TAMPA — Michael Lindsey fumbled the opening kickoff. Quarterback Randy Hippeard almost took a safety on the opening possession. Chris Davis coughed up the ball on the second drive and it was returned for a Pittsburgh touchdown.
Not a good look for a team fighting for its playoff life.
Tampa Bay could have secured a postseason trip with a win but instead backed in with some help as the Storm lost to Pittsburgh 48-37 Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum before 16,118, the largest crowd to see an AFL game this year.
"That was embarrassing," Storm coach Dave Ewart said. "Right now, we're not playoff worthy."
The Storm has lost six in a row, a franchise record. Pittsburgh snapped a seven-game losing streak.
The Storm's postseason plans, however, were decided before the end of the game. Word came just before halftime that New Orleans lost to Arizona, sending the Storm to the postseason. It's the Storm's first trip to the playoffs under Ewart, who took over before the 2011 season.
"I've got to be the only coach in history to be (angry) about securing the playoffs," Ewart said.
Tampa Bay reached the playoffs for the first time since a 2010 loss in ArenaBowl XXIII to Spokane.
The Storm's offense sputtered most of the night. Tampa Bay had first and goal twice and a first and 10 at the Pittsburgh 16 and failed to score each time. Tampa Bay also turned the ball over on downs six times. Hippeard was sacked five times and looked hesitant in the pocket.
"He got hit early on and started watching the rush a little too much," Ewart said. "It was definitely a combination of things."
Tampa Bay's defense did most of the heavy lifting in the first half. Rodney Beamon recorded a safety, the defense forced two turnovers on downs and R.J. Roberts' forced fumble and recovery for a 48-yard TD return gave the Storm its first lead at 16-14 with 8:16 left in the half.
Davis, a former Florida State and St. Petersburg Catholic star, led with 10 catches for 88 yards and a score, and Joe Hills extended his single-season team record with two touchdown catches (41 total). Hippeard was 25-of-42 for 202 yards, four TDs and an INT.
Tampa Bay wraps up its regular season next Saturday at Jacksonville.