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Worth the Wait! Bucs Beat Dolphins

Posted Nov 19, 2017

In a game delayed 10 weeks by Hurricane Irma, the Buccaneers needed nearly every second on the game clock Sunday to beat the Dolphins, 30-20, for their first road win

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, 30-20, at Hard Rock Stadium. It was a win – and a winning streak – a long time in the making.

Patrick Murray's 35-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation broke a 20-20 tie, and the Buccaneers tacked on seven extra points when they recovered a fumble in the end zone on the ensuing kickoff. Miami had scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to tie the game with three minutes left. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick drove the Buccaneers 58 yards in those remaining three minutes, with two critical completions to rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin to set up Murray's game-winner.

Murray's final field goal was his third in four tries. He lined up for the last field goal with total confidence, intent on helping out the teammates who had fought down to the wire.

"I had no doubt whatsoever," he said. "I knew that thing was going right down the middle. I was ready for that moment. This is the greatest locker room I've ever been a part of it. These guys do not quit, these guys play for each other and it shows on that field. That's why we were able to pull out a victory today."

The Buccaneers and Dolphins were originally scheduled to start the season together in Week One, but Hurricane Irma forced the game's postponement to their shared bye, 10 weeks later. Tampa Bay subsequently started the season 2-1 before hitting a five-game skid, broken last week with a win over the Jets. A second straight victory over an AFC South team, and the Buccaneers' first road win of the year, gave Tampa Bay its first winning streak of the year. The Buccaneers are now 4-6 overall with road trips to Atlanta and Green Bay looming.

Thanks to Matt Moore, the Buccaneers' wait for that victory was extended until late on Sunday afternoon. The Buccaneers' defense picked off starting quarterback Jay Cutler three times in the first half, but it was a possible concussion that sent Cutler to the sideline at halftime. Moore came in and threw for 282 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Tampa Bay's offense, which had racked up 235 yards of offense before halftime, stalled in the second half and had just 28 yards after the break until the final drive.

"It's something we've got to look at on film and see what the disconnect was from the first half to the second half," said another rookie contributor to the Bucs' offense, tight end O.J. Howard, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Sunday. "But the most important thing was we got the win and made that last drive count the most."

Howard celebrated his birthday with three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. He had another scored called back on a penalty in the second quarter. Fitzpatrick's favorite target was Mike Evans, who caught five passes for 92 yards, including one for 17 to get the final drive started. Godwin's two catches accounted for 38 yards on the final drive, including a 24-yarder that got Murray in range for his kick.

"It felt good, man," said Howard. "When coach called my number I tried to make plays. I missed one opportunity on one pass, but it feels great to have the opportunities come your way and make the most of it."

Fitzpatrick finished with 22 completions in 37 attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He was not intercepted and he finished with a passer rating of 100.6. Most importantly, he is now 2-0 as a starter for the Buccaneers. The second half wasn't pretty for the Bucs' offense but Fitzpatrick and his pass-catchers made plays at the end when they had to.

"I think everybody knew what they needed to do at that point: When the ball comes your way, make a play," said Fitzpatrick. "Chris stepped up big-time on that drive with a couple big ones, Mike had a big one.

"[It was] just belief the whole time. It was kind of a tale of two halves, with the defense playing so great and getting all those turnovers in the first half. We capitalized a little bit on those in the first half, did a good job, but in the second half offensively we couldn't get anything going. We were out of rhythm. But as soon as they tied it up at 20-20, we had a good idea what we were going to do – go down there and put some points on the board."

The Buccaneers used four takeaways in the first half to build a 20-7 lead, but Miami dominated the third quarter behind Moore's downfield passing and a lot of big "chunk" plays. The Dolphins had four plays of 45 or more yards in the game, including the 61-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Kenny Stills that tied the game at 20-20. Stills finished with 180 yards on seven receptions. Moore converted six of 10 third downs in the second half; Stills' touchdown came on a third-and-11.

However, the Dolphins hurt themselves repeatedly with 17 penalties for 123 yards. The Buccaneers also won the turnover battle, 5-0.

The Buccaneers' offense moved the ball well in the first half, racking up 235 yards, but it was the defense that put the team in position to be up 20-7. The Bucs took it away four times before the intermission and scored after three of them for 17 of those 20 points. One of the takeaways also prevented a score, as rookie safety Justin Evans made a diving pick at the Bucs' goal line to end Miami's first possession.

The Bucs got the ball first and got close to midfield thanks to a 16-yard catch by Evans, but had to punt it away. Miami flipped the field almost immediately, with Damien Williams breaking into the clear on second down and rumbling 69 yards to the Bucs' 12. Brent Grimes slowed Williams down along the right sideline and Lavonte David finally tracked him down to prevent a touchdown. That hustle proved critical, as three plays later Evans made an amazingly athletic interception of a pass intended for Landry just inside the end zone.

Evans ran the ball out of the end zone and got to the 10-yard line, but the drive actually started at the 25 thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Miami. The Buccaneers quickly turned that takeaway into points thanks to a 13-yard run by Martin and consecutive catches of 22 and 24 yards by Howard. The Bucs got a first down at the Miami 16 but two Martin runs left then in third-and-six and a swing pass to Charles Sims was broken up by Kiko Alonso. The Bucs settled for Murray's 30-yard field goal.

A sharp tackle by Freddie Martino and a penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced Miami to start at its own 10 but a dazzling one-handed catch by Landry and a taunting penalty on T.J. Ward immediately took it out to the 37. A misdirection swing pass to Williams picked up 24 to get the ball across midfield, and a rollout pass to Landry made it first-and-goal at the two. The Dolphins used play-action on first down and it worked, with Landry breaking wide open in the left side of the end zone for a touchdown catch.

A 24-yard catch by Jackson got the Buccaneers quickly across midfield on their next drive, and Sims ran after the catch for nine yards on a dig route to convert a third-and-five. The Bucs faced another third down at the Miami and Fitzpatrick converted it by scrambling up the middle for six yards to the Miami 20. The Bucs tried a Martin sweep to the left but Davon Godchaux got to him deep in the backfield for a loss of four, bringing the first quarter to an end. Brate caught a 12-yard pass on third down but it left the Bucs short and Murray added another 30-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

Alexander came up big on the next possession. On first down, he knifed through the line to drop Kenyan Drake for a loss of three. Two plays later, he cut in front of Landry and intercepted Cutler's pass over the middle, returning it to the Miami five-yard line. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick rolled right and threw a dart to Howard, who made a great catch for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Bucs' defense took it away again just moments later. On second down of the ensuing drive, S Chris Conte contested a pass intended for DeVante Parker and it went through the receiver's hands and was intercepted by McClain. That gave the Bucs a new start at the Miami 25 but a touchdown catch on the next play by Howard was erased by a holding penalty. On third-and-nine from the 24, Fitzpatrick nearly got a square-in pass to Evans at the five-yard line but Xavien Howard maintained great coverage and knocked it away. Murray than misfired to the right on a 42-yard field goal try.

The Dolphins nearly answered back with Landry's leaping catch of an improvised deep ball on the next drive but the play was erased by a holding penalty. The Dolphins ended up punting for the first time and the Bucs avoided disaster when Adarius Glanton ran into punter Matt Haack. A personal foul would have revived the Miami drive, but it was called running-into-the-kicker so the Dolphins instead accepted a block-in-the-back flag that took it back to the Bucs' 17.

Tampa Bay's offense got the ball back to midfield, but a block-in-the-back call on Ali Marpet erased a long gain on a screen pass by Martin, and Sims's nice run after a short pass on third-and-17 came up two yards short. The Bucs punted right after the two-minute warning and Anger mis-hit it so it hooked out of bounds at the Miami 30.

That miscue didn't hurt the Buccaneers because the defense immediately took the ball away again. Ryan Smith hit Landry as the receiver worked upfield on a screen pass, knocking the ball loose and then gathering it under him at the Miami 37. A 29-yard pass down the middle of the field dropped between levels of coverage into Evans' hands at the Dolphins' eight. After a personal foul on Kiko Alonso cut that distance in half, Fitzpatrick ran a play-action on first-and-goal and eventually threw between defenders to Jackson for the touchdown.

Moore took over at quarterback for the Dolphins to start the second half as Cutler was being evaluated for a concussion. Moore quickly took a deep shot down the right sideline to Stills but Grimes made a leaping break-up at the last moment. However, Moore successfully hooked up with Landry moments later for a 49-yard gain down to the Bucs' 19. A pass interference call on McClain made it first-and-goal at the one-yard line. However, the Dolphins then committed offensive pass interference on the next play, moving it back to the 11. The Bucs' defense subsequently held and the Dolphins settled for Cody Parkey's 26-yard field goal to make it 20-10.

Another big play on Miami's next drive got the ball back into the Bucs' half of the field, as Moore hit Stills for 45 yards on third-and-13. The Bucs once again held inside their own 10-yard line and the Dolphins made it a one-score game on Parkey's 31-yard field goal.

The Bucs' offense failed to pick up a first down on the next possession but a season-long 66-yard punt by Bryan Anger helped push the ball all the way back to Miami's five-yard line. The defense got into a third-and-11 but Moore converted again with a deep square-in to Stills for 18 yards. Yet another third-and-eight conversion, this time on a 17-yard out to Parker, kept the drive going. The Bucs finally got a stop near midfield when Gerald McCoy sacked Moore on second down and hit him as he threw on third down, forcing an incompletion. However, Haack punted it down to the Bucs' one-yard line.

Fitzpatrick got the Bucs off their own goal line with a 14-yard play-action strike to Evans over the middle. However, a pass to Brate that converted a third-and-10 moments later was erased by a holding call. On third-and-20, Wake pushed Dotson back into Fitzpatrick, creating a sack. The ball was originally spotted right over the goal line; the play was challenged by Miami in an effort to get a safety but the call was upheld. The Bucs still had to punt out of the back of their end zone, getting Miami back to the Tampa Bay 43 thanks to a holding call on the Dolphins.

Tampa Bay's defense then came up with a critical stop. Kwon Alexander's open field tackle on a scrambling Moore made it third-and-one at the Buccaneers' 34, and the Dolphins elected to go for it. Williams took a handoff up the middle but was stopped short by Chris Baker and Lavonte David.

The Bucs punted it back minutes later and the Dolphins tied the game on the ensuing possession. On third-and-10, Stills ran out of the slot deep and to the right sideline, breaking wide open. Moore hit him for a 61-yard touchdown with three minutes left in the game.