The Bucs figured the Bengals would bring a variety of blitzes, but they probably didn't envision seeing blitzes practically every time they attempted a pass.
Cincinnati is renowned for blitzes, and against Bucs second-year QB Josh Freeman, the opportunity seemed to present itself. The decision paid dividends for the Bengals at times, though the Bucs managed to do the best thing an offense can to counter the blitz: beat it with the deep ball.
It wasn't easy.
"They're a good blitz team, and when it comes down to it, they're going to go with what they feel comfortable with," RG Davin Joseph said. "They were able to get us on a couple of all-out blitzes where they sent extra guys. We weren't as clean as we wanted to be, but it's something we can look back on and learn. That's one of the better blitz teams in the league, so stuff is going to happen. But guys were able to make plays."
The Bucs coaching staff was well aware that the Bengals had a "Double A-gap blitz" in their repertoire, which is effectively a blitz that uses rushers coming from both sides of the center.
"I talked earlier in the week about (the Bengals) having the exotic blitz package that we hadn't been seeing," coach Raheem Morris said. "They came out with the Double-A package, which I know is phenomenal because I studied it in the offseason and stole stuff from it. They pulled it out of the bag (Sunday), and they were getting home and hitting Freeman."
If things, at times, appeared chaotic, it's because they were. With the fans at Paul Brown Stadium getting into the game and Bucs offensive linemen on their heels, the Bengals would not relent.
"It's tough," Joseph said. "You have the crowd noise; you have the play clock. There's a lot of pressure. But that's why you play this game. You have to be able to perform in that pressure."
Illegal T.O. tweet?
A message on Bengals WR Terrell Owens' Twitter feed Sunday violated NFL rules. A post on his Twitter account noted that a fan wearing his jersey at the game against the Bucs would get a football signed by him and WR Chad Ochocinco. The message was posted an hour before kickoff, violating the NFL's social media policy that prohibits posts 90 minutes before a game. Owens was on the field shortly after the message was posted on his Twitter account. "A lucky fan wearing my jersey 2day will get a signed football by Me & Ocho Cinco! My asst will pick U out!! Good luck!" the message said. Even if someone else posted it on his account, it would violate the NFL's restrictions on players and coaches using social media before, during and after games. Asked about the tweet after the Bengals' 24-21 loss to the Bucs, Owens became angry. "Is that something that you really want to talk about right now?" Owens said. Told that he could face a substantial fine for the tweet, Owens said, "What, are you going to fine me? Is that really relevant right now? If it's for a kid, it's for a kid." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "We will look into it." He added that nothing further was expected today. Ochocinco was fined $25,000 by the league for tweeting before and during a preseason game against Philadelphia in August. He was the first player fined for violating the year-old policy.
Bengals a mess
After Sunday's defeat, the Bengals were sitting at 2-3 with consecutive losses to the Browns and Bucs. What's just as puzzling is that many of their offensive stars factored prominently in the loss, including QB Carson Palmer and WRs Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Owens was the intended receiver on CB Aqib Talib's fourth-quarter interception that set up the tying touchdown, and he expressed frustration after the game. "I did an interview with Michael Irvin (of NFL Network), and he asked me why we were 2-2 prior to this game," Owens said. "Most of it has been self-inflicted mistakes. … There is no way we should have lost the game. At some point, we have to clean up those areas." Ochocinco, who failed to haul in a difficult pass that S Sabby Piscitelli intercepted, said, "It's very frustrating. We keep saying the same thing after the three losses. I don't know what else to say." Meanwhile, coach Marvin Lewis is in the final year of his contract and hasn't been given an extension, making this an inopportune time for his team to be slumping. "We need to play better football," he said.
Graham gets it done
Bucs fullback Earnest Graham led the team in rushing Sunday, largely because of his 61-yard run from the Bucs' 1-yard line. But just as critical was his 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Graham continues to affect the game as a runner even though he is used as a ballcarrier sparingly.
On the TD play, Graham leaped over left guard Keydrick Vincent and a defender in his path, landed squarely on his feet, then crossed the goal line. It wasn't bad for a guy who is a compact 225 pounds.
"That's just instinct," Graham said. "That's just making a play. Of course, there was a little bit of (defensive penetration), but I was just trying to make a play."
Grimm bounces back
Bucs rookie FS Cody Grimm could have spent the past two weeks dwelling on the deep touchdown pass he gave up early in the loss to the Steelers before the bye week.
Then again, that might have prevented him from making one of Sunday's biggest defensive plays: an interception he returned 11 yards for a touchdown that made the score 7-7 early in the second quarter. "As a defensive back, you have to learn to let that go," Grimm said of the TD he gave up. "If you think about it too much, it can affect your next play. You've got to do what you're coached to do. … If you do that, the plays will come to you."
Grimm, a seventh-round draft pick who wasn't expected to play much beyond special teams, became a starter when Tanard Jackson was suspended for 12 months last month for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But he's playing in big games and making big plays, enough to prompt TE Kellen Winslow to go over to Grimm while he was doing postgame interviews and laud the rookie to reporters.
Winslow was heaping praise on Grimm for his timely touchdown, which came with the offense struggling and the Bengals leading 7-0. With the Bengals on their 3-yard line, QB Carson Palmer looked left for WR Terrell Owens. But Grimm, who Palmer thought was going to blitz, dropped into coverage and jumped in front of the quick throw, catching it in stride and running in for the score.
The play stunned the Bengals. Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he wasn't surprised.
"Cody Grimm had a phenomenal game his first game out," Morris said. "He gave up a big play. We tend as writers, we tend as an organization, we tend as people to get down on guys who give up big plays. But you have to have belief. You have to have faith."
A good example
During his runback of a late interception, Bucs SS Sabby Piscitelli could have been thinking about the end zone or the green grass in front of him. Not even close. Piscitelli was thinking about WR Roddy White. Apparently, the Falcons receiver's play against the 49ers last week left Piscitelli scared straight. Late in the fourth quarter against San Francisco, 49ers CB Nate Clements grabbed an interception and ran down the sideline for what would have been the winning touchdown. That's when White, who had been 40 yards downfield, came out of nowhere to strip the ball from behind. The Falcons recovered with 1:22 left and went on to win on a last-second field goal. As a result, Piscitelli made sure to hold on for dear life as he returned the interception with 25 seconds left that set up the winning field goal. "I was trying to go as far as I could and get out of bounds," Piscitelli said. "That Roddy White play last week, they showed it so much (on TV). I swear, the whole time I thought somebody was trying to get me from behind. So, man, I was just trying to get to the sideline." After the play, Piscitelli was mobbed by CB Ronde Barber and a slew of teammates. And he still had the ball in his clutches.
Benson gashes Bucs
Among the things that will be lost in the drama of the victory is the 144-yard rushing effort by Bengals RB Cedric Benson. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry against a Bucs rushing defense that continues to struggle. The Bucs entered the game allowing an average 141.3 rushing yards per game, a number that won't decline after Cincinnati's 149 yards. The Bengals had great success running to the left of their formation behind LT Andrew Whitworth and their tight ends, who seemed to match up well against the Bucs' defensive ends and outside linebackers. "The guy a year ago was a big-time runner," DT Roy Miller said of Benson, who had 1,251 yards in 2009. "That's no excuse, but obviously he's a good runner. We just can't allow him to get as many yards as he did." The Bucs have a tendency to struggle against big, powerful running backs, which is an apt description of the 227-pound Benson, a bruising, physical runner. "It all starts up front," Benson said. "The (offensive linemen) made some big plays. They were moving guys around." The Bucs have yielded two strong rushing efforts in their past two games. Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall picked up 143 yards in Tampa Bay's previous game.