Bucs rally in final minutes to stun Bengals, 24-21
They will tell you now that it seemed a little silly at the time. So much so, some actually snickered under their breath at the initial mention of it. A couple of others just rolled their eyes. A Race to 10 wins?

As catchphrases go, Coach Raheem Morris' choice for the Bucs might have seemed a little ridiculous at first, especially for a team coming off a 3-13 season. But with that race now at its quarter pole, no one in the Bucs' locker is snickering or rolling his eyes anymore.

How could they, when they're actually among the race's leaders. "I'm not surprised,'' Morris said after the Bucs improved to 3-1 with a stunning 24-21 victory against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. "I knew we could win a lot of football games that other people didn't think we could win.''

This was certainly one of those games. The Bengals, who went to the playoffs with a 10-6 record last year, were favored to win by more than a touchdown. Whoever set that line, though, failed to factor in the Bucs' resiliency.

Start with the quarterback. He was knocked out of the game by a hit to the jaw early, but Josh Freeman bounced back to engineer yet another game-winning fourth-quarter comeback, his fourth in six career victories across 13 NFL starts.

Then turn to the safeties. One of them, rookie Cody Grimm, bounced back from a horrid outing in his first game to return an interception for a touchdown. The other, Sabby Piscitelli, bounced off the bench and out of Morris' doghouse to pick off a pass and set up the game-winning field goal.

Finally, look at the receivers. One of them, rookie Mike Williams, bounced back after losing a fumble and scored the game-tying fourth-quarter touchdown. Another, Micheal Spurlock, bounced back after losing a fumble of his own and grabbed the Freeman pass that allowed Connor Barth to kick the winning field goal from 31 yards with one second left. "This is the NFL,'' Spurlock said. "It's all about perseverance.''

It was on this Sunday. Though they struggled again to stop their opponent's rushing attack, wasted several scoring opportunities and trailed by seven points with less than two minutes to play, the Bucs never lost faith in their ability to find a way to squeeze out a victory.

"We've obviously grown a lot in the last year,'' veteran cornerback Ronde Barber said. "And a lot of the credit for that goes to the young players. I mean, it's not about the veterans here, because there aren't a lot of veterans here.

"You have to give the credit for that to these young guys, and you have to give them credit for understanding the importance of situational football. That's something (Morris) has been preaching to them since May.''

Never give up. That's another thing Morris has been preaching since May. His sermon continued Sunday. It had to. At halftime, Williams was admittedly "in the tank'' over his lost fumble. After catching a Freeman pass at the Bengals' 4-yard line, Williams slipped as he tried to gain extra yards and fumbled the ball away, the recovery setting up a field goal that gave Cincinnati a 10-7 halftime lead.

"He came up to me at halftime and he told me to pick my head up, because we had a whole second half to play,'' Williams said. "He said if I keep my head down I won't play well in the second half, so I took that and ran with it.''

He ran with the ball, too, catching four second-half passes for 80 yards, including one for 20 yards and a touchdown that tied the game with 1:26 to play. An interception by Aqib Talib, who redeemed himself after giving up a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in the first quarter, set up that scoring drive and was one of three interceptions against Carson Palmer.

"(Secondary coach Jimmy Lake) told us all week that Carson Palmer is going to give it up,'' said Piscitelli, who replaced an injured Sean Jones (back) one play into the game. "He said he's a great quarterback but that he throws the ball a lot and that we'd have a chance to make plays on him.

"The thing we had to do was capitalize on our opportunities when they came to us, and we did that today. We had some big-time picks today, and on mine, my biggest thing was just to get as far as I could so that we could get the field goal.''

Piscitelli, who made the pick at the Tampa Bay 35, got the ball to the Bengals' 34. Freeman and Spurlock, who caught a 21-yard pass while dragging his toes along the sideline, got them to Cincinnati 13 and from there, Barth did the rest.

"We talk about it all the time,'' Morris said. "You can't get down say, 'Oh woe is me.' You can't let a bad play get you down and that's what we did all day today. Aqib gave up a big play early. We gave up some (scoring opportunities). But we were able to get back out there and make some plays. That's the difference in our football team this year.''

About the writer
Roy Cummings has been The Tampa Tribune's primary Buccaneer beat writer for many years now and has a knowledge of the current players that is unsurpassed amongst local reporters. He also appears on Channel 8's news broadcasts on stories about the Bucs. He came to London with the Buccaneers in 2009 and was at Richmond Park to be part of the Bucs UK's most memorable day when the club took on the UK Patriots at touch football in front of many Bucs alumni and club officials.