A very spry performance by 35-year-old reserve quarterback Charlie Batch allowed the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers to take a 28-6 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into halftime on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Batch completed 11 of 14 passes for 177 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the first two quarters, delivering two scoring passes to WR Mike Wallace and another to WR Hines Ward. RB Rashard Mendenhall also found the end zone for Pittsburgh, which scored 21 unanswered points after the Buccaneers had made it 7-6 early in the second quarter.
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman was also sharp, completing eight of 14 passes for 85 yards, but the Bucs couldn't push either of their red zone forays into the end zone. Connor Barth scored the Bucs' six points on a pair of field goals, hitting from 40 and 24 yards.
Rookie RB LeGarrette Blount played in his first NFL game and gave the Bucs' offense a spark on a 74-yard field goal drive. Blount carried four times for 26 yards, providing most of the first-half ground punch for the Buccaneers. Rookie WR Mike Williams led the Buccaneers with four catches for 53 yards but also lost a fumble in the second quarter that resulted in a Steeler touchdown drive.
The Bucs lost the toss for the first time this year and Pittsburgh elected to receive. The Bucs' coverage team got the crowd into the game immediately as LB Adam Hayward buried return man Mewelde Moore at the Pittsburgh 14. Mendenhall escaped a near-tackle in the backfield to get three yards on first down but Batch couldn't escape trouble on his first pass. Batch tried to hit WR Mike Wallace while rolling to his right but CB Aqib Talib cut in front of the receiver and intercepted it at the Pittsburgh 31.
A one-yard run by Cadillac Williams and a six-yard catch by Mike Williams made it third-and-three but a receiver screen to Sammie Stroughter came up one yard short. Barth came on to try a 40-yard field goal and easily popped it through for the game's first points.
A receiver screen to Ward on first down got the Steelers started off with a six-yard gain but Mendenhall went nowhere on second down. On third-and-four, Moore dropped a flare-out pass that might have been enough to move the chains and the Steelers had to punt. Daniel Sepulveda blasted a 62-yarder to push the Bucs all the way back to their nine.
Freeman dodged a bullet on first down when LB LaMarr Woodley just missed an interception that would have been a sure touchdown. Freeman tried to scramble for the first down on third-and-nine but was stopped four yards short and the Bucs had to punt for the first time. Chris Bryan's first kick off the game was a low line drive and the Steelers just started their next drive at the Bucs' 45.
The Steelers tried a reverse to Wallace on their first snap of the drive but Stylez G. White toppled the receiver for a loss of one. On the next play, however, Batch found Wallace deep over the middle for the game's first score. Batch just stepped out of the way of DT Gerald McCoy in the backfield, then found his receiver in the end zone, as Wallace avoided rookie S Cody Grimm to haul in the 46-yard score.
The Bucs appeared to start off the next drive with a nice nine-yard run by Williams but it came back on an illegal formation call on the opposite side. On second-and-15, Freeman scrambled to his left and then threw over the middle to Mike Williams for a gain of 16 and the Bucs' initial first down. A deep pass intended for Williams on the left sideline was nearly intercepted. On the next snap, Blount's first carry as a Buccaneer was good for 12 yards and another first down. A dumpoff to Cadillac Williams got 11 more into Steeler territory, resulting a first down at the 45. On third-and-four from the Pittsburgh 39, Freeman spun away from a sack, faked out a defender and gained 11 yards for a first down. Three plays later, on another third down, TE Kellen Winslow made an amazing one-handed sideline catch of a tipped ball for a first down at the seven. Freeman tripped while taking the snap on first down for a loss of three, and the Bucs failed to punch it in on the next two plays. Barth nailed a 24-yarder to pull the Bucs within one point.
A return out to the 33 and a spinning 15-yard run by Mendenhall got the Steelers near midfield, but they faced a third-and-six at the Bucs' 48 moments later. Misfortune struck on that play, however, as the pocket collapsed on Batch but he managed to escape and had a wide-open field to scramble for 24 yards. A late-developing pass to TE Heath Miller over the middle was good for 21 more to the Bucs' three. Mendenhall went over right tackle on the next snap to push Pittsburgh's lead to 14-6 with 10 minutes left in the half.
The Bucs' ensuing drive got off to a nice start when Mike Williams took a quick slant and weaved through defenders for a gain of 22 to the Bucs' 45. Yet again, a Cadillac breakaway was erased by a holding penalty on Davin Joseph. Freeman took a hard hit on the next play and came off in favor of Josh Johnson, and that one play resulted in a turnover. It wasn't Johnson's fault – a receiver screen to Mike Williams worked for a good gain but the rookie lost the ball at the end and it flew right into the hands of Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark.
The Steelers scored two plays later. Talib had perfect coverage on a deep ball to Wallace and actually got to the ball first, but it bounced out of his hands and right to the receiver for a 41-yard score and a 21-6 Steeler lead.
On the Bucs' next drive, Freeman converted a third-and-eight with a 10-yard strike to WR Micheal Spurlock and a late-hit penalty gave the Bucs 15 more yards. A fumbled snap aborted the next play but was at least recovered by Freeman. After a Freeman scramble, the Bucs faced a third-and-seven and a pass attempt to Winslow fell incomplete under good coverage from CB Bryant McFadden. Bryan's punt was high but not deep and it was fair caught at the Pittsburgh 21.
Mendenhall gained 13 more on a run around right end but was stopped for no gain going left on the next snap. The Steelers faced a third-and-seven moments later and the Bucs brought a big blitz but Batch was able to get a throw off as he was falling forward, completing a 14-yarder to Antwaan Randle El just over midfield. That brought on the two-minute warning, and after the break Moore ran for four yards. Talib once again nearly intercepted a pass on the next play but it got by him to Wallace for a gain of 13 to the Bucs' 32. The Steelers called a timeout with 1:27 left in the half. Two plays later, Batch hit Ward on a crossing route and Ward got to the Bucs' 16 as the Steelers used their second timeout. With 23 seconds left in the half, the Steelers faced a third-and-three at the nine and scored once more. Batch bought time by moving to his right, then threw back to the middle to Ward for the touchdown and a 28-6 lead.