Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, top, is brought down by Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway after Foote intercepted a pass in the first quarter.AP Photo
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers waited all season for this: a team that would turn the ball over even more than they do.
The NFL’s most mistake-prone team didn’t do much on offense for the second week in a row, but it didn’t make much difference as the Steelers capitalized on repeated Tampa Bay mistakes to beat the Buccaneers 20-3 on Sunday.
In a matchup of two of the league’s most disappointing teams, Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from one of the worst games of his three-season career to throw touchdown passes to two tight ends — both times after the Bucs (3-9) turned the ball over.
The Steelers (5-7) began the game with a league-high 30 turnovers, but this time limited themselves to one turnover while Tampa Bay gave away the ball four times — and, with it, the game — in losing their sixth in seven games. The Bucs have scored only five touchdowns in losing all six road games this season.
Roethlisberger was sacked nine times and threw two interceptions last week in a 27-0 loss to Baltimore that effectively ended any chance the Super Bowl champion Steelers had of repeating. He wasn’t that much better against Tampa Bay, completing fewer than half of his 25 passes against one of the league’s weakest pass defenses, but did throw scoring passes of 16 yards to Heath Miller and 2 to Jerame Tuman. He also was sacked only once.
The Bucs avoided their second shutout of the season when Matt Bryant kicked a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
Roethlisberger (12-of-25 for 198 yards) threw his league-high 20th interception less than four minutes in, making him the first Steelers quarterback since Cliff Stoudt in 1983 to throw that many. Stoudt had 21 interceptions in his one and only Steelers season as a starter.
But after Bucs rookie Bruce Gradkowski’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Larry Foote later in the quarter, Roethlisberger’s 18-yard completion to Santonio Holmes set up his short scoring pass to Tuman. Foote also recovered a fumble early in the second half, though it didn’t lead to any scoring.
Gradkowski grew up a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh but had a rough afternoon against his one-time favorite club, going 20-of-34 for 175 yards with three interceptions. The rookie led only one sustained drive, to the Steelers 3 late in the third quarter, but it ended on Bryant McFadden’s interception when Gradkowski overthrew 6-foot-5 receiver Maurice Stovall.
The Steelers needed only five plays to drive the 80 yards and score off that turnover, with Roethlisberger finding Nate Washington on a 36-yard completion to the Bucs’ 16 ahead of his TD pass to Miller eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
Jeff Reed also kicked field goals of 50 and 39 yards. The 50-yarder was the longest in an NFL game since Heinz Field opened in 2001.
It was this time a year ago the Steelers began the late-season run that resulted in an eight-game winning streak, four in the playoffs, and their first Super Bowl championship in 26 years. This time, their late-season goal is more modest: win at least three of their final four to avoid their second losing season since 2000.
Notes: Several Steelers players will attend funeral services Monday morning in Detroit for Johnnie Bettis, the father of former star RB Jerome Bettis. The players will return for afternoon practice. ... Steelers S Ryan Clark injured his groin, forcing the Steelers to finish the game with backups Anthony Smith and Tyrone Carter at safety. ... Tampa Bay has been outscored 58-13 in its last two games. ... The Steelers are 6-1 against Tampa Bay, which hadn’t played in Pittsburgh since 1983.