but did return before halftime. CB Elbert Mack sustained a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return.
For the Bills, TE Shawn Nelson left the game with a shoulder strain in the second quarter and did not return. CB Leodis McKelvin sustained an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return. T Brad Butler went down with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return.