QB Byron Leftwich threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the first half at Buffalo
A stunning turnover shifted momentum just before the intermission at Ralph Wilson Stadium, trimming the Buffalo Bill's halftime lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 20-14.
Buffalo dominated the first quarter, rushing out to a 17-0 lead on the strength of a 32-yard Lee Evans touchdown catch and Donte Whitner's 76-yard interception return for a touchdown. However, Buccaneer S Sabby Piscitelli caught a Fred Jackson fumble in midair just before halftime and returned it 76 yards to the Buffalo eight. That was the Buccaneers' first takeaway of the 2009 season and it set up Cadillac Williams' eight-yard touchdown catch.
The Buccaneers also scored on TE Kellen Winslow's 42-yard touchdown catch, his second score in as many games with Tampa Bay. However, two interceptions and 10 penalties helped put the Bucs in a deep early hole despite another impressive showing by the offense.
Tampa Bay gained 204 yards of offense in the first half but allowed 217. The Buccaneers' rushing attack showed signs of last week's explosion, but it was actually the Bills who dominated on the ground, with Jackson rushing 17 times for 97 yards before halftime. Buccaneers QB Byron Leftwich completed 13 of 19 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and those two interceptions and was only sacked once. Nine different players caught at least one pass for Tampa Bay.
Here's a look at the rest of the action in the first half:
Clifton Smith gave the Bucs a nice start to their first drive with a kickoff return out to the 30. The Bucs tried to establish the run right away but DT Kyle Williams' tackle of C. Williams for a loss of five made it third-and-12. A high pass to Clayton on the next snap went through his hands and was nearly intercepted by CB Terrence McGee. The Bucs had to punt and a trick throwback on the return helped Buffalo get back to their own 46 for its first drive.
Buffalo's first play was an end-around to Owens on which the supersized receiver spun and bounced off several tacklers to get 13 yards. Two strong Jackson runs made it third-and-one at the Bucs' 32, and Edwards went up top on the next snap to WR Lee Evans. The pass dropped just over Ronde Barber and into Evans' hands as he slid inside the right pylon for the game's opening score.
Tampa Bay answered with a better second drive, keyed by Williams' 12-yard catch on a swing pass. Leftwich converted a third-and-four by moving up in the pocket and hitting WR Maurice Stovall for 23 yards to the Bills' 39. Four plays later, however, Leftwich made an ill-advised check-down attempt to Williams, fluttering it over the back's head where it was intercepted by Whitner and returned 76 yards for a touchdown.
Derrick Ward started the Bucs' next drive with a 13-yard run to the Tampa Bay 47, and ripped off a nine-yarder two snaps later. The drive stalled just inside Bills' territory, but turned bad in a hurry when a third-down pass to Stroughter came out of his hands as he rolled on the ground and was intercepted by S Bryan Scott. Scott returned it to the Bucs' 47 and then had 15 yards tacked on the end on a face-mask penalty on TE Kellen Winslow. The Bucs challenged the play but failed to get it overturned, though replays seemed to support their cause.
The Bills thus started at Tampa Bay's 32 and got a quick six yards on a Jackson run. A rollout pass to TE Shawn Nelson worked to perfection, gaining 13 yards to the Bucs' 13. The Bucs forced a third-and-10 and then swarmed Edwards on a drop-back to help force an incompletion and a field goal attempt, which Rian Lindell nailed from 31 yards.
Once again, the Bucs started out well on offense, with Ward ripping off runs of five and six yards and Leftwich finding Michael Clayton for 23 yards to the Bills' 43. Two plays later, Leftwich hit Winslow on a deep post for the Buccaneers' first score, a 42-yard strike that made it 17-7 with 13 minutes left in the half.
The Bills answered right back with a 48-yard drive, helped immensely by a pair of personal fouls against Buccaneer defenders and a fourth-and-one sneak by Edwards. CB Elbert Mack tipped away another near-TD pass to Evans, setting up third-and-eight form the Bucs' 25. DT Chris Hovan's pressure forced Buffalo to settle for another field goal, Lindell's 43-yarder that just sneaked inside the left upright.
Matt McCoy fair caught the ensuing kickoff at the Bucs' 28, and Leftwich converted a third-and-four from the 34 with a nine-yard strike to Stevens on the right sideline. RB Earnest Graham then took his second carry of the game around left end for a gain of 13 to the Bills' 44. A near interception by Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin made it third-and-15, however, and Leftwich's on-the-move throw to Williams hit the turf in front of the back.
A holding penalty on the Bucs' punt pushed Buffalo back to their own five but Jackson gave them immediate breathing room with an 11-yard run around left end. Owens dropped what could have been an 82-yard touchdown pass moments later, helping lead to Buffalo's first punt. The Bucs took over on the midfield stripe with six minutes to play.
Unfortunately, a fumbled snap and the Bucs' third false-start of the day made it third-and-13 and a dumpoff to Williams came up six yards short. The Bucs had to punt it back and it was fair-caught at the nine. Jackson immediately broke free for a 24-yard run and the Bills went into a no-huddle attack. They faced a third-and-two at their own 41, and converted when Jackson broke a tackle in the backfield and got into the open for a gain of 12. That led to the two-minute warning, with the ball at the Bucs' 47.
Three plays later, Edwards escaped a near-sack and broke into the clear on the left side, scrambling 20 yards to the Bucs' 14. Two plays later, Piscitelli's long return got the Bucs back into the game. On the play, Jackson ran right and was hit in the backfield by Barber. As he fell, the ball flipped up out of his hand and Piscitelli caught it on a dead run. WR Roscoe Parris managed to catch Piscitelli from behind at the eight, but Leftwich hit Williams out of the backfield on the next snap for a touchdown. That made it 20-14 with 30 seconds left in the half.