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  1. Bucs

Once-cut Bucs stepped up into key roles in first win

TAMPA -- Their contributions, unexpected as they may 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 pass with a 41-yard catch in the final minute. One had a sack, one recovered a fumble and another returned a punt 25 yards to set up a score.

What do those five players all have in common? All of them had been cut in the previous month, most of them by Tampa Bay, still getting another chance with the Bucs and stepping up in a big way in the team's first win Sunday.

"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, setting up the final score. "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."

The players are likely to continue in prominent roles -- a groin injury for rookie Mike Evans makes Murphy a likely starter at receiver, and Dashon Goldson's ankle injury makes it all but certain Wright will be starting at safety in New Orleans.

"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."

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

Solomon Patton, an undrafted rookie from Florida, was among the team's final cuts, went unclaimed and signed to the practice squad, only to be promoted before the season opener, handling both punt and kickoff returns. His 25-yard punt return set up an early field goal Sunday, 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, 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 of Sunday's win, wrapping up Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to end a circus play as time expired to seal the Bucs' win. He said the players that have joined the roster since the season started have worked hard to set a reputation for themselves, earning 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.