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BUCCANEERS SAVOR SOME PRIME CUTS

Released players return and give Bucs a taste of victory.

Their contributions, unexpected as they might have been, were all over the field for the Bucs in Sunday's win at Pittsburgh.

One player started and had nine tackles. Another led the team in receiving and set up the winning touchdown with a 41-yard catch in the final minute. One had a sack, another recovered a fumble and another returned a punt 25 yards to set up a score.

What do those five have in common? All had been cut by an NFL team in the previous month - most by Tampa Bay - but got another chance with the Bucs and stepped up in a big way in the team's first win.

"That's part of football. If one guy goes down, the next guy's got to step up. That's been happening across the board for the entire team," said receiver Louis Murphy, who was signed last week and led the team with six catches for 99 yards, including the 41-yarder to set up the final score against the Steelers.

"Guys have had to step into roles they're not used to, but I'm ready for this. ... It's a big opportunity, and I'm going to take full advantage of it."

In all, 10 of the 46 players active in Sunday's game had joined (or rejoined) the Bucs since the initial 53-man roster was set, so the vulnerability of being out of an NFL job was a familiar feeling for many.

And a real motivation.

"It makes me real hungry, just being in that role where you've been trying to prove yourself for a long time in this league, jumping from different teams," said defensive end Jacquies Smith, who was claimed off waivers before the season opener and recovered a fumble on the Steelers' first drive. "It makes you more hungry, makes you work even harder and appreciate when you do get to this point."

Some of the players are likely to continue in prominent roles. A groin injury to rookie Mike Evans makes Murphy a likely starter Sunday in New Orleans. And Dashon Goldson's ankle injury makes it all but certain Major Wright will start at safety.

"It's just staying focused and doing my job," said Wright, who started Sunday and took on a larger role when Goldson sprained his ankle, finishing with nine tackles after totaling just two in the first three weeks. "This week, everybody's excited to get back out and show what they can do."

On a team where a backup (Mike Glennon) is now starting at quarterback and playing well, there's an awareness of both extremes - a reserve can be thrust into a major role at any point, but can also be cut just as quickly, which adds an urgency to players' preparations.

"You realize that each day could be our last," said defensive end Scott Solomon, who had one of five sacks against Pittsburgh, having been cut and re-signed the week after the season opener.

Coach Lovie Smith can relate a bit, having resurfaced with the Bucs after being fired by the Bears following the 2012 season.

"Most teams would be a lot better if players were all released and came back a second time around," Smith said. "I've been in that situation. Given a second chance, you normally do things a little differently. ... The odds are, if you deserve to play, eventually you'll get a chance to play, dress and be able to contribute."

Solomon Patton, an undrafted rookie out of Florida, was among the team's final cuts, went unclaimed and signed to the practice squad, only to be promoted before the opener to handle punt and kickoff returns. His 25-yard punt return set up an early field goal against Pittsburgh, and he also gained 19 yards on an end-around on the only offensive snap he played.

Patton said he'll remember the joy in the locker room as the team celebrated its first win of the season, and his first in the NFL.

"It was awesome. Everybody was so excited," Patton said. "As all the other guys and coaches were coming in, I was chest-bumping everybody."

Smith was in on the final play Sunday, wrapping up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to end a circus play as time expired. He said the players who have joined the roster since the season started have worked hard to establish a positive reputation and earn respect from the team's established veterans.

"They know we're going to bring it every day, whether it be practice or when we get a chance to shine in the game," he said.

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.

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Bucs at Saints

1 p.m., Sunday, Superdome, New Orleans.

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

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