Like a major league pitcher winning without his best fastball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled out a 17-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night despite a sluggish night by the starting offense.
The Bucs improved to 1-2 in August and will finish the preseason slate next Thursday night at home against the Washington Redskins. That game will likely be contested almost exclusively by reserves on both sides of the ball.
Following the usual preseason pattern, the Buccaneers gave Freeman and his fellow starters a long-awaited opportunity to play deep into the game on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium. Freeman and the starting offense produced just 63 yards in the first half and left the game trailing by three points. The Bucs did protect the football, with their only turnover coming on a fluke fumble by Freeman in which the ball slipped out of his hand as he cocked to throw late in the second quarter. However, Freeman completed just six of 16 passes for 59 yards and was sacked five times in what will likely be his only extended playing time before the regular-season opener against the Jets in New York on September 8. He wasn’t helped by an ineffective running game, as starter
Tampa Bay’s starting defense fared better, allowing 180 yards by halftime but putting together two rousing red zone stops to help the Bucs take a 10-6 lead deep into the second quarter. Rookie DT
It was the special teams that kept Tampa Bay in the game in the first half, as the punt coverage unit forced two fumbles in the first half, both of which were recovered by Hayward and both of which led to Buccaneer scores. The Bucs also got a very strong night from punter
Freeman and the Bucs’ offense got two more drives in the third quarter but failed to advance out of Tampa Bay territory, even though Leonard and James got the running game untracked a bit. Leonard finished the game with 38 yards on 10 carries also scoring the Bucs’ lone first-half touchdown on a one-yard run. RB
With both team’s starters in the game, Tampa Bay took a 7-3 lead into the second quarter after a big play on special teams. CB
That countered an opening-drive field goal by the Dolphins that had encouraging elements for both sides. Miami drove 76 yards to set up Caleb Sturgis’ 22-yard field goal and converted a key fourth down in Buccaneer territory on a slant to WR Brian Hartline, but the Bucs’ defense got stingy in the red zone. Thanks to a penalty, Miami ran 10 plays inside the Buccaneers’ 20 but never got it over the goal line, with rookie CB
The Bucs pushed their lead up to a touchdown four minutes into the second period after yet another turnover on special teams. This time, TE
The Bucs lost their lead just before halftime thanks to their first turnover, a bit of bad luck when the ball slipped out of Freeman’s hand as he tried to cock his arm to throw on a drive that had crossed midfield. The Dolphins recovered and Tannehill took the Miami offense 48 yards on seven plays, ending in a four-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson.
The Bucs won the toss but elected to defer, which means the game started with a Koenen kickoff that actually went through the opposite uprights for a touchback. After a Mike Wallace catch picked up 13 yards, RB Lamar Miller found a seam around right end and picked up 20 more before he was run out of bounds by
Page took Miami’s first kickoff out of the end zone and got it to the Bucs’ 22, and Leonard’s first run was good for four yards. However, after the Dolphins trapped Leonard in the backfield on second down, the Bucs needed a great open-field move by Williams to turn a short pass into a 14-yard gain and a first down at the 36. The Bucs faced a third-and-five moments later and, unfortunately, a pitch to James didn’t fool LB Dannell Ellerbe, who dropped the back for a loss of five to force a punt.
The Bucs got the ball right back, however, when Koenen’s 45-yard punt bounced off Caroll’s helmet and was recovered by Hayward at the Dolphins’ 23. Adams caused the turnover by blocking Carroll into the lap of the Miami return man. Two plays later, Jackson drew a pass interference penalty on Grimes that made it first-and-goal at the eight. Leonard twisted his way down to the one on a first-down carry and then side-stepped a block on second down to easily walk into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Miami picked up one first down on the ensuing drive but were then forced to punt when Spence once again got into the backfield to drop Thomas for a loss of two and Adams nearly intercepted a downfield Tannehill pass over the middle on third-and-12. The Bucs started fresh at their own 20 after the ensuing punt, but two incompletions by Freeman put them into a quick third-and-10 hole. A punt was necessary after DT Jared Odrick dropped the quarterback for a two-yard sack on third down.
A 15-yard penalty on Adams for running out of bounds and not immediately trying to get back inbounds on the punt forced Koenen to kick a second time from his own five…which actually turned out to be in the Bucs’ favor. On the re-kick – which was a fantastic 52-yard sideline blast by Koenen – Crabtree poked the ball out of Thigpen’s hands and it was once again recovered by Hayward, this time at Miami’s 41.
A great play-action rollout pass by Freeman to WR Vincent Jackson on a comeback route picked up 13 yards and a first down at the Miami 28, but it was third-and-seven at the 25 after DT Paul Soliai deflected a pass that was headed in the direction of
A false start penalty and a good stop by Clayborn put Miami into a third-and-11 hole to start the next drive, but Tannehill zipped an out to Hartline just past good coverage from Banks to convert the third down. CB
A slashing 19-yard punt return by Page gave the Bucs possession at their own 26, but a missed connection on a deep pass attempt to WR Mike Williams and a five-yard sack by DE Olivier Vernon made them give it right back. Worse, a 38-yard return by Thigpen after another booming punt by Koenen got the ball into Buccaneer territory, and a diving 10-yard catch by Gibson produced another first down at the Bucs’ 32. An 11-yard grab by Wallace two plays later made it first-and-goal at the Bucs’ seven, but once again the defense held. Spence’s drop of Thomas for a loss of three on first down helped make it third-and-goal and a throw to the back middle of the end zone to Gibson was incomplete. Sturgis hit a 23-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-6 with just over two minutes left in the half.
On the first play after the two-minute warning, Freeman hit Williams on the left sideline and the receiver made two sharp cuts to elude the tackler and pick up 19 yards to the Bucs’ 42. The Bucs were fortunate to get another set of downs just inside Miami territory when the defense was flagged for holding on an eight-yard scramble by Freeman on third-and-10. That was immediately followed by a bit of bad luck, as Freeman fumbled on an attempted pass, with the ball slipping out of his grasp as he tried to take it back.
That gave Miami possession at the Bucs’ 48, and Tannehill immediately found WR Marvin McNutt down the middle for a gain of 17. After S Mark Barron made a fabulous pass breakup at the goal line on the next play, Tannehill moved the sticks with a 14-yard pass to Hartline. A five-yard catch by Gibson on third-and-two made it first-and-goal at the four and Tannehill found the same receiver cutting over the middle on the next play to put Miami ahead with 10 seconds left in the half.
A holding penalty on the kickoff to start the second half pushed the Bucs back to their seven to start, but James burst over right guard on first down to pick up 14 yards. He got four more running left on the next play but it was third-and-six after a sack for no yards on second down. An attempted out pass to Williams fell incomplete and the Bucs had to punt.
Miami brought in Pat Devlin at quarterback to lead the next drive, but it was RB Jonas Gray who broke off a 10-yard run on the first play of the possession, giving Miami a first down at its own 43. DE Adrian Clayborn batted down Devlin’s first pass. Three plays later, Devlin barely escaped a Clayborn sack and was able to scramble for just enough for a first down. The Bucs held, however, thanks in large part to Scott’s second sack for a loss of six yards on third-and-nine. P Brandon Fields put the Bucs in a bad position, however, when his 47-yard punt bounced sideways out of bounds at the three.
Freeman got the Bucs some breathing room with an eight-yard sprint-out pass to WR Kevin Ogletree near the left sideline for eight yards and a first down at the 14. Two plays later, Leonard moved the sticks again with a dancing 12-yard run up the gut out to the 31. The Bucs couldn’t overcome the subsequent third-and-17, however, after LB Jonathan Freeny dropped Freeman for a loss of 10.
Miami started again at its own 34 after the punt, with both teams going fully to second and third-stringers. WR Brian Tyms got the ball back into Buccaneer territory with a spectacular diving catch for 13 yards on the right sideline. However, Scott shot around the left tackle moments later to pounce on the unsuspecting Devlin, forcing a fumble that Miami recovered. LB
Glennon took over under center but quickly faced a third-and-seven after a Hillis three-yard run and an incompletion. A deep pass over the middle in Ogletree’s direction was also incomplete and the Bucs had to punt again.
A tackle for loss by Hayward and a hard hit by LB Jonathan Casillas that caused a drop by McNutt put Miami into a third-and-11 at the Bucs’ 48 as the third quarter came to an end. On the first play of the fourth quarter, however, Devlin converted the third down with an 18-yard pass down to the middle to TE Dion Sims. The Dolphins gained a first down at the Bucs’ 15 but the red zone defense held strong again, with DE Da’Quan Bowers batting down Devlin’s third-and-five pass to force a field goal attempt. Sturgis hit his third short kick, a 28-yarder, to increase Miami’s lead to 16-10 with 13 minutes to play.
After a touchback, Glennon got the next drive started with a 19-yard strike to TE
Glennon got the Bucs moving quickly on the next drive, hitting TE
Devlin drove the Dolphins back into Buccaneers territory on the ensuing drive but the Bucs’ defense came up with a key turnover just after the three-minute mark. Rookie DE
Three runs by Hillis took the ball down to the Miami 13, including a three-yard blast over right guard to convert a third-and-one. Miami then used its second timeout of the half with 1:21 left in regulation. After a one-yard Hillis run and a final Dolphins timeout, Glennon found Douglas cutting over the middle and Douglas cut upwards into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:03 to play.