It was not the way Ben Roethlisberger would draw it up, but the Pittsburgh Steelers will take it.
In desperate need of a win, the two-time defending American Football Conference North champions on Monday capped a tumultuous week in which star receiver Antonio Brown made headlines by shouting at an assistant coach on the sidelines and getting into a spat on social media with a 30-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Steelers (1-1-1) built a 20-point lead and held on for their first win, despite not scoring after halftime.
“I don’t feel like we had the ball much in the second half. Three possessions maybe. We need to do a better job putting it away,” Roethlisberger said.
“At the end of the day, we just wanted to get out of here with a win,” cornerback Joe Haden added. “It wasn’t a good-looking win at all. They made a lot of plays on us, but at the end we made some big stops.”
Roethlisberger threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns, with all but 80 yards of that production coming while the Steelers were building a 30-10 halftime lead.
Vance McDonald scored on a 75-yard pass play and finished with four catches for 112 yards.
Brown and Ryan Switzer also had first-half touchdown receptions for Pittsburgh, who had been winless through two games for the first time since 2013.
The Pittsburgh defense did its part, too, forcing four turnovers, including three first-half interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 35-year-old journeyman who threw for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in two victories to begin Tampa Bay’s season.
Fitzpatrick, the only player in NFL history to open a season with consecutive games with more than 400 yards passing and four touchdowns, tried his best to create “FitzMagic” again in his third start in place of the suspended Jameis Winston.
He led a long field-goal drive in the third quarter and then tossed fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 4 yards to Chris Godwin and 24 yards to Mike Evans to rally the Bucs (2-1) to 30-27 with 5 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
“We obviously dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” Fitzpatrick said. “The great thing to me coming out of this game is again the belief in the huddle in the second half, and guys not wavering and not blinking, and having the feeling the whole time that we were going to come back and win the game.”
The Bucs got the ball back with just over three minutes left, but the Steelers forced a punt and Roethlisberger ran out the clock.
Fitzpatrick, who was sacked three times, finished 30 of 50 for 411 yards and three touchdowns.
“We just did so many things in the first half of that game that we haven’t been doing, so many things to beat ourselves,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I’m really proud of the way we fought. You’re down three touchdowns or three scores at halftime, it’s not easy to come back in this league. We gave ourselves a chance there at the end and just couldn’t pull it off.”
Roethlisberger was 30 of 38 with one interception, completing nine passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster for 116 yards and six to Brown for 50 yards.
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