Welcome to the league, noobs.
That's the message the veteran Pittsburgh Steeler squad sent to the baby Buccaneerson Sunday in a 38-13 route in Raymond James Stadium that wasn't even as close as the score indicated, if that's possible to believe. Coming into the week, fans and talking heads mused about whether the Buccaneers were light years ahead of what fans could have hoped for, or if they had really beaten anybody. It's still too early to answer that question fully, but it was glaringly obvious that the Buccaneers were outgunned by a superior and seasoned opponent on Sunday and that they have quite a ways to go to compete with Super Bowl contenders like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following the interception on their first drive, the Steelers flexed their muscles and established their dominance on both sides of the ball. Despite starting inside the PIttsburgh 30, the Buccaneers failed to record a first down and had to settle for a Connor Barth FG to give them an early 3-0 lead, which was a disappointment to some degree. From there, the well-traveled and experienced Charlie Batch finished 12/17 for 186 yards and 3 TDs, with 2 INTs. Although the first two TD passes were both underthrown passes that could have easily been picked off by a rapt defensive back, the Steelers knew where to test the Tampa Bay defense, beating Cody Grimm deep down the middle for the first TD and finding Heath Miller deep over the middle to set up PIT's 2nd score of the game. It was a tough game for the defense as a whole, but Grimm's performance in the face of Tanard Jackson's solid play creates significant cause for concern in the middle of the defense.
I could focus on the plateau and fade of the run defense in the middle of the game, which allowed 201 rushing yards on the day. Or the tease of a potential pass rush early that could only manage a pinkie at/near Batch, then disappear completely and finish with zero sacks. Or perhaps the bad bounces and breaks that went against the Buccaneers....ala Mikey's fumble, two should-have-been breakups/INTs that went for TDs, and Stroughter's bobble that ended up in Brett Kiesel's hands for a TD. Or the lack of physicality from the Buccaneers in comparison to the style of play the Steelers brought to the field. Or how Sammie Stroughter is disappearing faster than Houdini in a power-outage.
Instead, I'm gonna focus on another performance from Josh Freeman that made me feel pretty good on the day. He finished 20 for 31 for 184 yards and 1 INT (which really wasn't even his fault; see Sammie Stroughter, above). However, once again, he showed poise and composure, this time in the face of a buzzsaw of a defense.....running away from pressure and making some plays with his legs again. His 11-yard scamper kept a scoring drive alive in the first half. He kept his eyes down the field and not on the rushers, which, given how often Pittsburgh brings pressure, is a sign of maturity in itself. He forced one throw early that was knocked away and almost picked by James Harrison, but thereafter he was patient, scanned his progressions (thanks to a decent job of pass protection from the offensive line in the first half) and took what the defense gave him. Case in point, he found 7 different receivers on the day.
That being said, I'm certainly not saying the day for Freeman was without fault. He missed a wide-open Jerramy Stevenson a Waggle play where he was streaking open on a deep post for a walk-in TD. Of course, Freeman was starting to run again because of the pocket breaking down, but he could have lobbed it and let Stevens catch it and do somersaults into the end zone. Have to make a defense like Pittsburgh pay when they make a rare mistake.
Also, has this team found a RB it can't ignore? LeGarrette Blount pounded, scratched, and clawed like a cat in a bath tub every time he touched the ball. He dragged a Steeler defender on his leg like a rag doll on his 11-yard run, which briefly energized the Buccaneer crowd. His touches disappeared as the Buccaneers were down big and throwing the football. However, he tagged his positive performance with a 1-yd TD run to close out the game on an encouraging note. Where it seems Cadillac Williams has a difficult time fighting through contact, LeGarrette Blount certainly doesn't appear to have that problem. It'll be interesting to see how his playing time changes going forward.
There's no doubt it was an ugly day overall, but I'm just going to close the book on the disaster, tear out the pages on LeGarrette Blount and Freeman, and go on my merry way.