TAMPA, Fla. — All week long, Jon Gruden kept telling his offense it could keep pace with the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs.
It turns out the Tampa Bay coach was right.
“Nobody was talking about us as an offense. It was just Kansas City’s offense vs. our defense,” running back Michael Pittman said after the Buccaneers held off the potent Chiefs 34-31 on Sunday.
Pittman scored three touchdowns, including one on a team-record 78-yard run, to give the Bucs (3-5) consecutive victories for the second time since they won the Super Bowl two years ago.
“Coach told us to keep quiet and just go in there and do what we’ve got to do and show everybody we’re for real, too,” Pittman said.
The Chiefs (3-5) totaled 101 points and 1,130 yards in victories against Atlanta and Indianapolis the previous two weeks, and put up another big day statistically despite playing much of the second half without star running back Priest Holmes.
Trent Green threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns, but Jermaine Phillips intercepted him in the end zone with less than six minutes to go. Green was sacked on consecutive plays to end Kansas City’s last threat near midfield.
Holmes scored his 14th rushing touchdown of the season on a 2-yard run, but was on the sideline when the Bucs’ defense put the clamps on Kansas City’s last two drives. Holmes said he was hit on the right knee during the third quarter, but doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
“The best thing to do is wait, sit out the rest of that game and then put a brace on it and see how well I do as far as it tightening up over the next couple of days,” said Holmes, who gained 282 yards and scored seven touchdowns against the Falcons and Colts.
The All-Pro finished with 59 yards on 16 carries. Larry Johnson replaced him and wasn’t nearly as effective, gaining 21 yards on 10 carries.
“It was a huge loss. There’s just so much he can do,” said Green, who completed 32 of 42 passes and was intercepted twice.
Tampa Bay, though, showed it could play offense, too, despite entering the game ranked 28th in scoring (15.6 points) and 24th in total offense (291.7 yards).
Brian Griese threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, completing 22 of 34 passes to pace a 418-yard attack.
Pittman topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game, finishing with 128 on 15 carries. He scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, then broke his 78-yarder on the second play of the third quarter to wipe out a 24-21 halftime deficit.
Pittman’s third touchdown, on a 3-yard run, put Tampa Bay ahead for good with 11:50 left in the fourth quarter.
“Gruden gave us different formations, moving guys around,” Chiefs safety Jerome Woods said. “A couple of times out there, I can honestly say we were lost.”
Green threw touchdown passes of 25 yards to Johnnie Morton, 23 yards to Tony Gonzalez and 1 yard to Jason Dunn.
Gonzalez had nine catches for 123 yards and set up Green’s touchdown pass to Dunn for a 31-28 lead with a 29-yard reception to the Bucs 1. Eddie Kennison had six receptions for 104 yards, but lost a key fumble in the second quarter.
“When you turn the ball over three times, it makes it very, very tough,” Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said.
“You give up 34 points, you’re not going forward,” he said. “That big run, there’s no excuse for that.”
Kansas City scored on four of five possessions in the first half and would have gotten into the end zone on the fifth if Dwight Smith hadn’t made a touchdown-saving tackle to force Kennison to fumble after a 59-yard catch and run to the Tampa Bay 11.
The loose ball rolled 3 yards into the end zone before cornerback Brian Kelly scooped it up and returned it 32 yards to the 29.
The Chiefs gained 590 yards in their 45-35 victory against Indianapolis, but also gave up 505.
The Bucs won for the third time in four games after an 0-4 start and feel they’ve turned their season around.
“A champion never dies,” Gruden said.
“You are going to be behind on a scoreboard. You’re going to be behind in the standings, but you are relentless and you will always rise. That’s what we’re going to do.”