In week four of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered at 0-3. They traveled to Pittsburgh to battle a Steelers team that looked frightening based largely on a week three trouncing of the Carolina Panthers. Injuries devastated both sides, but the score seemed clear. The thought loomed that, “If the Bucs can’t beat the Panthers, can they beat the Steelers?” It was close. With 12 seconds left in the game, the Bucs were losing. I’ll admit that in that moment, I was scared. I was worried I was about to witness yet another last second heartbreak.
That’s when the team flashed back to the better half of 2013 with a Mike Glennon game-winning touchdown to Vincent Jackson. The touchdown was reviewed of course because all scoring plays in the NFL are reviewed, which announcers feel the need to notify us of every single time anyone scores ever. The touchdown was confirmed and it put the Buccaneers in the lead 27-24 with seven seconds left on the clock. The Steelers have a solid return game, so the Bucs played it safe by forcing a touchback and letting their offense take it at the 20 yard line.
Big Ben got one last chance. Rather than trying to heave it downfield, the Steelers bounced the ball upfield and then back to Big Ben in an effort at trickery and confusion. As Ben tried to get lined up for a second pass in a single play, he was swarmed by multiple Bucs defenders. Of them was Lavonte David, who was able to force a fumble in the last play. The ball was recovered by Pittsburgh, but with no time left on the clock… the game was over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had officially traveled to Pittsburgh and stunned the Steelers on the road.
David’s final play of the game was the perfect microcosm of his performance. By the end, David led all players in the game with 12 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. In the game, a stat was brought across the screen that Lavonte David was the only player in the NFL (since 2013) with 150+ tackles, 5+ sacks, and 5+ interceptions. Only Lavonte David. Not Luke Keuchly of the Carolina Panthers, who was 2013’s supposed defensive player of the year.
David stepped up in a big way. He wasn’t the only one, as Michael Johnson proved himself with two sacks and the team’s only other forced fumble. Gerald McCoy also provided constant pressure, even deflecting a pass with his injured hand at one point. A good chunk of our defense finally looked like we’d expected, but it wasn’t all good.
Cornerbacks Johnathan Banks and Alterraun Verner looked relatively useless as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 317 yards and three touchdown with a 72.5% completion rate. Steelers’ wideout Antonio Brown had a field day with 131 receiving yards on his way to two receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, Dane Fletcher wasn’t very effective in stopping tight end Heath Miller up the middle for 85 receiving yards and a touchdown of his own.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell wasn’t completely neutralized, but his rushing numbers seemed poultry when compared to the previous week. While he did manage 46 receiving yards, Bell was held to only 63 on the ground and finished the day without a single touchdown. This buffer on Pittsburgh’s rushing attack made a huge difference in the end. The defense may not have managed an interception, but consistent play and two forced fumbles paid off in the end.
Meanwhile, the offense managed to have a rhythm and productivity that seemed extinct only three weeks into the season. Doug Martin’s running attack wasn’t as effective as hoped, only 40 yards on 14 attempts, but Martin garnered some key first downs and the team’s only rushing touchdown.
The spotlight was on Mike Glennon at quarterback. Many have been critical of Josh McCown, and the outcome of the first three games of the season only aggravated that. I’ve supported McCown, and he definitely seemed like the better quarterback when the season began. With his injury, Mike Glennon was pushed back into the starting job he held last season.
Glennon may have thrown an interception and only had a completion rate of 50%, but he made key throws when he needed to. Glennon average 14.4 yards per completion on his way to 302 yards passing. The Buccaneers squeaked out with a win, and it came down to making plays in the right moments. They didn’t dominate the game statistically. The Steelers finished the game with more first downs, more total net yards, and won the time of possession.
The Bucs made their moments count. Play-calling was firmly in the hands of Marcus Arroyo, as Josh McCown looked like the new quarterbacks coach on the sideline. Personally, it made me wonder if that’s what he should be from now on. Communication errors happened, as center Evan Dietrich-Smith had some costly delay of game penalties that stalled two separate drives. The game was far from perfect, but the Bucs held the lead when the clock struck zero. In the end, that’s all that matters. A win is a win.
In the locker room celebration, the game ball was presented to head coach Lovie Smith by Gerald McCoy on behalf of the entire team. After receiving the ball, Smith put the emphasis back on the fact that it belonged to the team. This was a team effort, and no one player won this game. Every little moment counted. After receiving the game ball, Smith had the team break on “All is well.” It was comforting, after three tough weeks, to end week four with a win and hear the entire team confidently exclaim that “all is well.”
The Buccaneers are far from done improving, but this reminded everyone what the team is capable of. It’ll take continued work, and a road game against the division rival in New Orleans next week will be another huge challenge, but winning heals all wounds. After seeing the exclamation that “all is well,” it immediately made me think of a song by the band Alter Bridge called “All Ends Well.” It’s not exactly the same, but the lyrics make my point. It’s like the Bucs fan anthem for 2014.