The Buccaneers had plenty of fight in them before Monday night's game here at Raymond James Stadium. However, once the game began it was the Steelers who proved to be the Alpha males of this game, while the Buccaneers were exposed as the paper champions Lee Flowers called them last season.
The Steelers didn't just beat the Buccaneers Monday night. They destroyed them.
And the most surprising part was how they did it. Coming into this game, Tampa Bay not only had the league's top-rated defense, they also had the league's No. 1 pass defense, allowing just 151.7 yards per game with 27 interceptions and 40 sacks.
Considering the Steelers ran for 220 yards in last year's 17-10 victory here over the Bucs last season, conventional wisdom said the Steelers would come out running again. Instead, they threw caution to the wind and attacked the Buccaneers' strength. It worked to perfection with Tommy Maddox completing 11-of-13 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone as the Steelers jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
The victory for the Steelers was huge in so many ways. Not only did it clinch the AFC North championship for them, but it was against a Tampa Bay team that entered the game with an 11-3 record, tied for the league's best record coming into the week.
This is a team that not only appears to be peaking, but one that is doing it at exactly the right time. With the playoffs just two weeks away, the Steelers are playing their best football of the season.
Losses to New England and Oakland to open the season are distant memories now, replaced by ones of a team that has been dominant defensively in the past month. Combine that defense with an offense that has consistently been one of the league's best week-in and week-out, and you have a team that could make a lot of noise in the playoffs. This is the team we all expected to see coming out of training camp.
This is the team many picked to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.
This is the defense that was the league's best a season ago. Before Monday night's game, you could have made light of whom the Steelers' defense had been ransacking in recent weeks since nobody is going to confuse Jacksonville, Houston, or Carolina with any of the league's best.
But Tampa Bay, even with Shaun King at quarterback instead of Brad Johnson, should still have put up much more of a resistance than it did Monday night. King, remember, quarterbacked the Buccaneers within one controversial play of the Super Bowl just two years ago as the Bucs starter. The Steelers proved Monday night that they deserve to be considered among the NFL's elite.
And that is something nobody thought would be said about them as recently as three weeks ago.
Here are some more thoughts from a sports writer who is going through the aftershock of being in 70-degree weather one day and 30-degree weather the next:
-You seen Warren Sapp? Me neither.
-Ditto Simeon Rice.
-The Tampa Bay Bucs are a bunch of front-running gutless wonders. Once they got down 14 points Monday night, the game was over. There was a lot of quit in that team.
-Brad Johnson wouldn't have made much of a difference Monday night.
Think about how many times Shaun King had to scramble out of the pocket because he was being pressured on a three-step drop.
Johnson doesn't have that mobility.
He may not have thrown the interception to Chad Scott that Scott returned for a touchdown, but he may not have lasted through the first quarter either.
-The Steelers can throw the ball against any team.
-The Steelers offensive line may have played its best game against the Bucs. Ditto the defensive line, which has been making things happen for the past month.
-You seen Warren Sapp?
Maybe they should put his face on a milk carton or something.