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Bucs Find Relief in Win over Chiefs

The Bucs lost starting QB Josh Freeman for the rest of the preseason on Saturday night but won the game behind fine relief performances from Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter, downing the Chiefs, 20-15 at Raymond James Stadium


Josh Freeman's first 2010 game ended early due to his own strong start. His second outing was even shorter, for a completely different reason, one that momentarily had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers holding their breath. 

One week after completing all four of his passes over two series in the Buccaneers' preseason debut at Miami, Freeman left after one possession against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium due to a thumb injury. Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter finished the game as the Bucs came back for a 20-15 win.

Freeman had his hand heavily taped by halftime, as he was diagnosed with a fractured tip to the thumb on his throwing hand. Thankfully, the early expectation is that the Bucs' second-year starter will practice prior to the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns and be ready for that September 12 contest.

The game was also delayed for several minutes near the end of the third quarter when Chiefs CB Maurice Leggett suffered a neck injury and was removed from the field by cart. Both sidelines emptied as the trainers worked to stabilize Leggett, with the Chiefs huddling for a mass team prayer. Leggett was attempting to tackle Buccaneers RB Kareem Huggins when the back was hit from the other side by another Kansas City tackler and driven into Leggett's helmet.

Johnson, who was promising but error-prone in the opener at Miami, filled in nicely, completing six of 10 passes for 113 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He was not sacked, ran three times for 10 yards and compiled a passer rating of 132.5 He gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead five minutes into the second quarter on a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Micheal Spurlock. Spurlock, the converted college quarterback and proven return man who has opened eyes in training camp with his improved receiving skills, broke a tackle on the sideline and ran the last 40 yards untouched.

"That's what I expect Josh to do," said Head Coach Raheem Morris of his young passer's confident relief performance. "When a quarterback goes down, you always have a big foot to fill with those starters. Note that the team didn't blink and continued to play."

The upshot of Freeman's early exit was a long stint with the rest of the first-team offense for Johnson, the third-year passer who started four games in 2009. The Bucs left their starting offensive line in for the entire first half, though Morris liberally mixed in a variety of receivers and backs in the first half. In fact, Spurlock's touchdown came just after he replaced rookie starter Mike Williams.

"We don't look at it as first team or second team," said Spurlock. "When we go in the game we don't want to miss a beat. We feel like we have a bunch of guys, that if one guy goes down, we can pick each other up. Mike Williams came out for a play after a deep route, I went in and my number got called and I was able to make a good play."

Carpenter, the second-year passer the Bucs plucked off the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad midway through last season, played the entire second half and was sharp as well. After Kansas City took a 13-10 lead in the third quarter on Succop's 29-yard field goal, Carpenter led the Bucs to 10 unanswered points and a 20-13 lead with 6:15 left. His 22-yard completion to Spurlock set up Barth for a 36-yard field goal, and he put the Bucs ahead with a five-yard scoring pass to WR Terrence Nunn. Carpenter finished the game with 79 yards and one touchdown on eight-of-11 passes. His passer rating was 122.9, and like the Bucs' other two quarterbacks, he was not sacked.

The Bucs' defensive reserves needed two more stops to finish off the victory. The Chiefs reached first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay nine but the Bucs forced them into a fourth-and-goal at the seven. First-year S Vince Anderson tackled WR Rich Gunnell at the two-yard line to prevent the game-tying score. After the Bucs purposely took a safety and kicked off with a minute remaining, CB Brandon Anderson intercepted Tyler Palko on a fourth-down pass to end the game.

Freeman did lead the Bucs on a field goal drive to open the game's scoring before his departure. Following Geno Hayes' recovery of former Buccaneer Thomas Jones' fumble on the opening possession, Freeman completed two of four passes on a 28-yard drive, setting up Connor Barth's 31-yard field goal. Matt Cassel countered with a 47-yard touchdown drive following a 54-yard kickoff return by rookie CB Javier Arenas, hitting rookie WR Jeremy Horne for a six-yard score.

Johnson took over on the Bucs' next possession and in the second quarter directed the 88-yard drive that ended in Spurlock's big play. The Chiefs tied the game just before halftime on Ryan Succop's 28-yard field goal, completing a 77-yard drive by Kansas City's starting offense against the Bucs' defensive reserves.

Despite Freeman's injury, there was plenty to appreciate in the Bucs' second outing of the preseason including, once again, a strong game by first-year RB Kareem Huggins. Huggins led the Buccaneers in rushing for the second straight week, gaining 44 yards on eight carries, an average of 5.5 yards per tote. Rookie RB Carlos Brown also added 32 yards on six carries, including a 26-yard run that set up the Bucs' final touchdown.

Both teams left most of their starters in for the first half and played to a 10-10 tie after two quarters. The yardage was almost even at halftime, too (177-170 in the Bucs' favor) and each team had converted four of seven third downs to that point. Morris had urged his team to "play smarter" in their second preseason outing, eliminating the mistakes of the Miami game, and he had to be pleased with the response. The Bucs had no turnovers and only one five-yard penalty by halftime, and did not allow a sack. By game's end, the Bucs had 312 yards to the Chiefs' 366 but still had no turnovers, no sacks allowed and only three penalties. The Bucs' defense forced two turnovers, both of which led to Tampa Bay field goals.

Rookie WR Mike Williams continued to stand out, leading the team with three catches for 44 yards in the first half. His slashing 16-yard gain on a third down to preserve the Bucs' first scoring drive was another glimpse into his potential as a big-time playmaker.

"Like I had said after the first week, I was a little bit nervous and now I am getting more confidence," said Williams. "I got jammed up a little on one play that I wasn't expecting, but I am getting more and more confident and hope to get better each week."

On defense, fourth-year linebacker Quincy Black was the team's star performer, registering six tackles, one sack and a tackle for a loss in less than two quarters of play. DE Michael Bennett had the Bucs' other sack, notching his second QB takedowns in as many games. Lynch, who blocked a punt last weekend in Miami, was a dynamo on special teams, notching two tackles and a forced fumble, as well as a key block on the punt return that set up the winning touchdown. Lynch also notched four tackles and a pass breakup on defense, playing most of the second half.

(Click here for a detailed report on the first half of Saturday night's game.)

The Buccaneers got the ball first in the second half but kept it only three plays when Spurlock failed to gain on a third-and-one reception after two strong runs by Huggins. The Bucs' defense countered with its own three-and-out thanks to LB Niko Koutouvides hard hit on RB Javarris Williams on a third-and-one sweep.

The Bucs' second drive of the third quarter got off to a better start when Carpenter completed a 12-yard out to WR Reggie Brown to convert a third-and-eight. The drive stalled at the midfield stripe, however, and Brent Bowden booted a punt that was fair caught at the Kansas City 13.

The Chiefs took the ensuring drive to midfield when backup QB Tyler Palko scrambled for 13 yards around left end. RB Jackie Battle then rambled into Buccaneer territory with a weaving 21-yard run, jumping over one Buccaneer defender in the process. The Chiefs tried to convert a third-and-eight at the Bucs' 17 with a swing pass to RB Tim Castille but he was stopped a yard short by S Corey Lynch. The Chiefs still managed to take the lead with Succop's 29-yard field goal, completing a 76-yard, 13-play drive.

Carpenter got the ensuing drive started with a precise 18-yard pass to TE Ryan Purvis, and Huggins bashed up the middle for nine yards to put the ball near midfield. Huggins broke off a long run on the second play of the final quarter, on third-and-one, but rookie T Derek Hardman was flagged for holding, making it third-and-11. A screen pass to Brown came up well short and the Bucs had to punt.

Tampa Bay's defense came up with the next big play. After Lynch made a diving pass breakup to help force a third-and-10 at the Kansas City 37, Palko tried to throw over the middle to Williams but the ball bounced out of the back's hands and was intercepted by CB Derrick Roberson at the 41. Carpenter immediately hit Spurlock over the middle at the Chiefs' 19, but a short run and two shots into the end zone failed. The Bucs settled for Barth's 36-yard field goal attempt, which he nailed to tie the game at 13-13 with 9:42 left in regulation.

The Bucs forced a quick punt and rookie WR Preston Parker returned it 13 yards to midfield thanks to a great seal-off block by Lynch. Carpenter then found rookie WR Arrelious Benn for a 16-yard completion and rookie RB Carlos Brown found the right edge on the next snap for a 26-yard run down to the Kansas City eight. Two plays later, from the KC five, Carpenter through straight down the line of scrimmage to Nunn, who fought through his one-on-one matchup with a Chiefs defender and just fell over the line for the go-ahead score.

The Chiefs moved over midfield on the ensuing drive with a succession of short passes against a defense trying to avoid the big play. On third-and-four from the Bucs' 36, Palko found Battle for nine yards and a first down with three minutes to play. CB Trae Williams had a potential interception slip through his hands on the next play and CB Elbert Mack stopped Verran Tucker for a gain of just two on the next play. However, Palko just got his next pass past Anderson for a first down at the Bucs' nine as the two-minute warning arrived.

After the break, Palko escaped a near-sack by DE James Ruffin and scrambled odwn to the five-yard line. Battle went right on the next play and stumbled down to the two. Pressure from DT Carlton Powell forced Palko to throw his third-down pass out of the back of the end zone and the Chiefs false-started before the fourth-down snap.

On fourth-and-goal from the seven, the Bucs brought an all-out blitz and Palko threw over it to Gunnell at the two. Anderson grabbed Gunnell and held him place until several more Buc defenders arrived to swarm him over.

After three Brown runs went nowhere, Bowden took the safety, dancing at the end line before stepping out of bounds. Thus the Bucs were able to kick off from their 20 with a minute remaining, rather than punt out of the end zone, and they stifled Chiefs return man Quentin Lawrence at the KC 36. Bennett sacked Palko two plays later, forcing a third-down spike with 15 seconds left. Anderson got an easy interception on Kansas City's final pass.

With the win, the Buccaneers improved to 1-1 on the preseason. They will remain at home for another week, facing the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, August 28, for the third warmup contest.

Game Notes: Saturday's game was just the fifth preseason meeting between the Buccaneers and Chiefs. The Bucs now hold a 4-1 in the all-time series. Before Saturday's game, the last preseason meeting between the two teams was on August 25, 2000, when Tampa Bay won, 37-14, at Raymond James Stadium. ... Tampa Bay has won seven of its last nine preseason home openers. ... S Sean Jones made his first start as a Buccaneer, opening the game at strong safety next to starting free safety Tanard Jackson. Incumbent Sabby Piscitelli started the preseason opener at Miami; the two are battling for the regular-season job. ... WR Micheal Spurlock's 53-yard catch-and-run for a TD in the second quarter was the Bucs' longest play of the preseason so far ... LB Adam Hayward logged a handful of snaps on offense in the second quarter. He played fullback in a backfield with RB Kareem Huggins and blocked for a pair of runs that gained a total of 16 yards. Hayward returned to play fullback again in the second half.

Inactives: There are no official inactives during the offseason. However, the Buccaneers revealed three players prior to the game who would definitely not participate: T Demar Dotson, RB Clifton Smith and WR Maurice Stovall. TE Kellen Winslow suited up but did not play..

The Chiefs also announced four players who would not suit up: QB Brodie Croyle, G Darryl Harris, S John McGraw and RB Kestahn Moore.

Injuries: For the Buccaneers, QB Josh Freeman fractured the tip of his right thumb in the first quarter and did not return. DE Brandon Gilbeaux suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. RB Derrick Ward suffered a head injury in the second quarter and did not return.

For the Chiefs, CB Maurice Leggett suffered a neck injury in the third quarter and did not return.

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