Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 October 2010|
Perhaps no player has spent more time in the Bucs' doghouse than strong safety Sabby Piscitelli. During training camp, he barked about losing his starting job to Sean Jones, then was not even considered as a replacement when starting free safety Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely just more than two weeks ago.
"There was a fight started, so to speak, between Sabby and our coaching staff and organization and everyone else around," Raheem Morris said. "He snapped out of it within two weeks. I told him when he snapped out of it, he would be able to play and come in and help this team."
Piscitelli entered Sunday's 24-21 come-from-behind upset of the Bengals after Jones suffered back spasms on the first play. He then turned in one of the game's biggest plays when quarterback Carson Palmer threw him another bone.
With the score tied and 25 seconds left, Palmer's pass sailed high and bounced off Chad Ochocinco's hands and into Piscitelli's, who returned the interception 31 yards to the Cincinnati 34.
Two plays later, Connor Barth connected on the winning 31-yard field goal with one second left.
By scoring 10 points over the final 1:26, the Bucs improved to 3-1, just a half-game behind the first-place Falcons in the NFC South.
But you can't tell the story of the win without an eraser, delete key and reset button.
That's because Sunday's game was about redemption. "We put ourselves in a bad position," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "But you've got to like our resiliency. It's a credit to our young players."
Sunday was a day of atonement for several Bucs. Start with cornerback Aqib Talib. He allowed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in the first quarter when Talib misread the route.
"He'll be on SportsCenter all summer again," Morris said.
But Talib made up for it. On third and 13 from the Cincinnati 38 with 2:18 left and the Bengals leading 21-14, he stepped in front of Owens and intercepted Palmer. The Bucs had no timeouts. So had Cincinnati run the ball — Cedric Benson finished with 144 yards — the clock would have reached the two-minute warning. Then a punt could have sent the ball deep into Bucs territory.
Instead, the Bucs took over at midfield. "We wanted to win the football game there at the end," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I will take responsibility for that. The third-down interception (by Talib) happened because I wanted to be aggressive."
Talib's pick helped take the horns off the helmets of two other potential goats. Five plays later, Josh Freeman, who tossed a second-quarter interception at the Bengals 12, hooked up on the tying 20-yard touchdown with Mike Williams. In the second quarter, the rookie receiver lost a fumble at the Bengals 4.
Morris said he chewed Williams out at halftime about keeping his head up. "The words he said … I can't tell you what he actually said," Williams said. "But if you got those words, you'd get your head back in the game, too."
Freeman was sacked three times, hit nine other times and left the game for a series in the first quarter after being clocked by defensive tackle Frostee Rucker.
And so it went.
Micheal Spurlock, who lost a fumble on a third-quarter kickoff, atoned for it by tight-roping the sideline for a 21-yard catch one play before Barth's winning kick.
And don't forget Cody Grimm. Two weeks ago, the rookie free safety made his first start and gave up a long touchdown to the Steelers, failing to find the ball despite good coverage.
In the second quarter Sunday, Grimm stepped in front of a pass in the flat intended for Owens and returned the interception 11 yards for the Bucs' first touchdown.
"I turned my head and saw the ball was in the air and was like, 'Make sure you don't drop this,' " Grimm said.
Barber said Sunday's win reflected the belief in the team by Morris, who has the locker room parroting his Race for 10 (wins) motto.
Well, on 10-10-10, 10 wins did not seem impossible. The Bucs already had matched last season's win total.
"Right now, we're 3-1," Barber said. "And that Race to 10 is a lot closer than it was a couple weeks ago."