The most surprising story of the first two weeks of the 2018 NFL season was the hot start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Behind ultra-efficient passing performances from backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bucs stunned the Saints in New Orleans in Week 1, then defeated Nick Foles and the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2.
The Steelers finally put an end to Tampa’s hot start on Monday night, holding on for a 30-27 win over the Bucs in Tampa behind an efficient display of passing from Ben Roethlisberger and a defensive performance that was better than it looks considering the Bucs hung 27 points on the board. Pittsburgh forced four turnovers in the game, and sacked Fitzpatrick three times as well. They held the Bucs to just two scores on five trips to the red zone and yielded only 63 yards on the ground.
Not that the Steelers put together a flawless performance. Roethlisberger was picked off early. The team as a whole took a ridiculous 13 penalties for 155 yards, including several that extended drives and/or kept the Buccaneers in the game. They mysteriously kept the ball in the air even while protecting a lead in the second half and combined for 32 yards on 11 plays while giving the Bucs a chance to trim the lead and get within just a field goal of tying it up.
After the Steelers pinned Tampa inside the 5-yard line with a perfect punt with just south of three minutes left, only to take two penalties on the play and have to punt again, the Buccaneers had one last shot to mount a potential game-tying or game-winning drive. But Fitzpatrick fired three straight passes that were nearly picked, and the Bucs, who still had two timeouts remaining, decided to punt. They never got the ball back.
After James Conner was stopped in his tracks on first down, the Steelers put the game in Roethlisberger’s hands. And he did what he does best. Roethlisberger was under pressure quickly off the snap, but he spun away and escaped out to his right, then threw across his body while falling down. He found JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle for the second-year wideout’s ninth catch of the game, and the Steelers were able to run out the clock from there.
Here are a few more things to know about Pittsburgh’s Monday night victory.
Roethlisberger overcomes road woes
We all know about the relative struggles Ben Roethlisberger has had in road games over the past several seasons. Last year, for example, Roethlisberger completed only 61.7 percent of his passes on the road while throwing for 62.2 fewer yards per game than he did at home. And in the season opener on the road against the Browns, Ben went 23 of 41 and was picked off three times.
It looked like he might continue his road struggles early on, as he got picked off by Bucs safety Justin Evans early in the first quarter.
But he overcame that early interception and had himself quite the evening. Roethlisberger ended the night having completed 30 of 38 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, with just the lone pick. It marked the first time in his 15-year career that he’s opened the season with three consecutive 300-yard passing performances.
He sprayed the ball around to his wideouts Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well as tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James. He even got speedy slot man Ryan Switzer involved with a touchdown late in the first half. Even against one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses, it was an impressive performance away from the friendly confines of Heinz Field.
Fitzpatrick’s Fitzmagic runs out
Ryan Fitzpatrick set an NFL record in this week, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games. Fitz ended the night with 411 yards on 50 attempts, to go along with three touchdowns and three picks.
And those picks proved quite costly. One of them came in the red zone on a deflected pass.
Another shut down a scoring drive before it could really get started.
And of course, the third pick became a touchdown itself, as Fitzpatrick overshot his man near his own goal line and saw Bud Depree take the ball back to the house to give the Steelers a lead that eventually proved insurmountable.
Fitzpatrick put in a heck of an effort to bring the team back from a big deficit, throwing second-half touchdowns to Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, but it ultimately was not enough. Speaking of Godwin, by the way …
Chris Godwin’s wild night
Bucs wideout Chris Godwin had himself quite the interesting evening. Godwin ended the night with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown — a good, if not necessarily spectacular performance. But he had a whole lot more going on than that. With the Bucs trailing 9-7 early in the game, Godwin caught a pass coming across the middle and looked like he was about to pick up a first down, but he instead got stripped of the ball by Steelers corner Artie Burns.
That fumble set up an Antonio Brown touchdown a few plays later. Godwin would later drop a touchdown pass in the second quarter … and another in the third. And that was all before he made a diving catch over the middle of the field, only to pop to his feet and sprint to the end zone because it appeared no Steelers defender had touched him on his way to the ground. Upon review, however, it became clear that Godwin’s foot hit Mike Hilton‘s shoulder pad while he was diving to the ground, so the touchdown was overturned.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Godwin made a leaping touchdown grab over the top of Coty Sensabaugh to bring the Bucs back within 10 points.
Again, it was quite the interesting game for the Bucs’ young wideout.
That’s gonna leave a mark
Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the Steelers faced third and long from their own 25-yard line. What happened next cannot be adequately described with words alone. Just watch what Vance McDonald does to poor Chris Conte, who may never be seen in public again after this.
Seriously. Look at this stiff-arm. LOOK AT IT.
Celebrate it like you are Cameron Hayward. CELEBRATE IT.
Naturally, Conte could not return to the game after that display. The Bucs ruled him out with an injured … knee. But that did not stop people from getting their jokes off about what was really injured. (Things were so bad that people even cracked jokes at the expense of the wrong Chris Conte.)
This is also not the first time Conte has been victimized by a brutal stiff-arm, as those who watched Bills-Bears back in 2014 surely remember. Yikes.
Tony Dungy enters Bucs ring of honor
Tony Dungy coached the Buccaneers from 1996 through 2001. He’s one of the best coaches in Bucs history, recording a 54-42 record in 96 games, making him one of just two Bucs coaches with a record of .500 or better. (The other is Jon Gruden, who won the Super Bowl after replacing Dungy in Tampa.) Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame back in 2016, making him the first black coach of the modern era to be inducted.
On Monday, the Bucs granted him the franchise’s highest reward, inducting him into their ring of honor in front of several members of the team’s storied late 90s and early 2000s defense. (For some reason the Bucs themselves posted zero pictures of the ceremony so we’re taking this one from the Steelers. which looks like it’s actually from pregame.)
You can, however, watch the full ceremony here.
The Steelers are now tied with the Browns in the AFC North at 1-1-1 and have a ‘Sunday Night Football’ date with the Ravens next week, which they’ll play at home. The Bucs drop to 2-1 and travel to Chicago to take on the Bears next Sunday afternoon. They get Jameis Winston back from his three-game suspension (he violated the personal conduct policy by allegedly groping an Uber driver) on Monday morning, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will get his job back from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Our live blog of the festivities can be found below.
Thank you for joining us.
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