Tampa Bay showed the type of fight on Monday night that we hadn’t seen from this franchise in a long time. However, the Buccaneers also displayed the same sort of mistakes in the first half that have been frustrating fans for years.
A valiant comeback effort fell just short late in the fourth quarter after a three and out from the offense. With three timeouts and a chance to get the ball back, Tampa Bay’s defense faltered and allowed Pittsburgh to pick up a few first downs and ice the game.
Now, there’s some question marks floating around this team with Jameis Winston back in the fold. Who will be the starting quarterback? Will teams stop shredding the Bucs through the air? Can Tampa Bay find any rhythm on the ground?
On a short week with a road game in Chicago on Sunday, the Buccaneers are going to have to get things figured out and they need to do it fast. Luckily for Tampa Bay, the Bears have had one of the worst offenses in the league to this point. They rank just No. 26 overall in total offense and No. 28 in passing offense.
1. Mike Evans
Outside of a miscommunication with Ryan Fitzpatrick that resulted in an interception during the first half, Mike Evans was the most electric player on Tampa Bay’s offense all night.
Time and time again, the former Texas A&M star stepped up exactly when he was needed. Evans hauled down a 51-yard pass to set Tampa Bay up inside the Pittsburgh ten-yard line near the end of the second quarter.
Later in the game, with the Buccaneers needing a touchdown to stay alive, Fitzpatrick delivered a perfect throw to find Evans from 24-yards out for another score.
Evans finished with six receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets. He also became Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in touchdown catches with 35.
2. Justin Evans
It’s the Evans brothers (no, they’re not actually brothers) in the winners column this week. Safety Justin Evans was solid in coverage throughout the night and made possibly the most exciting play for this defense all game.
Evans read Ben Roethlisberger’s eyes all the way on a pass and closed in on JuJu Smith-Schuster before diving in front of him for an athletic interception.
Tampa Bay would score on the ensuing drive for its only lead of the game. Evans finished with six total tackles and a pass deflection outside of his interception.
3. OJ Howard/Cameron Brate
The Buccaneers tight end combo was phenomenal on Monday night, hence why I’m highlighting both of them.
OJ Howard is simply a mismatch for almost any defender in the NFL. His mix of size, hands, and athleticism will be a continued force to be reckoned with as long as he continues to develop. He showed off some of those skills last night.
Howard’s first catch of the game was a short pass where the former Alabama star broke a tackle and muscled his way for a first down. He also came up in the clutch. Howard caught three passes late in the fourth quarter on touchdown drive that brought the Bucs within three. He finished with six catches for 72 yards.
Cameron Brate finally got his first touches of the season and he didn’t disappoint. Brate hauled down three passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay could pick on linebackers all day if they targeted both of the playmakers even more.
1. Offensive line
Tampa Bay’s offensive line left much to be desired during the loss to the Steelers. After allowing just two sacks over the first two games, the Buccaneers surrendered three last night, bringing their season total to five.
Missed assignments and pressure were also, perhaps, the main causes of two of Fitzpatrick’s three interceptions in the game. On the first interception, Demar Dotson blocked inside instead of outside and the defensive end had free reign to tip Fitzpatrick’s pass and force a pick.
Later in second quarter, center Ryan Jensen was pushed back by Dan McCullers which resulted in the Steelers defensive lineman hitting Fitzpatrick’s arm before he could follow through on the pass. You know what happened next.
The running game also didn’t take much of a step forward as Tampa Bay had to basically abandon it in the second half to try and catch back up. The Buccaneers finished with 16 carries for 63 yards (3.9 YPC). For the season, the team has scored just one touchdown on the ground and is averaging a mere 3.0 yards per rushing attempt.
2. Chris Conte
Do I have to break this one down? Chris Conte was on the wrong side of one of the nastiest stiff arms that I’ve ever seen live.
Journeyman tight end Vance McDonald caught a short pass from Roethlisberger before absolutely destroying Conte and going the distance for 75-yards. It was McDonald’s longest reception in two years.
Conte didn’t return to the game with a knee injury but I think all of us know the bruise was closer to his ego.
3. Isaiah Johnson
After slamming into the stadium wall during a wild play that occurred in the first half, I honestly didn’t think we’d see Isaiah Johnson again.
Johnson and the receiver he was covering both seemed to lose track of a long pass from Roethlisberger that sailed out of the back of the end zone. The play ended with Johnson, at full speed, getting blindsided by the wall.
The defensive back returned later in the game and he was flagged for a penalty on Tampa Bay’s most explosive play of the night. Down 30-20 and needing a score, DeSean Jackson returned a punt through the Pittsburgh coverage unit and up the sideline for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay trailed by just three with just under nine minutes to play. As Jackson celebrated in the end zone, the Buccaneers noticed the flag. Holding on Johnson.
The Bucs would still score on the drive, it just took an extra three minutes, which they could’ve used at the end.
1. Ronald Jones
It’s not good when you’ve been a healthy scratch for three weeks. It’s really not good when you’re a Second-Round pick who’s been a healthy scratch despite a struggling running game.
What the heck is going on with Ronald Jones? Tampa Bay elected to dress cornerback Javien Elliott over him against Pittsburgh.
With the way the running backs have struggled on the ground thus far, this is a disappointing sign for Johnson.
This isn’t how the former USC tailback expected to spend his first year in the NFL.