It may not have resulted in a win, but under the spotlight of a national stage on Monday Night Football, the Bucs had more success than meets the eye. Here's the good and the bad from the Week Three matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers:
-The defensive line doubled down.
Let's start with some of the good first. The defensive line, despite being very thin on the interior, was not only able to get to Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but bring him down, too. They registered a nine collective quarterback hits and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was a nightmare for the 6'5" 240-pound signal caller, registering two sacks in addition to four of those quarterback hits himself. He also forced a fumble during one of those takedowns, stripping Roethlisberger of the ball. Defensive end Vinny Curry and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy registered half a sack each as they took Roethlisberger down in the second quarter. JPP's first sack came just two plays later. Pittsburgh was also unable to get anything going on the ground, which was in part due to the defensive line (along with the Bucs' linebackers). Pittsburgh had just 78 total net yards rushing for an average of just 3.5 yards per rushing play. The Bucs also had a total of five tackles for loss, for which linebacker Lavonte David accounted for three.
-WR Mike Evans had a record-breaking night.
Wide receiver Mike Evans is now the sole possessor of most receiving touchdowns in Bucs' history with 35. Coming into Monday's game, he was tied with former Bucs' tight end Jimmie Giles for the record. His 35th career touchdown reception came on second down, with the Bucs down by 10 in the latter half of the fourth quarter. It was a 24-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick that Evans came down with in the end zone to pull the Bucs within a field goal of the Steelers. The rally would fall short for the night, but you could say it had also started with Evans, too. Fitzpatrick was intercepted on three straight possessions in the first half but who did he go to get back on track? Evans. On the first play after throwing the third interception late in the second quarter, Fitzpatrick aired it out 51 yards for Evans who came down with the ball to set up a Bucs' field goal. He was as reliable as ever as he cruised to 137 yards on six receptions the night with his record-setting touchdown. It also made him and wide receiver DeSean Jackson the first pair of teammates in NFL history to each record at least 300 receiving yards and three touchdown catches through their team's first three games of the season.
-Fitzpatrick is still pretty magical.
That brings us of course to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He may have sputtered in the latter part of the first half, but let's just review his stat line for a second. He attempted 50 passes, completing 30 of them for a total of 411 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Those turnovers were the difference between what Fitzpatrick did on Monday night versus what he had been doing the prior two games. But he still put up crazy numbers. So crazy, in fact, that it's never been done before. Fitzpatrick is now the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards in three consecutive games. No, you didn't read that wrong. NFL history. The Bucs once again found themselves in myriad situations that essentially forced them into the air. Running back Peyton Barber broke loose early on an 18-yard run that got the Bucs into the red zone on their first drive that resulted in a Cameron Brate touchdown catch, but was otherwise unable to gain any sort of rhythm on the ground. The Steelers' defense was no cake-walk for Fitzpatrick either. He was brought down three times and was hit 13 times. Still, the three turnovers proved too much in the end and it seemed to mean the difference between a win and a loss.
-Opportunities in the red zone were there but the Bucs didn't take advantage.
What was perhaps even more of a disappointment for the Buccaneers was their red zone efficiency. Tampa Bay made five trips into the red zone and came out with a touchdown just two of those times. In goal-to-go situations they were only two of four. In the second quarter, the Bucs made it to the Pittsburgh 12 before being halted by their first turnover of the night on Fitzpatrick's first interception of the night. Just as the Bucs seemed to be getting back on track after Fitzpatrick connected with Evans on that 51-yard pass following his three interceptions, Tampa Bay was held to just a field goal from the three-yard line. It cooled the comeback in the third quarter, too. The Bucs spent almost eight minutes to start the second half driving 65 yards down the field. They got to the Pittsburgh 10 before being stopped and held again to a field goal for their second straight possession. If those two field goals are instead touchdowns, the game has an entirely different outcome.
-Turnover bug bites Bucs after all.
It's no secret that winning or losing the turnover battle is probably the best indicator of if you win or lose the game. In the Bucs' case, they lost by a margin of three in that regard. Safety Justin Evans nabbed the first turnover of the game as he intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter but that would be it for the Buccaneers' defense as far as takeaways went. The Steelers forced a fumble and picked off Fitzpatrick on three straight possessions. The Steelers got a total of fourteen points off turnovers, which again makes this a very different game if the Bucs don't give those up.
In addition to turnovers, there were also phantom touchdowns that were either called back or negated by penalties that really hurt the Buccaneers, too. One came on a great heads-up play by wide receiver Chris Godwin, who after completing what ended up being a 56-yard pass when he rolled back up, thinking he was not touched by a defender and took the ball into the end zone, had the play reversed by the referees on the ensuing review. The Bucs had another touchdown called back on a DeSean Jackson 65-yard punt return when safety Isaiah Johnson was called for a holding penalty on the return. Contrary to what you would think though, Pittsburgh was hit for the most penalty yards of the two teams with 13 for 155 yards.
**Bonus: the best thing from Monday night? Inducting former Buccaneers' head coach Tony Dungy into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. Many former players were on hand to witness the halftime ceremony where Dungy's name was unveiled next to Paul Gruber in Raymond James Stadium. Surrounded by his family, Dungy said he was grateful for his years in Tampa as a coach and even more so to the community as a whole for embracing him and his family to this day.