Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson didn't start against Pittsburgh. Johnson, who was sidelined for almost all of the Bucs' workouts last week with a lower back contusion, dressed as the team's emergency quarterback.
Bucs backup QB Shaun King started for the first time since a 2000 playoff game and it certainly looked like he had some rust to shake off. King completed just 9-of-26 pass attempts for 73 yards. His passes were often high and inaccurate. King's second pass of the game was intercepted by Chad Scott and returned 30 yards for a touchdown, which put the Steelers up 14-0 in the first quarter.
While King was sacked just one time, he was under heavy duress all night. King was able to make a few plays due to his mobility. He rushed three times for 23 yards, including a 15-yarder. But overall, King was simply too inconsistent, which hindered Tampa Bay's offense.
King was replaced by QB Rob Johnson midway through the third quarter. Johnson didn't fare much better, but he did move the chains more than King did. Johnson completed 12-of-18 passes for 159 yards. He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson with just about 1:00 remaining in the game, which helped the Bucs avoid being shut out at home.
While King was sacked just once in 31/2 quarters, Johnson took three sacks on his first series of the game. Johnson was sacked five times in all and didn't show much patience in the pocket, even when the offensive line gave him adequate time to locate receivers.
*Tampa Bay's offense converted 2-of-11 (18 percent) third downs on Monday night.
Tampa Bay found itself trailing Pittsburgh 10-0 with 11:00 remaining in the first quarter, and that lead eventually went to 17-0 before the first quarter ended. This forced the Bucs to basically abandon the running game before they could even try and establish it.
Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman rushed four times for 20 yards (5.0 avg.). He caught just one pass for a 4-yard gain, but he also dropped a pass in the first half.
Bucs fullback Mike Alstott rushed five times for 28 yards (5.6 avg.), but it was Alstott's fumble inside Pittsburgh's 10-yard line in the first half that proved to be his biggest play of the game. His fumble was recovered by Steelers left end Aaron Smith and it killed the momentum Tampa Bay had built up on that long drive. Alstott also caught just one pass for a 4-yard gain.
*The Bucs rushed for 74 yards (5.3 avg.) against the Steelers.
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was probably the only bright spot on the team. He caught eight passes for 132 yards and he scored the team's only touchdown in the fourth quarter when he hauled in an 18-yard pass in the end zone from Rob Johnson. Keyshawn showed tremendous toughness by continuing to haul in passes across the middle of the field, where he took quite a few licks from Pittsburgh defenders.
Bucs WR Keenan McCardell caught six passes for 45 yards, including a 15-yarder. McCardell and the rest of Tampa Bay's receiving corps were hindered by some errant throws from their quarterbacks.
Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicius caught two passes for 28 yards.
Bucs tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley had quiet nights mostly because they had to help the offensive line hold off Pittsburgh's relentless pass rush. Dilger caught one pass for an 11-yard gain. Dudley hauled in two passes for eight yards.
Tampa Bay's offensive line didn't play as poorly against Pittsburgh as it did last season, but they still didn't play well enough to win on Monday night. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker had a rough game against Steelers left end Aaron Smith. Walker was called for holding and was beaten a couple of different times on the right side, which caused the pocket to collapse and led to two sacks. Tampa Bay right guard Cosey Coleman allowed Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton to get into the Bucs' offensive backfield just one second after Rob Johnson took the snap inside Pittsburgh's 10-yard line in the second half. Hampton swatted the ball out of Johnson's hands, which caused a fumble and the Steelers recovered. The Bucs' offensive line did, however, open some holes in the running game. It's just a shame the team fell behind so early, which made the Pewter Pirates abandon the running game.
*Tampa Bay's quarterbacks were sacked six times, but several of those were not this unit's fault.
Tampa Bay's defense couldn't get to Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox by rushing its front-four. This allowed Maddox to pick apart Tampa Bay's secondary at will. The Bucs sacked Maddox just two times on Monday night. Maddox had entirely way too much time to find receivers downfield.
Tampa Bay's defense did, however, contain Pittsburgh's rushing attack. The Steelers rushed for just 94 yards on 35 carries (2.7 avg.). Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp was nowhere to be found and recorded just one tackle against the Steelers. Tampa Bay right defensive end Simeon Rice recorded a sack in the first half, which gave him 15.5 on the season. Rice led the defensive linemen in tackles with five. Ellis Wyms and Chuck Darby rotated at the nose tackle position and Wyms recorded four tackles while Darby notched two of his own. Darby also came up big in the second half when Pittsburgh's offense was driving down the field and Darby forced a fumble deep in Tampa Bay territory. That great play allowed Bucs free safety Dexter Jackson to recover the fumble and stall Pittsburgh's drive.
Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks led the defense in tackles with 13. He also forced one fumble. Brooks made several key open-field tackles. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles recorded four tackles and he too notched a couple of open-field tackles that prevented big gains by Pittsburgh's offense. Bucs strongside linebacker Al Singleton recorded four tackles.
Pittsburgh came out of the gate and immediately attacked Tampa Bay's secondary, and it worked. Steelers QB Tommy Maddox hit WR Plaxico Burress down the sideline for a 41-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. That set the tone for the game and Tampa Bay's defense took nearly two quarters to settle down. Maddox had plenty of time to find receivers and as a result, Pittsburgh's offense converted 50 percent of its third downs on Monday night. Maddox's play was practically flawless. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 236 yards and he threw one touchdown. Tampa Bay cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly had a tough time containing Pittsburgh's dynamic duo – Burress and Hines Ward. Burress hauled in five passes for 127 yards. Burress did a nice job of using his 6-foot-5 frame to haul in some passes in tight coverage. Ward caught six passes for 78 yards. Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El got open in man coverage and scored a touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Maddox on the opening drive of the game. It was Randle El's first touchdown of the season. Barber recorded eight tackles. Kelly recorded four tackles. Both Barber and Kelly along with nickel corner Dwight Smith made some nice open-field tackles. Smith made three tackles on the night. Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson recovered a fumble caused by Chuck Darby. That play halted a Pittsburgh drive deep in Tampa Bay territory. Jackson recorded four tackles. Bucs strong safety John Lynch recorded six tackles and was excellent against the run on Monday night. Lynch looked like his old self as he launched himself into Pittsburgh's running backs in order to stop their running game.
* Pittsburgh's offense converted 7-of-14 (50 percent) third downs on Monday night.
Bucs punter Tom Tupa had an awful night in terms of punting, especially when he was punting against the wind. He had a couple of punts go just 25 yards. Tupa did, however, finish the game with a 41.1 average. But his errant punts certainly didn't help Tampa Bay's defense out in terms of field position.
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica drilled a 50-yard field goal in the first half, but the team took those three points off of the scoreboard after the Steelers were called for holding, which gave the Bucs a first down. Mike Alstott later fumbled on that drive, so the Bucs came away with nothing.
Tampa Bay's special teams coverage units did a nice job on Monday night.
You can't criticize Jon Gruden for taking the field goal off of the scoreboard and taking the new set of downs after Pittsburgh was called for holding in the first half. With King starting for the first time in two seasons, some will wonder why Gruden didn't turn more to the running game in order to help King adapt to life as a starting quarterback in the NFL again, but the Bucs fell so far behind so quickly that Gruden was practically forced to abandon the running game before he could even try and get it started. I'm not sure why Gruden continues to call play-action passing plays on second-and-long, and Pittsburgh's defense certainly wasn't biting on the play-action fakes on those types of down-and-distances on Monday night. Tampa Bay's defensive coaching staff had a tough time finding a remedy for Pittsburgh's diverse offensive attack in the first half, but the Bucs' defense only allowed 10 points on the night, which still should have been good enough to win the game.
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