After months of waiting, the Buccaneers finally played a real opponent. The Buccaneers traveled to Miami to take on the Dolphins and left with a 26-24 win in the preseason opener. This game was a mix of a lot of different things because there were a lot of questions. How would the QB reps be split? How would the rookies in the secondary look? How much better are the Bucs in the trenches? We got a little taste of a few of those tonight from the Buccaneers.
The Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive, putting the Bucs and their revamped defensive line out on the field to start things off. The Bucs started the game off with Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry as the two defensive ends while Gerald McCoy and Beau Allen were inside. Miami found success in the passing game early. One thing that stood out was that rookie cornerback Carlton Davis was playing on the outisde as the first team corner, which should not have been much of a surprise because Davis has been with the 1st team since Brent Grimes has been out of practice. The Bucs other two corners were Ryan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves would leave the game early with a groin injury while Ryan Smith would play with the 1st and 2nd teams, don’t worry, I will get to him later. Early on, it looked like the Bucs defense from last year. Off coverage, missed tackles, not much pressure. Then once the Miami got to about the 50 yard line, the Bucs adjusted and played more press man, which forced a field goal attempt that was missed. Hear that? Playing press man coverage results in better plays for your defense? Take notes, Mike Smith. The Buccaneers offense and Ryan Fitzpatrick got the ball at their own 43 yard line and went to work. Fitzpatrick fired two nice passes to Desean Jackson and Mike Evans for 18 and 14 yards and suddenly the Bucs were just outisde the redzone. A few runs from Peyton Barber and just like that, in 6 plays, the Buccaneers found themselves in the endzone for the first score of the game. The real drama came when kicker Chandler Catanzaro lined up for his first exta point attempt as a Buccaneer and missed it wide left. Not the best way to start Catanzaro’s Buccaneer career. The Dolphins got a field goal on the next drive and made the score 6-3 in favor of the Bucs, the Bucs then punted and Dolphins rookie running back Kalen Ballage fumbled the football and it was recovered by the Bucs to start the 2nd quarter.
The 2nd quarter came along and Quarterback Jameis Winston got his first in game action and with good field position, led the Bucs on a drive that ended up being a touchdown. Ronald Jones was able to run to the left side for a 2 yard touchdown and after Catanzaro made the extra point, the score was 13-3 Bucs. The Dolphins got the ball back and were unable to get anything going as they had to punt the ball away. With good field position, Winston and Co went to work again. The Buccaneers had a 6 play drive which ended in a Catanxaro field goal that was good and made the score 16-3. The next Miami drive was rough for the Tampa Bay defense, they had a lot of trouble stopping the Dolphins run game and as a result, the Dolphins marched down the field and scored a touchdown to cut the Bucs lead, Bucs still led 16-10. The rest of the 2nd quarter was slow and there was not much that happened. Bucs were up 16-10 at the half.
The Bucs received the ball to start the 2nd half and Ryan Griffin stepped into the game. Just the 2nd play into the half, rookie wide receiver Justin Watson caught a ball, then turned to go up field and fumbled, the Dolphins recovered the ball and were able to take the ball inside the Bucs 15 yard line. The Buccaneers defense was able to hold the Dolphins and they had to settle for a field goal. The Bucs lead was now 16-13. The next Buccaneers drive, Ryan Griffin led the Bucs 88 yards down the field and in 17 plays, were able to get the ball in the endzone off a sweet pass from Griffin and even better catch from Alan Cross. Catanzaro’s kick was good and the score was now 23-13. The Dolphins kicked a field goal the next drive and the Buccaneers were forced to punt when they got the ball. The Dolphins had the ball and were driving, it came down to a 4th and goal play on the Buccaneers 3 yard line. The Bucs brought pressure and forced Brock Osweiler to throw a ball into the end zone that was defended well by Jordan Whitehead. The Bucs held the 23-16 lead early into the 4th quarter.
In the final quarter, the Bucs took a drive from their own 4 yard line to the Miami 35 yard line where Chandler Catanzaro missed a 53 yard field goal, yikes. That gave the Dolphins good field position and they took full advantage of it, scoring a touchdown and getting the two point conversion to give the Dolphins their first lead of the night. The Bucs got the ball back with 1:50 left in the 4th quarter amd Ryan Griffin turned clutch. In just 4 plays, he drove the Bucs offense down to the Miami 17 yard line. After a few more plays the Bucs were able to get Catanzaro in a position to give the Bucs the lead late in the game and he nailed it. With 26 seconds left, the Bucs held the 26-24 lead. The Dolphins got the ball and with one last ditch effort, Bryce Petty was picked off by Ryan Smith, ball game. Final Score: Bucs-26 Dolphins-24.
Reasons to be hopeful
- Tampa Bay’s best players on defense were easily rookies Jordan Whitehead, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. Davis could very well be considered fo player of the game. Davis had 5 tackles and a few nice pass breakups, future is bright for that young man.
- The first team offensive line looked good Thursday night, opening up holes for Peyton Barber (who also looked good) to run through and gave Fitzpatrick time to deliver the ball to the Buccaneers talented receivers.
- All three of the Buccaneers quarterbacks looked really sharp on Thursday night. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd team offenses seemed like they flowed very well.
Areas for improvement
- Ronald Jones has to be better. He dropped a catchable ball on his first snap in the game. He had a touchdown, but never really broke off that big run like many wanted. Jones does not have to be great for the Buccaneers, he just has to be better.
- Ryan Smith was easily one of the worst defensive players the Buccaneers had out there and with Hargreaves going out early, Smith got more playing time. The Dolphins picked on Smith all night and he could not do much to stop it. With the way the two rookie corners played tonight, it is time to nut up or shut up for the former 4th round draft pick.
- Chandler Catanzaro made the game winner, but it should not have come down to that. If he makes the 53 yard kick, that likely ices the game and there is no drama. Instead, he missed it and the Bucs had to scarmble to get down the field and get in field goal range. Luckily Catanzaro made that one, but that definitely is not the way he wanted to debut.
Look, in the preseason it is not about the wins or losses, it is about keeping the key guys on the team healthy and ready for the regular season. There are a few ways the team could improve, but there are also a ton of things to be positive about. Fitzpatrick and Winston both looked sharp. Out of all three quarterbacks I thought Griffin played the best, if Fitzpatrick would have played more, I probably would have chose him. He was on fire and on target Thursday night. The Bucs head to Nashville early next week for joint practices with the Titans and then they play the Titans on Saturday, August 18th. Until then, stay cool and Go Bucs!