For the first time since 2007, The Bucs moved to 2-0 in the Pre-season with a solid 30-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Titans, a 2017 playoff team, were a slight step up in weight class from the Dolphins, the big question would be, how would Tampa Bay handle the power running game and solid defense? The answer? Just fine.
The game started off a little ominously for the Bucs, as Tampa Bay RB Charles Sims apparently injured his knee on the opening kickoff. After the teams exchanged punts on their opening possessions, Tampa Bay marched down the field on a 14-play 68-yard drive highlighted by a Peyton Barber 18 yard run and two third-down conversions from Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to Adam Humpries and Cameron Brate respectively. The drive stalled as Fitz struggled with his accuracy, missing on two passes. Tampa Bay settled for a 30-yd Chandler Catanzaro field goal.
The Titans responded with a drive of their own. While Mariota didn’t really do much in the passing game, he was helped out with the Bucs apparent inability to defend against the screen pass. After short tosses to Dion Lewis that the speedy running back turned into first downs. Mariota hit Taywan Taylor on a screen, and the mercurial receiver took it 47 yards for a score and for the first time this pre-season, the Bucs trailed.
Fitz and the offense would gain one first down before punting it back to Tennessee with 1:16 seconds left in the quarter. Immortal Blaine Gabbert took over for Tennessee.
After Tennesse’s drive transitioned to the second quarter, the Bucs defense wrapped up a 3-and-out and Jameis Winston took over for Tampa Bay, but the team’s number one offense stayed on the field to play with him.
Winston started off hot, hitting Mike Evans on a 38-yd strike to the Tennessee 22, but after a nice 7 yd run by Ronald Jones, OJ Howard was called for holding. Winston hit Desean Jackson short over the middle and Jackson took it to the Tennessee 13 yard line. A Jones run that lost 2 yards and a false start penalty on Donovan Smith back the Bucs up to the 20, where Winston found Chris Godwin wide open in the end zone for a touchdown…but hold on there, partner. Holding, Brad Seaton, the play was wiped out. Winston would hit Humphries to set up a 39-yard field goal for Catanzaro which he nailed, but yet another penalty on the Bucs forced Catanzaro to hit it again, this time from 44, which he drilled and cut the Titans edge to 7-6.
The Titans offense would get a couple first downs, thanks to penalties on the Bucs defense (one that wiped out a third-down sack by Vinny Curry) but didn’t get any further than midfield.
With the offense backed up at their own 9-yard line thanks to a great punt by the Titans, Winston dropped back and rainbowed a beautiful bomb to Desean Jackson for 54 yds to the Titan’s 37-yard line. On 3rd-and-6, Winston hit OJ Howard for 20 yards to move the Bucs into the red zone at the Carolina 13. Jameis missed on a dangerous short pass into double coverage, then followed up with one of those plays that amaze and frustrate you as a Bucs fan. Under tremendous pressure by the Titans, Winston acrobatically avoided the rush and then chucked up a prayer into the end zone into traffic. It was basically a jump ball that Chris Godwin bailed Winston out on, converting an 8-yard pass for a touchdown, completing a 7-play, 91-yard drive. Tampa Bay retook the lead, 13-6.
The Titans were trying to answer after a long kickoff return set them up close to midfield. Gabbert dumped a bubble screen to WR Devin Ross, who prompted sliced through the Bucs defense for 11 yds, but Ross was stripped by Bucs rookie DB M.J. Stewart and the fumble was recovered by Lavonte David with 1:44 left in the first half.
Winston, working on the two-minute drill, marched Tampa Bay right back down the field with first down connections to Brate, OJ Howard, and Benard Reedy, moving Tampa Bay to the Tennessee 16. Winston had no chance on a clean blitz by the Titans and was sacked for a 13-yard loss. After an 8-yard pass to rookie WR Justin Watson, Tampa Bay faced 3rd-and-15 from the Titans’ 21-yard line. Winston would team up with Watson again, this time for a beautiful 21-yd touchdown strike. The Bucs would take a 20-7 lead into halftime after their 10-play, 72-yard drive.
It was an impressive first half by the Bucs, who outgained the Titans 302-139 and in six quarters of football, scored more points than they did all of the 2017 pre-season.
With the Bucs backups in the game to start the 3rd quarter, Gabbert opened the second half with a solid 7-play, 72-yard drive capped off by Gabbert’s 3-yd touchdown pass to Taylor cutting the Bucs lead to 20-14.
Bucs QB Ryan Griffin wouldn’t be as lucky, as the Bucs went 3-and-out, giving it right back to Tennessee. The Titans would convert a few first downs but get no further than the Tampa Bay 49.
After both teams went 3-and-out, a personal foul on the Titans punt set the Bucs at the 43-yard line and Griffin finally began to heat up as the 3rd quarter came to a close, driving the Bucs down to the Titans’ 34 yd line.
The drive would stall, setting up Catanzaro for a 48-yard field goal attempt, which he again converted, extending the Bucs’ lead to 23-14. The drive was 7-plays for 27 yards.
Luke Falk took over for Tennessee and the Titans’ offense immediately went 3-and-out. The Bucs took over at their own 24 and were sparked by a couple nice runs by UDFA running back Shaun Wilson and a beautiful Griffin bomb to another UDFA, Dare Ogunbowale, moving Tampa Bay to the Tennessee 21-yd line. Griffin would follow that up with a 21-yard strike to UDFA WR Sergio Bailey putting the Bucs up 30-14.
Austin Allen would take over from there and after an exchange of punts, the Bucs, under Austin Allen, would eventually run out the clock for the second pre-season victory.
Reasons to be Hopeful
- Jameis Winston looked absolutely amazing and on target. Of course, with Winston there’s always those one or two plays that you just shake your head and gets his team in trouble, but on this night, he got away with it, and overall turned in an excellent performance.
- The Bucs passing game, in general, looked nigh unstoppable. Honestly, the only thing slowing down the Bucs in the air was the inaccuracy of Fitzpatrick and Griffin early. Eventually, both would warm up, find their open men and deliver scoring drives.
- The Bucs run defense was much better this week and against an opponent that last year was a respectable 15th in running the ball. Tennessee would finish with just 90 yds on the ground and a 3.1 average.
- While only credited for one sack, Tampa Bay’s pass rush was evident the entire ballgame.
Area for Improvement
- For two weeks now, the Bucs running game has been stagnant, with the exception of a couple nice runs by Peyton Barber and a couple bursts by Shaun Wilson late. Ronald Jones, Ogunbowale, and Quizz Rodgers didn’t get much done in the ground game at all.
- The Bucs defense was strong all night but with the loan exception of their ability to defend screen passes. The Bucs were victimized repeatedly and that needs to be cleaned up before New Orleans.
- It will likely never happen, as it appears to be wired into his DNA, but Winston has to eliminate those high risk throws when his team has an opportunity to score points.
Overall, another nice performance by the Buccaneers. They weren’t quite as dominant as the score would indicate, but Tampa Bay’s offense definitely is scoring on regularity and the defense is making plays to keep their opponents in check.