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Bucs shock Steelers

Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson makes a catch in front of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay for a touchdown with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. [AP photo]
Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson makes a catch in front of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay for a touchdown with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. [AP photo]
Published Sep. 29, 2014

PITTSBURGH — A week ago, quarterback Mike Glennon got a text message from exiled receiver Louis Murphy, who was released by the Bucs a day before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against Carolina. The exchange didn't last very long.

"I asked him what he was up to, and he didn't mention the Bucs," Glennon said.

That's odd because Murphy always talks about the Bucs. The former Florida Gator and Lakewood High star grew up rooting for his hometown team.

"A local guy who loves the Buccaneers," coach Lovie Smith describes him.

"He would do anything."

So Tuesday, hoping to spark the league's 30th-ranked offense, Smith re-signed Murphy.

"I was so thankful to get that call," Murphy said. "I just didn't want to let those guys down."

Murphy's connection with Glennon proved to be even stronger on the field than off it Sunday in the Bucs' 27-24 upset of the Steelers.

History will show Glennon fired the winning 5-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with seven seconds left in the game. It will be documented that the Bucs took over at the Steelers 46 trailing 24-20 with no timeouts and 40 seconds on the clock.

But Murphy, coming off the bench for injured starter Mike Evans, made the biggest play for the Bucs as the buzz went silent in the bumble bee hive-colored Heinz Field.

Murphy led the Bucs with six receptions for 99 yards, but none bigger than the 41-yard catch-and-run to the Steelers 5 with 35 seconds remaining in the game. It was a Cover 2-beater quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo added during practice Thursday.

"They were going to run Cover 2 late," said Murphy, who had more catches and receiving yards Sunday than in all of 2013 with the Giants. "That zone, that hole, was going to be open, and Coach said, 'You've got to make that play.' "

In winning their first game of the season and first under Smith, the Bucs (1-3) atoned for a 56-14 loss at Atlanta 10 days earlier.

"It takes time," Smith said. "Being a new program, starting up, you'd like to be playoff-ready right away. But that didn't happen. You'd like to be win-a-game-ready right away. And that didn't happen. We made so many mistakes out there. But we found a way to win, and that was a hurdle we needed to get over."

Captain Comeback turned out to be Glennon, whom the Bucs turned to when Josh McCown tore a ligament in his right thumb against the Falcons. Glennon passed for 302 yards — 245 after halftime and 148 yards during the fourth quarter — and two touchdowns.

The Bucs missed on a previous chance at a winner as Glennon fired incomplete on three passes from the 14, the last with 1:49 left. But Tampa Bay's defense held the Steelers to three plays, used its final two timeouts and forced a punt, giving the offense possession at the Pittsburgh 46 with 40 seconds left.

It was a better performance by the defense, which set the tone by collecting two of its five sacks of Ben Roethlisberger during the first series. On third down, end Michael Johnson, who had two sacks in the game, stripped Roethlisberger of the ball, and it was recovered by end Jacquies Smith at the Pittsburgh 9. Two plays later, Glennon hit Evans on a 7-yard touchdown pass.

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"We watched (film of) the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game from last year in Cincinnati, and Mike was flying off the ball and in Ben's face," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said of Johnson, a former Bengal. "And I said, 'Hey, Mike, is this guy coming to the game?' "

Meanwhile, the Bucs offense was limited to 64 yards during the first half and held the ball less than half as much as the Steelers (20:34-9:06).

When Evans pulled up with a groin strain late in the third quarter — a play that resulted in an easy interception by cornerback Cortez Allen — Murphy entered the game, and everything clicked. Glennon had established chemistry with Murphy during training camp and preseason games, when both played on the second team.

"I wasn't doing a whole lot of throwing to Vince and Mike, and I was throwing to Murph about every play," Glennon said of the sixth-year receiver. "Every preseason game, it seemed like he was the only guy I was throwing to. So we have a good connection, and I was happy when we brought him back. It's just awesome for him."

It was similar to the plays Murphy made in the same stadium as a rookie with the Raiders in 2009, when he had six catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including the winner with nine seconds left.

"I can't explain it," Murphy said, his eyes red from his rose-colored contacts.

Or was it from shedding a tear or two?

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.