The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got two touchdowns and 16 total points from rookies and first-year players on Thursday night to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 17-15, at AT&T Stadium. It was the third straight win for the Buccaneers, who finished the 2019 preseason – their first under Head Coach Bruce Arians – with a 3-1 record. Every single one of those four games was decided by two points or less.
First-year tight end Tanner Hudson scored on an 11-yard pass from Ryan Griffin in the first quarter, Hudson's third touchdown of the preseason, and rookie running back Bruce Anderson found the end zone on a two-yard run in the third period. Rookie kicker Matt Gay, who has battled veteran Cairo Santos for the Bucs' job throughout the preseason, connected on a 53-yard field goal and made an extra point for four total points.
Tampa Bay's defense allowed just 217 yards of net offense and forced a pair of fumbles while sacking Dallas quarterbacks four times. The Cowboys had very little luck running the football, gaining only 40 yards on 19 carries for an average of 2.1 per tote. Early-down success against the run helped the Bucs unleash their pass rush, which in turn helped defensive backs get their hands on the football. Continuing a preseason-long trend, the Buccaneers broke up seven passes in the game.
The one blip for Tampa Bay's defense was a 69-yard catch by rookie wide receiver Jalen Guyton, who broke a tackle on the sideline and then ran untouched for the score with 2:28 left in regulation. The Cowboys went for two but failed, erasing the horrible possibility of a road overtime game in the preseason. Tampa Bay still had to defend one final drive in the game's last minute, which ended on rookie safety Lukas Denis's interception of a Hail Mary pass at the Bucs' seven-yard line.
The stakes were low even for a preseason game, at least in terms of the game's outcome, as it was a battle of reserves on both side. However, it was an important game for many of those reserves who are still fighting to secure roster spots in advance of Saturday's cut-down to 5. Whether or not they came into the game on the bubble, linebacker Jack Cichy, wide receiver Bobo Wilson, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett and defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor helped themselves in the first half. When the next round of reserves came in to play the second half, rookie RB Bruce Anderson, rookie receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Corey Nelson were among the standouts.
Cichy, starting at inside linebacker alongside Kevin Minter, recorded four tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery and was generally all over the field. Wilson caught just one pass for 12 yards but looked confident and sharp in the return game, which could help solidify his spot on the roster. Barrett had two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble while O'Connor had three stops, a sack and an additional tackle for loss.
"You've got to keep your head down and work," said Cichy, who has come back from an ACL tear suffered last October to put together a good run of preseason efforts. "It's been a lot of fun to come back in these preseason games and kind of show what I've got. None of these games have been perfect by any means – that's what we strive for, a perfect game – but you've just got to keep stacking stuff on top of each other. When you get plays like tonight, big plays and big moments, you really want to capitalize on them because those are really exciting."
Both teams rested virtually all of their starters on both sides of the ball, as expected. Griffin led the Buccaneers' offense out of the gate and played one series into the second quarter before giving way to rookie quarterback Vincent Testaverde, who had just been re-signed over the weekend. Testaverde made a bit of franchise history, making his NFL debut for the same club that drafted his father, Vinny Testaverde, first overall in 1987. The experience was a bit bumpy at first for the younger Testaverde, who saw his second pass intercepted and was also forced to fumble on his second possession, but still managed to lead his team to victory while completing four of eight passes for 41 yards.
"I thought I did some good things, some really good things, and obviously made some mistakes," said Testaverde. "No one's played a perfect game before. Overall, I'm happy about the performance that I had, happy for my teammates. We were able to come out with a win, that's the important thing."
View photos from Tampa Bay's Week 4 preseason matchup against Dallas.
As for Griffin, he continued his very strong preseason with nine-of-11 passing and a 92.2 passer rating. He did suffer his first two interceptions of the summer, but the first was a tipped ball and the second, according to Arians in his postgame press conference, was the result of several receivers running the wrong routes. The Buccaneers could be without Blaine Gabbert to start the season thanks to a shoulder injury, but Arians said he has full confidence in Griffin as the top reserve to Jameis Winston.
Dallas took a 9-7 lead into halftime as the two offense's combined for just 220 yards in the first two quarters. Each team's lone touchdown drive was the result of a turnover. Dallas cornerback Donovan Olumba returned a tipped-ball interception 26 yards for a touchdown off Griffin, and Griffin later turned a fumble recovery by Cichy at the Dallas six-yard line into a 13-yard scoring pass to his favorite preseason target, tight end Tanner Hudson. Cowboys kicker Kasey Redfern missed the extra point after Olumba's touchdown but did hit a low liner through the uprights for a 32-yard field goal with a minute to go before the intermission.
After the break, the Bucs went deeper into their reserves, as did the Cowboys. Testaverde directed two scoring drives in the second quarter to give the Bucs their eight-point lead, the first one ending in Gay's long field goal, which cleared the crossbar with many yards to spare. He got help from Anderson, who ran 20 times for 70 yards, and Johnson, who caught one key 16-yard pass and also had a touchdown catch overturned by a penalty on a teammate. Nelson was all over the field in the second half with five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. O'Connor also played extensively in the second half and continued to show his versatility to play inside or outside.
"I thought it went pretty well," he said. "Shaq and the rest of the defensive line got some good pressure all [game]. It was a great day, I guess. I feel like I've put my best foot forward, especially in special teams. I'm just trying to be versatile as much as I can."
The Cowboys' game-opening drive ended in a punt after one first down. Rookie CB Sean Murphy-Bunting slipped on a 17-yard pass from Mike White to RB Jordan Chunn, but Murphy-Bunting came back to end the possession, denying a quick slant on third-and-six. The resulting punt was fair caught at the Bucs' nine by Bobo Wilson.
The Buccaneers also got one first down on their initial possession, on a seven-yard out by Griffin to RB Dare Ogunbowale, but this drive ended in points for the wrong team. Griffin tried to drill another out to Wilson but the ball was tipped by safety Jameill Showers and snatched just off the turf by cornerback Donovan Olumba. Olumba returned his pick 26 yards for the game's first touchdown, though kicker Kasey Redfern failed on the extra point try, bouncing it off the left upright.
The visitors got across midfield on the ensuing possession on a 13-yard catch by Bobo Wilson and a 10-yard gain by Ogunbowale after he caught a short pass over the middle and made a sharp jump-cut. However, an illegal formation penalty followed by a sack of Griffin by defensive end Daniel Wise led to a punt that was fair caught at the Dallas 10.
The Bucs' defense produced a turnover of its own just moments later. On first-and-five after an offside penalty, White dropped back to pass but was quickly hemmed in. OLB Shaq Barrett swiped it out of the quarterback's hand for a strip-sack and ILB Jack Cichy recovered for the Bucs at the Dallas six.
It took a few extra plays than anticipated but the Bucs turned that takeaway into seven go-ahead points. A defensive holding penalty gave the Bucs a first-and-goal at the four but Wise pushed them back to the 13 with another sack. Griffin stood tall in a collapsing pocket and found Hudson just across the goal line to his left for the touchdown. Rookie kicker Matt Gay nailed the extra point to put the Bucs up by one.
The next Dallas possession was one of the Bucs' best defensive series of the preseason. O'Connor pushed through the end of the line immediately on first down to drop RB Mike Weber for a loss of two. Rookie safety Lukas Denis closed quickly for a pass break-up on second down and then O'Connor, Barrett and Noah Spence all arrived at White in the backfield together on the next play. O'Connor got credit for the 11-yard sack and the Cowboys had to punt.
Wilson's return got the ball back to the Dallas 49 but two quick penalties on offense made it second-and-16 as the first quarter expired. Griffin dug the Bucs out of that hole and got them into scoring range when he threw an out to Andre Ellington that put the veteran running back into open territory down the right sideline. Ellington was eventually forced out at the Dallas 20 after a 23-yard gain. However, the drive came up empty when Griffin tried to zip a quick slant into Miller, who tried to get one hand up for the catch. The ball deflected off Miller's hand and was picked off by cornerback Tyvis Powell.
Dallas started at its own 18 and got a first down on when White got off a pass just before he was dropped, hitting wideout Cedrick Wilson over the middle for 12. A crossing route pass to wide receiver Jon'Vea Johnson converted a third down moments later and got the ball close to midfield. Arians threw a challenge flag attempting to get the play ruled an offensive pass interference, but the challenge failed and Dallas snapped from their own 48. The drive ended shortly thereafter, however, thanks to the rangy Cichy, who got one sack of White on a blitz up the middle and then was in on tackles on both sidelines on the next two plays, leading to a punt.
Testaverde took over the offense on the ensuing possession and his first pass was a third-down toss that sailed over Hudson's head. The Bucs punted back and Sean Murphy-Bunting quickly dropped Wilson on the return attempt and a holding penalty on Dallas moved the ball back to the Cowboys' nine. White converted a third-and-10 by hitting wide receiver Devin Smith cutting across the field left to right; Smith evaded Cichy and turned it upfield for 22 yards. Dallas would get no further, however, thanks in large part to a blitzing pass breakup by safety Isaiah Johnson.
A good 14-yard punt return by Wilson established the Bucs' next line of scrimmage at their own 37. Testaverde then tried to go deep down the middle to Hudson but safety Donovan Wilson ranged over to cut off the pass for the Cowboys' third interception of the evening, putting the ball at the Dallas 48. Minutes later, Dallas faced a fourth-and-four at the Tampa Bay 36 and chose to go for it, with White zipping in a quick slant to wide receiver Jaylon Guyton with Jamel Dean in tight coverage. After that five-yard play moved the chains, White got into Weber's hands again for a 13-yard gain to the Bucs' 18. On offensive pass-interference penalty and a well-timed blitz by Kevin Minter eventually forced Dallas to try a 32-yard field goal, which Redfern knuckled through for the go-ahead points with 1:10 left in the half.
Playing behind a new offensive line featuring a pair of undrafted rookies in Nate Trewyn and Brock Ruble, Testaverde got the Bucs moving to start the second half, converting a third-and-three with a seven-yard sideline strike to rookie running back Bruce Anderson. Testaverde also connected with rookie wide receiver Anthony Johnson on a 16-yard completion and the Bucs benefited from a facemask personal foul against Dallas. The drive stalled at the Dallas 35 but Gay came in to easily drill a 53-yarder to give the Bucs their one-point lead back.
White stayed in to start the second half for Dallas while the Bucs countered with a mix of second and third-stringers on defense. Pass breakups by De'Vante Harris and Emmanuel Smith put a quick end to that first drive and the Bucs took over again at their own 39 after the Dallas punt. From there, Testaverde directed a 61-yard scoring drive, though Anderson did much of the heavy lifting, carrying the ball on six of the eight plays for 28 yards. That included a 20-yard run after a holding penalty and a two-yard walk into the end zone over left tackle. Schnell provided the other highlight of the drive, taking a short pass and weaving around tackles for 19 yards into Dallas territory. Cairo Santos came on to hit the extra point to put Tampa Bay up, 17-9, with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Rookie quarterback Taryn Christion was next in for the Cowboys, taking over on a drive that began at the Dallas 25 after a Gay touchback. Christion picked up a big chunk of yardage with a scramble that got eight and had 15 tacked on thanks to a late hit by Emmanuel Smith. The third quarter ran out just as Dallas was facing a fourth-and-inches at Tampa Bay's 20-yard line. Christion converted that fourth down himself with a keeper after the teams switched sides, but then coughed up the football on the next play while attempting a QB sweep around left end. The Bucs' defense reacted quickly and Nelson was able to poke the ball out of Christion's hands, sending it bounding into the end zone where it was recovered by OLB Farrington Huguenin.
That resulted in a touchback that brought the ball back out to the 20 for the Bucs' offense. The Bucs' offense didn't accomplish much on the ensuing drive and Dallas got the ball back with 12 minutes to play. Christion got the home team across midfield but elected to go for it on fourth-and-five from the 32, an effort that failed when Nelson blitzed up the middle and buried the quarterback for a nine-yard sack. The Bucs punted on their final three possessions but ran off enough clock to keep the Cowboys from scoring again after Guyton's long play.
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