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Roethlisberger, Steelers pound struggling Buccaneers

Dec 4, 2006 - 12:24 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers gave Ben Roethlisberger more protection this time around, and it paid off.

Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns and the Steelers forced four turnovers en route to a 20-3 triumph over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was the third victory in the last four games for Pittsburgh (5-7), which was dominant defensively after yielding an average of 28.3 points over the prior six games.

Roethlisberger was sacked a career-high nine times in last weekend's 27-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But the Steelers' offensive line protected their quarterback from the Buccaneers, yielding only one sack.

Roethlisberger responded by completing 12-of-25 passes for 198 yards with one interception. His favorite target was Nate Washington, who had 78 yards on three receptions.

"We fought hard, and I'm proud of how our guys played," Roethlisberger said. "Nate stepped up big. He seems to step up when he really needs to make a play. He's learning each week. He's going to continue to grow and get better."

An undrafted rookie last season, Washington was filling in for injured starting wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who left the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter. The Steelers also were without star wideout and reigning Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward, who was sidelined with a knee injury.

"It was never a situation where we looked around to see who went down," Washington said. "Everybody is put in this position for a reason. It's just that you have to catch the ball."

"It was a good win," Steelers coach Bill Cowher added. "Wilson went out early and Nate Washington stepped up. Sean Morey and Washington stepped up."

Roethlisberger gave Pittsburgh the lead for good with 29 seconds left in the first quarter with his first TD, a two-yard strike to tight end Jerame Tuman which made it 7-0.

Jeff Reed drilled a 50-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 10-0 cushion heading into the break, and Roethlisberger sealed the victory with a 16-yard TD pass to tight end Heath Miller with 14:52 remaining.

"Our guys got open," Roethlisberger said. "Jerame Tuman got his first and the one to Heath was kind of broken. I scrambled to the left, and Heath made a good catch. That's the way it has been. When guys go down, the other guys step up and just do a great job."

Tampa Bay rookie Bruce Gradkowski went 20-for-34 for 175 yards, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked five times.

"Gradkowski's a young quarterback," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who recorded two sacks. "That was kind of like our formula - to get up early and try to rattle the quarterback."

"We tried to put pressure on Gradkowski," Cowher added. "He's a young quarterback who's learning. There were times we disguised the defenses, and it worked in our favor."

Michael Clayton had four catches for 57 yards for the Bucs (3-9), who fell to 0-6 on the road.

"We struggled, and Pittsburgh's pretty good," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "We had some opportunities to make plays today, and I take responsibility for that. We made mistakes at times."

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