TAMPA, Fla., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Pittsburgh clinched another division title under Coach Bill Cowher Monday night with a 17-7 victory over Tampa Bay.
Tommy Maddox passed for 236 yards and a touchdown, running back Jerome Bettis rushed for 66 yards on 26 carries, and Pittsburgh's defense controlled the field throughout, harassing Tampa Bay quarterbacks Shaun King and Rob Johnson.
"It was just a matter of who is the bigger bully," explained Bettis. "They said they were waiting a full year for this. We came out and bullied them and showed them we're the baddest on the block."
Tampa Bay (11-4) avoided its first home shutout loss since 1996 when Rob Johnson connected with Keyshawn Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown with 74 seconds to play.
The Buccaneers were trying to keep alive their chances of gaining home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but had a six-game home winning streak snapped and are in danger of losing a first-round bye.
"We certainly aren't pleased with how we played, and now next week takes on added importance," said Tampa Bay safety John Lynch. "If we're going to get that bye, we need help. But if you're good enough to win the Super Bowl, you just go out and do it. The Ravens did it, the Patriots did it. You just do it."
The Steelers (9-5-1) did all of their scoring in the first quarter.
Maddox hit Antwaan Randle El for an 11-yard TD to cap the game's opening possession. Just 41 seconds later, cornerback Chad Scott picked off King and returned the interception 30 yards for a score.
A 26-yard field goal by Jeff Reed made it 17-0, and Pittsburgh was well on the way to nailing down its seventh division title in Cowher's 11-year tenure.
"We are playing well at the right time of year," said Cowher, whose team has won four of five and is 8-2-1 since losing three of its first four games. "I think last week was the closest thing we came to playing our most complete game in three years. Getting off to a 14-0 lead in this type of stadium was very important to keep the crowd out of it. From there, we were able to play solid defense and we were able to make some big plays."
"The first five minutes were catastrophic tonight," said Bucs Coach Jon Gruden. "We had some opportunities in the red zone area, we turned the ball over and never got going after that."
Martin Gramatica kicked a 50-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but Gruden accepted a defensive holding penalty and took the points off the board, and the decision proved costly when Mike Alstott fumbled at the Steelers' 7-yard line.
Making his first regular-season start since Dec. 24, 2000, Sean King completed just 9-of-26 passes for 73 yards. He was replaced by Rob Johnson, who was 12-for-18 for 159 yards and a touchdown but was sacked five times.
Maddox was 17-of-23 without an interception, although he left briefly in the second quarter after Sapp rolled into his left ankle and was penalized for roughing the passer.
Burress had five receptions for 127 yards while Hines Ward caught six passes for 78 yards.
Pittsburgh defensive back Lee Flowers proved somewhat prophetic. Again this year, the Steelers were much too physical for the Bucs, and the margin of victory was deceiving.
Flowers had said before the game that the Bucs were "paper champions," and they did little to make him eat his words.