In the end, maybe the Bucs fans that stayed home and forced a television blackout knew something that those in attendance did not. On a sweltering day at Raymond James Stadium, the black and gold, terrible towel waving, onslaught of Steeler fans were treated to an old fashioned beat down of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who fell to 2-1 following the 38-13 loss.
Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t feel too upset they couldn’t see this one on television as the Steelers absolutely dominated. Pittsburgh was in total control both on offense and defense, raking up 387 yards of offense, including 201 on the ground while holding the Bucs to only six points for most of the game.
Things started off as well as Aqib Talib picked off Charlie Batch’s first pass of the game leading to a Connor Barth 40 yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. But Batch would rebound quickly on the next drive and find Mike Wallace deep for a 46 yard score, his first of two touchdown catches on the day. The Steeler offense never looked back, scoring three more touchdowns in the second quarter and taking a 28-6 lead into half time.
The Buccaneer defense that had looked so good for the first two weeks was seemingly lost against Batch and running back Rashard Mendenhall. Batch exploited what appears to be a secondary reeling following the loss of Tanard Jackson for two deep touchdown passes to Wallace as well as a red zone touchdown to Hines Ward that split the outstretched arms of Barrett Ruud and rookie Cody Grimm just before halftime. The Steeler offensive line dominated the Buccaneers front four, not allowing a sack of Batch and opening large holes for Mendenhall who carried the ball 19 times for 143 yards and a score.
Josh Freeman struggled all day against a suffocating Steeler defense employing a perfect combination of pressure and coverage. Freeman managed 184 yards on 20 of 31 passes but registered no touchdowns and a critical fourth quarter interception that was returned 79 yards for a touchdown and killed any hope of a late rally. Cadillac Williams continued to struggle, totaling 13 measly rush yards on 6 carries and was outrushed by rookie LaGarette Blount making his NFL debut. Earnest Graham led all receivers with 57 yards on 4 catches. Rookie Mike Williams hauled in 5 passes for 55 yards.
Freeman was replaced late in the fourth quarter by Josh Johnson as Raheem Morris decided to get his second string players some playing time in the rout. Rookie receiver Arrelious Benn caught 3 passes for 33 yards in the final drive that was capped by a 1 yard touchdown run by Blount.
The Buccaneers will head into the Bye week at 2-1 and tied for first place in the NFC South with the Saints and Falcons, but with many questions to answer. After being humbled today at the hands of Pittsburgh, Buccaneer players and coaches alike will get some much needed to time to reflect and improve on an outing where pretty much everything went wrong. This team is young and games like this are going to happen but there is a strong foundation to build on.