PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers saw last week what
happens when a hurried quarterback has no time to make throws, set
up in the pocket or get any rhythm going.
Too bad for them they waited until it was too late in the season
to figure out how to do the same.
The Steelers didn't do much on offense for the second week in a
row, but it didn't make much difference as they capitalized on
repeated mistakes by Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski
to beat the Buccaneers 20-3 on Sunday.
In a matchup of two of the league's most disappointing teams,
Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from one of the worst games of his
three-season career to throw touchdown passes to tight ends Jerame
Tuman and Heath Miller -- both times after the Bucs (3-9) turned the
The Steelers (5-7) entered with a league-high 30 turnovers, but
this time limited themselves to one turnover while Tampa Bay gave
away the ball four times -- and, with it, the game -- in losing their
sixth in seven games. The Bucs have scored only five touchdowns in
losing all six road games this season.
Roethlisberger was sacked nine times and threw two interceptions
last week in a 27-0 loss to Baltimore that effectively ended any
chance the Super Bowl champion Steelers had of repeating. He wasn't
that much better against Tampa Bay, completing fewer than half of
his 25 passes against one of the league's weakest pass defenses,
but did throw scoring passes of 16 yards to Miller and 2 to Tuman.
He also was sacked only once.
The Bucs avoided their second shutout when Matt Bryant kicked a
27-yard field goal on the final play, promoting coach Jon Gruden to
say, "I probably will get criticized for it."
"There's kind of an unwritten rule against it but, if I had
been them, I probably would have kicked it, too," Steelers
linebacker Joey Porter said.
Roethlisberger (12-of-25 for 198 yards) threw his league-high
20th interception less than four minutes in, making him the first
Steelers quarterback since Cliff Stoudt in 1983 to throw that many.
Stoudt had 21 interceptions in his one and only Steelers season as
But after a pass by Gradkowski was intercepted by linebacker
Larry Foote later in the quarter, Roethlisberger's 18-yard
completion to Santonio Holmes set up the short scoring pass to
Tuman, who caught his first TD pass since 2004. Foote also
recovered a fumble.
"When we get a young quarterback against our defense, we feel
we have a good chance of messing with him," said Porter, who had
two sacks. "We felt we could frustrate him and get after him."
Gradkowski grew up a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh, but had a rough
afternoon against his one-time favorite club, going 20-of-34 for
175 yards with three interceptions -- even though the Steelers were
without star safety Troy Polamalu (knee). Gradkowski also was
sacked five times.
"He's been through a lot these last few weeks," Gruden said.
"He's started a Monday night game at Carolina, Thanksgiving at
Dallas and faced the defending world champions in his hometown, and
that's about as tough an order as you can give to anybody. He's had
good moments, hard moments."
The rookie led only one sustained drive, to the Steelers 3 late
in the third quarter, but it ended on Bryant McFadden's
interception when Gradkowski overthrew 6-foot-5 receiver Maurice
Stovall. Gruden called it "a bad throw."
The Steelers needed only five plays to drive 80 yards and score
off that turnover, with Roethlisberger finding Nate Washington on a
36-yard completion to the Bucs' 16 ahead of his TD pass to Miller
early in the fourth quarter.
Jeff Reed also kicked field goals of 50 and 39 yards. The
50-yarder was the longest in an NFL game since Heinz Field opened
It was this time a year ago the Steelers began the late-season
run that resulted in an eight-game winning streak, four in the
playoffs, and their first Super Bowl championship in 26 years. This
time, their late-season goal is more modest: win at least three of
their final four to avoid their second losing season since 2000.
Several Steelers players will attend funeral services
Monday morning in Detroit for Johnnie Bettis, the father of former
star RB Jerome Bettis. The players will return for afternoon
practice. ... Steelers S Ryan Clark injured his groin, forcing the
Steelers to finish the game with backups Anthony Smith and Tyrone
Carter at safety. ... Tampa Bay has been outscored 58-13 in its
last two games. ... The Steelers are 6-1 against Tampa Bay, which
hadn't played in Pittsburgh since 1983. ... A week after rushing
for 21 yards against Baltimore, the Steelers were limited to 76
yards on 31 carries, a 2.5 average. Willie Parker carried 22 times
for 61 yards. ... Steelers WR Hines Ward (knee) missed a game to
injury for only the second time in nine seasons.
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