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Steelers reverse fortunes in 20-3 victory

PITTSBURGH (Dec. 3, 2006) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers saw last week what happens when a hurried quarterback has no time to make throws, set up in the pocket or get any rhythm going.

Too bad for them they waited until it was too late in the season to figure out how to do the same.

The Steelers didn't do much on offense for the second week in a row, but it didn't make much difference as they capitalized on repeated mistakes by Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to beat the Buccaneers 20-3.

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 tight ends Jerame Tuman and Heath Miller -- both times after the Bucs (3-9) turned the ball over.

The Steelers (5-7) entered 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 its 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 Miller and 2 to Tuman. He also was sacked only once.

The Bucs avoided their second shutout when Matt Bryant kicked a 27-yard field goal on the final play, promoting coach Jon Gruden to say, "I probably will get criticized for it."

"There's kind of an unwritten rule against it but, if I had been them, I probably would have kicked it, too," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said.

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 a pass by Gradkowski was intercepted by linebacker Larry Foote later in the quarter, Roethlisberger's 18-yard completion to Santonio Holmes set up the short scoring pass to Tuman, who caught his first TD pass since 2004. Foote also recovered a fumble.

"When we get a young quarterback against our defense, we feel we have a good chance of messing with him," said Porter, who had two sacks. "We felt we could frustrate him and get after him."

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 -- even though the Steelers were without star safety Troy Polamalu (knee). Gradkowski also was sacked five times.

"He's been through a lot these last few weeks," Gruden said. "He's started a Monday night game at Carolina, Thanksgiving at Dallas and faced the defending world champions in his hometown, and that's about as tough an order as you can give to anybody. He's had good moments, hard moments."

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. Gruden called it "a bad throw."

The Steelers needed only five plays to drive 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 early in 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. ... A week after rushing for 21 yards against Baltimore, the Steelers were limited to 76 yards on 31 carries, a 2.5 average. Willie Parker carried 22 times for 61 yards. ... Steelers WR Hines Ward (knee) missed a game to injury for only the second time in nine seasons.

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