Scenes from RJS
The good (Blount) and mostly bad (Freeman, Penn, pass rush, punting). 4-5X
On the Web
Gary Shelton breaks down the state of the Bucs in a video chat at bucs. tampabay.com.
TAMPA — At the end of Sunday's 38-13 loss to the Steelers, which left the Bucs 2-1 and tied atop the NFC South entering their bye week, they could identify with rookie safety Cody Grimm's handling of a long first-quarter pass.
In good position but unaware of what's about to come.
Making his first start for suspended veteran Tanard Jackson, Grimm had good coverage on receiver Mike Wallace but never turned his head to find the 46-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Batch.
The 35-year-old Batch, who had not started a game in nearly three years, threw three touchdowns in the first half, including a 41-yarder that bounced off the hands of cornerback Aqib Talib and into Wallace's.
The loss left the Bucs tied with the Saints and Falcons. But they expected better, especially against a team without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and missing backup Dennis Dixon, who started the first two games before last week's knee surgery.
Even without Big Ben, the Bucs got clocked.
"Everyone is going to try to tear it down like it's the end of the world, but it's a long season," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "You're going to go through tough situations that you'll have to learn from.
"We played a heavyweight. They were more physical, more aggressive and more opportunistic."
Talib intercepted Batch's first pass deep in Pittsburgh territory, but the Bucs were held to a field goal — and the rest of the day belonged to the Steelers.
It was a blackout all right.
With all the black and gold-clad Steelers fans scattered among the paid crowd of 61,036 (actual attendance was 57,616), Raymond James Stadium looked more like Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
The Bucs entered allowing 10.5 points per game, third fewest in the NFL. But it put little pressure on Batch, who was never sacked, went 12-of-17 for 186 yards and three touchdowns (against two interceptions) and scrambled for 26 yards. He had to attempt only three passes in the second half.
Teammate Rashard Mendenhall rushed for a season-high 143 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Bucs offense never got going. Josh Freeman passed for 184 yards, but he was sacked three times and saw a ball bounce off the hands of receiver Sammie Stroughter and into those of defensive end Brett Keisel, who returned the interception 79 yards for Pittsburgh's final touchdown.
The way the Bucs played Sunday will probably have a few fans breaking their ankles jumping off the bandwagon.
"Judging from the stands, we never had those people," running back Cadillac Williams said.
"The (Terrible) Towels didn't bother us at all. As a player, it's shocking to be in your stadium and see that. I'm used to playing at Auburn where it's just lights out. I'm used to playing here where it's lights out."
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the only impressive outcome from Sunday was they might have found another running back to spell Williams. LeGarrette Blount, the undrafted Oregon star known mostly for punching a Boise State player last year, looked powerful in rushing six times for 27 yards and a touchdown.
"It just shows I can bring a little to the table as far as power, speed or running the ball — period. That's what I'm trying to do," he said.
After the game, the Bucs did a little whistling as they walked past the graveyard. They said despite the tilted scoreboard, it wasn't as bad as the domination they felt last season in a 26-3 loss to the Jets and a 24-0 loss to the Giants.
True. The Bucs did have 18 first downs, 303 yards of total offense and converted 43 percent of their third downs Sunday.
"Your goal is to win every game," Williams said. "But c'mon, let's be realistic. As of now, we're not given much of a chance coming into this season. And for us to be 2-1 coming into this bye week, let's learn off this film, put it behind us and let's move forward. We've got 13 more games. It's a long season."
Grimm spoke confidently about his first start, and Morris said he wouldn't hesitate to put him in the lineup against Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens at Cincinnati in two weeks.
"I just had deep middle, and (Batch) put up a good ball," Grimm said of Wallace's first touchdown. "I was trying to play the man rather than the ball. I should've turned my head around."
After Sunday — like Grimm — you get the feeling the Bucs aren't turning heads anymore.