One moment it appeared as if Terrell Owens would be a non-factor in his second game with the Buffalo Bills. The next, fans were celebrating by spilling popcorn all over Ralph Wilson Stadium.
With the Bills offense needing a spark, Owens provided it by scoring on a 43-yard touchdown catch five minutes into the fourth quarter, helping cap a 33-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
With the help of an opportunistic defensive effort led by safety Donte Whitner, the Bills put aside the lingering frustrations that followed last week's season-opening 25-24 loss to New England in which Buffalo squandered an 11-point lead in the final 2:06. Running back Fred Jackson, filling in for suspended starter Marshawn Lynch, added a career-best 163 yards rushing on 28 carries.
Owens didn't stick around after the game to talk about it. He's apparently unhappy with how he was questioned by some members of the media when he refused to talk following the loss to the Patriots.
T.O.'s teammates were certainly excited after seeing Owens' deep-threat presence finally pay off _ the touchdown coming after he'd been limited to two catches for 9 yards and after the Bills had nearly blown a 17-0 lead of their own against Tampa Bay.
"I was excited and he was excited," quarterback Trent Edwards said. "I don't really recall what was said, but I'm honestly hoping that that continues to happen. I think that's why we have him."
Edwards showed faith in Owens by hitting him in stride at the goal line, a step ahead of cornerback Aqib Talib.
For Edwards, it was a sign that he is beginning to shed the label of "Captain Checkdown" he earned this preseason. Showing he wasn't afraid to go deep, Edwards also hit Lee Evans on a 32-yard touchdown to open the scoring and finished 21 of 31 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"It comes down to opportunities. I think Trent wasn't afraid to take any chances," Evans said. "You always have to have that threat of the deep play. I think we put it on the table today that we would."
The win ended Buffalo's five-game home losing streak, and came in Owens' first game at home since signing a one-year deal with the team in March.
It helped that the Bills capitalized against a once-respected Buccaneers defense that continues to give up deep passes following a 34-21 season-opening loss to Dallas last week.
In two games under rookie head coach Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay has now allowed 900 yards of offense, including 438 against Buffalo.
"They dialed up some things on us that we should have stopped but we didn't," veteran cornerback Ronde Barber said, refusing to speculate about what's going wrong. "Ask the coaches that. I'm not willing to make a statement on that."
Aside from the two long touchdown passes, Barber was also unhappy with missed tackles.
"It's really unacceptable," Barber said. "Good defenses are good tackling defenses."
Morris attempted to maintain an even keel, though he was unhappy with his defense and the Bucs' lack of discipline after being penalized 13 times for 112 yards.
"I'm not worried about their confidence," he said, "but these guys got to play better."
On the bright side, the Bucs offense continues to produce. Byron Leftwich went 26 of 50 for 296 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions _ one of which bounced off the hands of receiver Sammie Stroughter.
Kellen Winslow had 90 yards receiving and a touchdown, while Carnell Williams and Jerramy Stevens also scored.
The Bills appeared ready to run away with the game by building a 17-0 lead before the first quarter was over. Aside from Evans' touchdown, Whitner was in a perfect spot to intercept Leftwich's pass that sailed over the head of Williams.
The Bucs regained their momentum late in the first half when Jackson fumbled inside the Tampa Bay 14, and safety Sabby Piscitelli returned it 72 yards. A play later, Leftwich hit Williams for an 8-yard touchdown to cut Buffalo's lead to 20-14.
Whitner, however, helped shut the door early in the third quarter when he burst into the backfield to tackle Derrick Ward for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1.
It was an emotional turnaround for Whitner, who was in tears following last week's loss.
"We learned our lesson from last week and it's a valuable lesson we're going to need throughout the season," Edwards said. "We have to finish games and that's what we did today."
NOTES: The 17 points Buffalo scored in the first quarter were the most by the Bills in the opening 15 minutes since generating 24 in a 38-17 win over Miami on Dec. 9, 2007, according to STATS. ... The Bucs have allowed 210 points and 23 touchdowns in their past seven games. ... Bills PK Rian Lindell hit all four field goal attempts, including a 43-yarder. ... Bills coach Dick Jauron had no updates on the injuries sustained by RT Brad Butler (right knee), CB Leodis McKelvin (ankle) and TEs Derek Schouman (right knee) and Shawn Nelson (strained shoulder).