Tampa Bay's defense swarmed for five turnovers on Sunday in Seattle and kept the Seahawks' offense in check all day
Whether you have one win or 14, one thing holds true for every team in the NFL: Turnovers win football games.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned five takeaways into 10 points at Qwest Field on Sunday, rallying for a 24-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. It was the Buccaneers' second victory of the season and their first since Week Nine against Green Bay. That 38-28 win over the Packers also marked, not coincidentally, the last time Tampa Bay had an edge in the turnover battle.
LB Geno Hayes secured two of the turnovers with a fumble recovery in the first quarter and an interception in the second. His pick led to a field goal just before halftime, Tampa Bay's first score after a first half of offensive struggles, and Tanard Jackson's interception after halftime keyed a 17-point third-quarter surge. CB Elbert Mack completed the turnover haul with a pair of picks in the fourth quarter, both of them in or near Tampa Bay's end zone. The Bucs set a season high with those four takeaways, besting by one the four they secured during a narrow loss at Washington in Week Four.
The comeback gave the Buccaneers their first road win of the season and a 2-12 record overall with two games to play. Seattle fell to 5-9. The game also marked Tampa Bay's first win in a regular-season game on the West Coast since a 1999 trip to Seattle that resulted in a 16-3 win in December.
Everything got better for the Buccaneers after halftime. The defense allowed only one touchdown in the first half but was stung for 234 yards, including 118 on the ground. In the second half, Tampa Bay allowed just 146 yards, much of it on a meaningless final drive with the Bucs up by three scores and laying back in coverage. The Bucs' much-maligned rush defense continued to show improvement, allowing just 10 yards after the half.
Rookie QB Josh Freeman also got rolling after the intermission. Freeman was intercepted on his first pass of the game for the second straight week and completed just five of 12 passes for 61 yards and an interception in the first two quarters. He was brilliant in the third quarter, however (nine of 11 for 118 yards and two touchdowns) and he finished the game with 16 completions in 26 attempts for 205 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was not sacked, in part because he moved very well in the pocket under pressure, making several of his biggest throws while on the run.
The Bucs did run the ball effectively throughout the game, which gave Freeman an opportunity to get into his post-halftime groove. Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams split the load evenly, the former carrying 19 times for 67 yards and the latter 12 times for 66. Both totals marked season-highs for Ward in his first campaign as a Buccaneer. Freeman also made good use of his backs in the passing game, hitting each for a touchdown on short screens in the third quarter.
The Bucs trailed 7-3 at halftime but were nothing short of dominant in the third quarter, streaking to a 21-7 lead. The opening drive of the half produced Connor Barth's second field goal of the game, and Jackson's interception moments later set up a one-play touchdown drive on Williams' 22-yard catch and run. A three-and-out by the Bucs' defense and a 33-yard punt return by Sammie Stroughter set up Ward's six-yard scoring catch just five minutes later. Freeman converted four of five third-down tries during those three scoring drives, and also tacked on a two-point conversion run after Ward's score. Barth finished the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 39-yard field goal set up by Antonio Bryant's 20-yard catch. One week after failing on all 14 of their third-down tries against the New York Jets, Tampa Bay converted seven of 16 tries, helping the offense finish with 134 yards overall.
Stroughter was fantastic before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury. He caught a career-high four passes for 46 yards, two of them converting third-down tries, and also averaged 18.5 yards on four punt returns. Other than Stroughter, tight end Kellen Winslow was Freeman's primary target, as he caught six passes for 93 yards, just missing his third 100-yard outing of the year.
Williams' touchdown gave the Bucs their first lead of the game and marked Tampa Bay's first TD in 12 quarters, following low-scoring losses to Carolina and the Jets. That score was also the first one off a turnover by the Buccaneers since a Week 10 outing at Miami. It keyed the Bucs' best third quarter of the season, the first one that included more than one score. In fact, in their first 13 games combined, Tampa Bay had scored 20 fourth-quarter points before blitzing the Seahawks for 18 on Sunday.
In addition to the turnovers, Tampa Bay's defense hurried Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck into a 45.2 passer rating on 27 of 46 passing for 256 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. The Seahawks ran the ball well early behind Julius Jones (65 yards) and Justin Forsett (55 yards) but were 0-2 in the red zone. Without the running game in the second half, the Seahawks had trouble moving the ball and Tampa Bay's defense allowed them to be on the field for just under 10 minutes in the entire half.
LB Barrett Ruud and CB Aqib Talib led the team with eight tackles apiece, and Hayes filled up the box score with four tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, one interception, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery and three quarterback pressures.
The Seahawks' dominated the first quarter offensively but failed to score thanks to two serious miscues in Buccaneer territory. A 35-yard run by Forsett set up Seattle's first scoring opportunity, but Hasselbeck gave that one away with an ill-advised pitch attempt at the end of a third-down scramble that was recovered by Hayes. The Seahawks got inside the Buccaneers' five-yard line on their next possession thanks to a 25-yard run by Jones, but had to settle for a short field goal try when LB Barrett Ruud broke up a third-down pass attempt to TE John Carlson. K Olindo Mare never got a chance to kick, however, as Kevin Houser's snap skidded along the ground and off the holder's leg. Mare recovered but was tackled at the 16.
The Bucs' offense finally got untracked following that encouraging turn of events, as Freeman hit Winslow on a sharp 19-yard rollout pass on third-and-three and Ward ripped off a 25-yard run down to the Seattle 28. Ward's longest run since a 28-yarder at Philadelphia in Week Five set up a Barth field goal attempt but the kicker's 38-yarder glanced off the outside of the right post to keep the game scoreless. Ward's strong running got the Bucs to midfield again minutes later but a failed third-and-one run led to another punt.
Seattle finally cracked the scoreboard with an 85-yard drive in the second quarter, culminating in Carlson's 29-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Carlson may have stepped out of bounds before diving for the pylon but the play was not challenged and the Seahawks had a 7-0 lead with 4:30 left in the first half.
The Bucs started the second half with the football and quickly got to midfield when Freeman slid a pass in to a tightly-covered Winslow, who turned it upfield for a gain of 21. Williams got into the second level of defense on the very next snap, rushing for 20 yards to the Seattle 31. Three plays later, the Bucs faced a third-and-13 but Freeman hit Bryant on a deep slant and the receiver made a juggling catch before diving past the sticks. False start and holding penalties cost the Bucs 15 yards, however, and made it second-and-24 at the 35. The offense couldn't recover from that hole and had to settle for Barth's 45-yard field goal, making it 7-6 midway through the third quarter.
The Seahawks had offensive penalty problems of their own on the next drive, and were backed up to their own 12 when Hasselbeck tried to find WR Deion Branch down the right seam. Branch tripped on his cut in and the pass was intercepted by Jackson, who returned it to the Seattle 22. It took one play for the Bucs to grab the lead as Freeman dropped a short screen pass off to Williams, who darted upfield for a 22-yard touchdown catch.
An aggressive Bucs defense followed with a three-and-out, forcing a trio of ugly interceptions by Hasselbeck, including one that was nearly intercepted by CB Ronde Barber. Stroughter followed with a 33-yard punt return to put the Bucs right back into Seattle territory. Stroughter came up big again moments later, making a leaping catch for 16 yards on third-and-10 to make it first down at the 21. Three plays later, it was Freeman to Stroughter again, with the rookie making a spinning grab of a ball thrown behind him on third-and-six. The final third down of the drive, from the six, was also the last play of the drive, as Freeman faked a pass to the left then spun and lobbed a short ball to Ward, who easily walked in for the score. The Bucs went for two and after a Seattle timeout made the perfect call with a Freeman keeper over right tackle. The score gave the Bucs a 21-7 lead with two and a half minutes left in the third quarter.
Hasselbeck came out firing and got the Seahawks to midfield in just three plays. However, LB Quincy Black alertly blew up a screen pass and Butler and Houshmandzadeh dropped consecutive passes to lead to another Seattle punt. Stroughter tacked on a 17-yard return and Freeman hit Winslow for a gain of 21 on a play-action rollout on the first play of the drive, putting the ball back into Seattle territory. Yet another impressive third-down play by Freeman kept the drive alive when he hit Bryant over the middle for a gain of 20 on third-and-seven. The drive stalled there but Barth hit his third field of the game, from 39 yards out, to put the Bucs up by 17.
With a three-score lead, the Bucs' defense sagged to avoid the big play and Hasselbeck moved the Seahawks into Bucs territory as the clock ticked down to nine minutes. Hasselbeck tried to go deep anyway and his rainbow down the left sideline to Branch was intercepted at the Seattle six by Mack, who was running ahead of the receiver.
A 23-yard run by Williams gave the Bucs some breathing room and allowed the clock to continue its slide towards zero. The drive stalled just past midfield but that still allowed Paulescu to punt the ball down to the Seattle eight, where it was fair-caught by Forsett. The Bucs continued to force Seattle to look underneath, and the two-minute warning arrived with Seattle only out to its own 23. A 17-yard strike to Butler and two completions to Carlson moved the ball over midfield but also took the clock under one minute. Mack stopped that drive, too, with an interception in the end zone with seven seconds to play.
Game Notes: Seattle still leads the all-time series with its 1976 expansion twin, 7-3, but the Bucs have won two in a row. This is Tampa Bay's second victory in Seattle and its first at Qwest Field. … CB Ronde Barber tied former Bucs TE Dave Moore last week on the franchise's all-time games played list, and Sunday Barber took over second place all by himself with his 191st outing. The only player in team history who has appeared in more games than Barber is former LB Derrick Brooks (224). … With his first catch of the day, a 19-yarder in the first quarter, TE Kellen Winslow surpassed the Buccaneers' single-season record for receptions by a tight end. Winslow finished the day with six catches for 93 yards, giving him 68 grabs on the season and relegating Jackie Harris's 62 receptions in 1995 to second place. … Rookie RB Kareem Huggins got his first opportunity to return kickoffs. He ran two kickoffs back for 52 yards. … RB Cadillac Williams had no touchdown receptions in his first four NFL seasons but now ranks second on the team in 2009 with three scoring grabs, including his 22-yarder in the third quarter against Seattle. … K Connor Barth was good on three of four field goal tries on Sunday but he was also a weapon on kickoffs. Barth had a total of three touchbacks in his first six games as a Buccaneer but he hit three more on six kickoffs against the Seahawks. … RB Cadillac Williams moved into fifth place on the Buccaneers' all-time rushing list with his 66-yard performance against the Seahawks. Williams finished the game with 3,069 rushing yards, moving him past both Ricky Bell (3,057) and Reggie Cobb (3,061) on the chart.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: CB Derrick Roberson, DL Michael Bennett, G Shawn Murphy, T James Lee, WR Michael Clayton, WR Terrence Nunn, TE John Gilmore and designated third quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Roberson, Bennett, Clayton and Gilmore were out due to injury.
The Seahawks deactivated these eight men: RB Louis Rankin, LB D.D. Lewis, G Mansfield Wrotto, DT Red Bryant, WR Nate Burleson, TE Cameron Morrah, DE Derek Walker and designated third quarterback Mike Teel. Lewis and Burleson were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, WR Sammie Stroughter left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury and did not return. S Tanard Jackson sustained a knee injury in the fourth quarter and also did not return.
For the Seahawks, RB Julius Jones sustained a rib injury in the second quarter but was able to return to the game. LB Aaron Curry suffered a shoulder injury in the third period and did not return. LS Kevin Houser left the game with a shoulder injury in the second half and did not return.