Despite scoring seven points on rookie S Cody Grimm's first career interception, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw two turnovers of their own help the Cincinnati Bengals take a 10-7 lead into halftime Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Grimm's 11-yard scoring return in the second quarter countered Carson Palmer's 43-yard touchdown pass to WR Terrell Owens in the first period. The Buccaneers' offense followed with two drives into Cincinnati territory before halftime, but both ended in turnovers. CB Johnathan Joseph's interception at the Bengals' 12 rendered Earnest Graham's 61-yard run moot, and WR Mike Williams' fumble at the three kept him from scoring on the next possession.
Cincinnati drove 69 yards on 10 plays following Williams' fumble to set Mike Nugent up for a 31-yard field goal just before halftime.
The raw offensive numbers were nearly equal, with Cincinnati putting up 188 yards to the Bucs' 171. Each team converted just one third down chance, and the Bucs finished with eight first downs to Cincinnati's nine. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman completed eight of 13 passes for 107 yards despite missing one series in the first quarter after taking a hard hit on a throwaway.
Cincinnati won the toss and started at their own 21 after return man Bernard Scott ran into a wall in the middle. The Bengals started on the ground, with RB Cedric Benson veering to the left sideline for a gain of two. The Bucs had to use a timeout before the next snap because strong safety Sean Jones came out and had to be replaced at the last second by Sabby Piscitelli. After the break, the Bucs blitzed a safety but Palmer threw over it to WR Chad Ochocinco for a gain of seven on the left side. A short run to the right by Benson moved the sticks. A false start cost the Bengals five yards, and after they got it back on a short pass, they false-started yet again. On second-and-15, LB Quincy Black stopped Owens on a short pass over the middle after a four-yard gain, and Palmer's third-down pass in Owens' direction was off the mark.
After the punt, the Bucs opened their first drive at their own 28. Cadillac Williams went up the middle on the first snap and found a seam for a gain of eight. A play-action pass to WR Arrelious Benn was good for seven more and a first down at the 43. Unfortunately, Williams' second run broke down early and he had to reverse field just to reduce the loss to just six yards. Freeman was hit by a blitzing Chinedum Ndukwe on second down, causing an incompletion, but an offside call on the Bengals netted five yards. On third-and-11, Freeman had to scramble away from trouble, eventually throwing the ball away.
Benn made a fine tackle on the ensuing punt despite drawing a block-in-the-back penalty, so Cincy backed up to its own seven before starting anew. However, the Bengals quickly got out of that hole with Benson's 11-yard ramble off left guard. DT Gerald McCoy got an instant push and batted down Palmer's next pass. Two plays later, on third-and-two from the 26, Palmer hit an open Owens cutting left to right but Owens dropped it to end the drive.
Starting again at their 28, the Bucs got to midfield on first down with Freeman's 22-yard sideline strike to Winslow. A deep try to Mike Williams just missed on the left sideline when the rookie couldn't get a second foot inbounds. On third-and-nine from the Cincy 49, the Bucs fell victim to a dropped snap and a quick whistle, as Freeman seemed to escape a sure sack to get around the end but saw the play ruled as "in the grasp." On the ensuing punt, Bengals return man Adam Jones found an opening up the left sideline and got all the way back to the Cincinnati 46.
A short pass to rookie TE Jermaine Gresham and a seven-yard run by Benson put the Bengals into Bucs territory, and on the next play Cincinnati scored on a wide-open go route to Owens for a 43-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the first quarter.
Winslow's 13-yard seam catch earned a first down to start the Bucs' next drive, and a perfectly executed receiver screen to WR Sammie Stroughter was good for 19 more, thanks in part to a pancake block on the edge by Donald Penn. Freeman was injured by a hard hit while throwing the ball away on the next snap, and Josh Johnson's pass to Mike Williams gained no yards. A pass to Williams was complete on third-and-10 but Williams couldn't get through a line of tacklers and gained just four. Chris Bryan's punt rolled to a stop at the Cincinnati six.
Cincinnati was flagged for holding on its first play of the next drive, and Grimm scored on the ensuing snap, cutting in front of Owens near the right sideline and running untouched into the end zone from the 11.
With the game tied at 7-7, the Bengals opened their next drive at their own 28 and got a quick first down before running into a third-and-one at their own 47. The Bengals ran a good play but Palmer missed a wide-open Reche Caldwell on an out to the left. Cincy's ensuing punt rolled to a stop at the Bucs' one.
Tampa Bay didn't stay backed up for long, as an underneath handoff to Graham worked to perfection and Graham found the open field for a 61-yard gain to the Bengals' 38. Unfortunately, Freeman threw an interception on the next play, trying to hit Winslow downfield while scrambling to his right. Joseph got to it first and ran out of bounds at the Cincinnati 23.
The Bucs' defense quickly forced a third-and-10 and Black almost intercepted Palmer's pass in the backfield after McCoy blew up the pocket and nearly got a sack. The Bucs nearly blocked Kevin Huber's next punt but it still went only 28 yards before rolling out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 49.
Two strong runs up the middle by Cadillac Williams made it third-and-two at the Cincinnati 43, and Freeman zipped a six-yard pass into Stroughter's gut over the middle to move the chains. Two plays later, Winslow held on despite a hard hit and gained 11 yards on a crossing route. From the Cincy 26, Williams lost two yards trying to get around the right end, but Stroughter showed great presence on the next play after making a diving catch. The reception would have been for just two yards, but when the defender jumped over his prone body, Stroughter got up and ran for an 11-yard gain to the Cincinnati 14.
Everything went wrong two plays later. Mike Williams made a nice play coming back to a pass by Freeman inside the five, but as he turned back towards the end zone he slipped and lost the ball as he hit the turf. Cincinnati recovered at their own three and even got 15 yards tacked on due to a facemask penalty on Keydrick Vincent.
Two plays later, Benson found a seam and ran for 22 yards to the Cincinnati 41 as the two-minute warning arrived. After the break, a short pass to Benson got 12 more into Tampa Bay territory and a 19-yard strike to Caldwell put it at Tampa Bay's 28. The Bengals called a timeout with 1:23 left. After a near catch by Ochocinco at the 13 was overturned by replay, Gresham spun out of one tackle to get 10 yards down to the Bucs' 18. Cincinnati used a timeout after a five-yard catch by Caldwell, and Palmer was forced to throw it away on second down. Caldwell dropped a pass over the middle on third down, so the Bengals settled for Nugent's 31-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.