The Pittsburgh Steelers hold a 30-10 lead entering the second half on the strength of three Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes and a pick six from Bud Dupree. The defense has come up with three interceptions and a fumble recovery, including an interception in the red zone, which has shaped this game so far.
Vance McDonald has made a big mark, going over 100 yards in the first half, including an impressive 75-yard touchdown that included one of the more forceful stiff arms I’ve seen in years. Roethlisberger, outside of a couple of questionable decisions holding onto the ball, has been at times masterful in exploiting the defense and spreading the ball around.
The Buccaneers started the half with the ball just outside the 25, picking up a first down on two plays to open the drive. Another connection for Mike Evans hit midfield. After a false start…and then another false start, Fitzpatrick sidestepped a Bostic blitz, forcing him to scramble for a short gain. He released a deep ball to Chris Godwin that was originally ruled a touchdown, but after review, he was ruled down by contact at the 37.
Barber was dropped for a loss on the following play. Jon Bostic got home for the sack on second down for another loss. On third and 18, Godwin picked up 12 yards on the screen pass up the left sideline. Coty Sensabaugh was pancaked by Evans.
Barber broke two tackles for four yards to the 22. Fitzpatrick found Humphries for about 17 to set up first and goal. From the six, Barber was stopped after two yards, but an illegal shift was called before the play to make it first and goal from the 11. Fitzpatrick held onto the ball on the following play, sacked by Dupree. Now from the 15, the back lost his footing after a five-yard reception. On third and goal from the 10, the Steelers nearly got another turnover with the ball batted up at the goal line looking for Godwin, Anthony Chickillo the one with a distant chance of pulling the ball in. The Buccaneers did at least add a field goal to make it 30-13.
From the 25, James Conner made a tackler miss in the backfield to get up the left sideline for a gain of seven. A short flat to JuJu Smith-Schuster picked up four after he beat a defender to move the chains. Conner was dropped for a loss of a few on a draw that didn’t look good from the snap. On second down, with Stevan Ridley in the slot, he found Smith-Schuster for the first down again for 15 yards. He found James Washington for the first down on third and short three plays later.
Now at the Bucs’ 34, Conner was stuffed at the line on first down. A crosser to Jesse James picked up about seven. On third and three, Roethlisberger was sacked and lost the ball, the Steelers recovering. Chris Boswell’s 47-yard attempt went off the right upright for a miss, as did his point after try in the first quarter. He has now missed three field goals and two point after tries this season.
Following the miss, Fitzpatrick fired under pressure wide to his target, incomplete. From the 37, he completed to DeSean Jackson across midfield, just his second catch of the game. On a deep bomb, the ball was overthrown, Jackson looking for defensive pass interference against Joe Haden. A flag was thrown late, but it was for a chop block instead, backing up the Bucs 15 yards.
Now first and 25 back on their own side of the field, a running back screen only got back a few yards. A pair of blitzers interfered with each other on second down, allowing Fitzpatrick to get the pass out for a positive play. On third and 13, Sean Davis came up to make the tackle on a checkdown to the back after six yards. It’s fourth and seven now in the fourth quarter, Tampa going for it. But not before Mike Tomlin used a timeout. Fitzpatrick found Cameron Brate for the conversion for nine yards inside the 35.
Following a 12-men penalty on the Steelers, Dupree nearly got a sack, but a holding penalty on T.J. Watt would have negated it anyway. The result of the play was a first down for O.J. Howard. Inside the 20, Fitzpatrick’s ball sailed out of the end zone. The underneath pass to Rodgers picked up 11 to set up first and goal.
Fitzpatrick scrambled on the first play for a short gain. From the four, he missed Humphries with Cameron Sutton in coverage, who replaced an injured Hilton. Now third and goal, Coty Sensabaugh was beaten on a desperation jump ball under pressure by Godwin for the touchdown, now 30-20.
Roethlisberger took over from the 25 on the next drive following a touchback, the first play a short pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for two yards. On second down, an inside screen to McDonald picked up about 10 for the first down. Conner slipped on the handoff on the following play for a short loss. Roethlisberger couldn’t thread the needle to Brown on second down. Now third and 11, Roethlisberger just threw the ball out of bounds as he was going down for a sack.
Jackson returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown for the Buccaneers, but it didn’t count because of a holding penalty. Instead of a score, they start from their own eight.
Howard was stopped after a two-yard gain on first down. He got one down the seam on a vertical toss on the following play for 21. Jackson added another first across the 40. Fitzpatrick threw behind Godwin for the first incompletion on the drive, just over seven minutes to play. Fitzpatrick took off on second down for a 17-yard scramble, seeing open space.
Down to the Steelers’ 40, he ripped one long to Evans with Burns in coverage, incomplete with now flags. He tripped on Davis’ feet in bracket coverage. On second down, he got the ball to Howard for a first down inside the 25.
Burns broke up a pass for Jackson as the field shrinks. The receiver walked off after the play. But he was beat for the touchdown to Evans on the following play to make it a three-point game. Burns was beat on a double move.
With 5:43 to play, Roethlisberger now has just a three-point lead knowing that he has to make something happen. From the 25, Conner found a step an ripped off a 27-yard run to ignite the drive. Quickly across midfield, he found a crease up the middle again, churning his feet for nine yards, nearing field goal range. On second and one, it was Roethlisberger on the sneak for a new set of downs.
At the 37, Conner was dropped for a loss of four yards, beating Roosevelt Nix, who overran the hole. Now second and 14 with 3:29 to play, with five wide, Roethlisberger hit Switzer quickly for five yards to make it third and nine. He threw it to Brown’s back shoulder for an incompletion, where the receiver clearly wasn’t expecting it. Roethlisberger was visibly frustrated on the sideline. Berry’s punt was downed at the one, but an illegal shift negated the great punt. Darrius Heyward-Bey was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct arguing with the official after being flagged for an illegal shift, pushing the Steelers back to their own 44. His second attempt went into the end zone for a touchback.
Fitzpatrick launched a deep ball to Jackson on first down, incomplete. Sensabaugh had his hands on a pass over the middle, incomplete. Quickly third and 10, he threw in between multiple defenders to force an incompletion. With 2:49 remaining, the Buccanneers elected to punt on fourth and 10 from the 20. Switzer did a great job of even fielding a huge punt inside the 20 that he was able to return to the 32.
Continuing with the run-heavy looks, Conner was stopped on first down for a one-yard gain, Tampa using its second timeout with 2:31 to play. On second down, out of 12 personnel, Roethlisberger bought time off play action to find Smith-Schuster for a first down. The reception put him over 100 yards for the game, for the fourth consecutive regular season game. With a fresh set of downs, Conner got a head of steam to rattle off a 17-yard run to close out the game. Tampa has no timeouts, and it’s the two-minute warning. Three knees and the Steelers have a better record than the Patriots.