Students throughout the Tampa Bay area will head back to school on Tuesday morning, many of them bearing supplies for their teachers' wish lists. On Monday evening, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attacked their own wish list and – thanks largely to the young scholars on their roster – had a long list of check marks by the end of the night.
READ: BUCCANEERS WIN, 25-11
They also had their first home win in more than a year, a 25-11 decision over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals that was never in much doubt.
Photos from the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.
Most prominently, rookie quarterback Jameis Winston gave the Buccaneers two things they wanted badly: A fast start and a diverse, controlled attack. Winston drove the home team 80 yards on eight plays to open the game, finishing the march with his second rushing touchdown in as many pro games. He was three-for-three on the drive but also helped immensely by RB Doug Martin's 52 yards on four carries.
"Coach Lovie [Smith], he really harped on the idea of coming out here and starting fast, and that's what we did," said Martin. "He challenge the O-Line to open up and play strong, play hard, and that's what they did. The momentum couldn't have happened without the line starting fast, doing their jobs and opening holes for me. It allowed me to continue to do my job, and then it carried along with the interceptions. The momentum is definitely been in our favor during the game, and it's all because we started fast."
WATCH: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE GAME
Winston used the entire arsenal afforded by Dirk Koetter's offense, with his first eight passes going to eight different targets. He finished the game with eight completions in 13 attempts for 90 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions and an 82.2 passer rating. Winston left midway through the third quarter after taking a hard sack that left him with an apparent limp, though he remained on the sideline and did not receive any treatment on his leg.
"We have so many great weapons and so many great players," said Winston. "You have to be able to be versatile and let everybody touch the rock. Coach Koetter is so great with us. We worked so hard to build on the positives from last week's game and we came out here and showed it."
Any wish list of a Lovie Smith classroom would also include a healthy dose of takeaways, and the Bucs' defense came up big in that regard. With both teams playing the majority of their starters throughout the first half, Tampa Bay's defense was both stingy and opportunistic, ending three straight drives with a turnover and not allowing Cincinnati into their end until the last five minutes of the half. CB Alterraun Verner returned an interception off Bengals starting QB Andy Dalton 24 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and S Bradley McDougald picked off another Dalton throw just minutes later. The third turnover was a fumble recovery by LB Bruce Carter after CB Mike Jenkins knocked the ball out of RB Jeremy Hill's grasp.
READ: HALFTIME REPORT
"Obviously it's something that we harp on and have worked on all training camp and what we've been able to do tonight is what we've been preaching," said Verner of the takeaways. "It all starts with our front four, front seven. They got pressure, they got in the quarterback's head early and then the opportunities arose and we caught them. That was just a good job by everybody. It's something we can build on as a defense."
By halftime, Tampa Bay's defense had allowed just 49 yards, most of that given up by second-stringers late in the second quarter. With seven minutes left in the half, the Bucs had allowed just two net yards to Dalton and the Bengals' starting attack.
Part of that was due to a much-improved pass-rush, clearly on the of the areas in which the team needs the most improvement in 2013. The Bucs sacked Dalton three times, with offseason trade acquisition George Johnson accounting for half of that total. Johnson split one of those sacks with three-time Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy, while DE Larry English recorded the other one. Tampa Bay's defensive line also set the tone in allowing Cincinnati just 25 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
"This defense is predicated off of the front four getting a four-man rush of the quarterback and, not just that, but stopping the run, which we were able to do," said McCoy. "That made him have to pass the ball, and when you make a team get one dimensional and you have four guys who can rush the passer, that's hard to beat. With how hard we work with Coach Joe Cullen and with what Coach Lovie expects from us, I think we will have a good year."
The Bucs led 23-3 at halftime and were able to finish off a the two-touchdown victory with little difficulty. Cincinnati gained just 152 net yards on the night, most of which came on an 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter when both teams were deep into their reserves. Cincinnati's lone TD of the night was scored on a five-yard run by James Wilder, Jr., son of James Wilder, the all-time leading rusher in Buccaneers history. Wilder also ran in the two-point conversion after that score.
A strong rushing attack is key to Lovie Smith's formula, as well, and the Bucs showed promise in that regard for the second straight week, rushing for 145 yards and a 3.9-yard per-carry average on 37 totes. That average was far better before the Bucs spent most of the fourth quarter running rookie Dominique Brown into a stacked defense, with Brown getting 24 yards on 14 carries. Martin got 59 yards on six totes, including a tackle-breaking 30-yard scramble that set up Winston's one-yard TD dive. Credit an offensive line that started rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet at left tackle and right guard, respectively, for opening holes for Martin and allowing just one sack of Winston in the first half. On the other hand, the Bucs' O-Line reserves allowed three sacks of QB Mike Glennon after halftime.
Few preseason games go smoothly for 60 minutes, of course, and both starters and reserves were guilty of running into penalty problems for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay committed 14 infractions for 153 yards on the night, including 11 for 130 in the first half, mostly by starters and mostly on offense. The Buccaneers had 356 net yards of offense on the night but likely could have fared far better without the flags.
"[We] started off strong with that drive by our offense, got us off to a good start," said Smith. "Whenever you can score a defensive touchdown that's good, but the penalties – too many in the first half."
The Buccaneers also wanted to perform far better on special teams after a poor showing in that phase of the game in the preseason opener. They did indeed take a step forward in the kick-and-return game, though not without some missteps. K Patrick Murray missed on an extra point (now from 33 yards under the league's new rules) and pulled a 50-yard field goal to the right, but he also drilled a 53-yard field goal after being deadly from long range in his 2014 rookie season. Rookie WR Kaelin Clay got 23 yards on three punt returns, including a 16-yarder and the Bucs also downed two punts inside the Bengals' five-yard line.
Additional drive-by-drive information:
Winston came out throwing on the game's first snap, enjoying a well-formed pocket and hitting Martin underneath for nine yards. Martin then dashed up the middle for seven more and a first down, and Winston followed with another short pass to FB Jorvorskie Lane for seven more. Martin shrugged off two tackles on his second carry to get around left end and pick up 15 more, crossing midfield in the process. On first down from the Bengals' 42, Winston found TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins parked in a zone and he drilled it to him for a gain of 11. The next play looked like a bust on Martin's sweep right, but Martin broke several tackles and got into the open field to gain 30 yards down to the one. Two plays later, Winston stumbled out of the snap before rolling right and sprinting to the front pylon for his second rushing TD in as many weeks.
Dalton's play-action pass on a sideline curl to WR A.J. Green got Cincinnati's opening drive going with a gain of 14. After two Jeremy Hill runs gained five yards, the Bucs' defense stopped the drive with excellent full-field coverage on third down, forcing a short Dalton scramble. A touchback and a holding penalty on the ensuing punt forced the Bucs to start up again at their own 10.
The Bucs got a quick first down on a 16-yard pass to Jackson but, after a deep shot to Evans that just missed the home team ended up in a second-and-30 hole after a pair of penalties. A 14-yard gain by RB Charles Sims on a screen led to a seam pass that TE Tim Wright just missed hauling in. The Bucs had to punt, and a penalty on the return team pushed the line of scrimmage back to the Bengals' 22.
Photos from the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.
Dalton missed on a sideline route to WR Mohamed Sanu, and RB Giovani Bernard dropped an outlet pass on second down. On third-and-10, the Bucs brought rookie LB Kwon Alexander on a delayed blitz and that helped create the pressure resulting in DE George Johnson's seven-yard sack.
The Bucs seemed to get a good start on their next drive on Sims' seven-yard run, but it came back on a holding call. Three plays later, on third-and-12 from the Bucs' 27, Winston looked for WR Louis Murphy on a deep out but the pass was incomplete. A wobbly punt by rookie Karl Schmitz gave Cincinnati possession at their own 39.
The Bengals went backward from there, thanks to three straight plays made at or behind the line of scrimmage. LB Danny Lansanah stopped Hill for no gain on first down, followed by consecutive sacks for English and a Johnson/McCoy combo.
A nice 16-yard punt return by rookie Kaelin Clay and a facemask penalty on the Bengals got the Bucs into Cincy territory as the first quarter came to an end. However, yet another penalty on Tampa Bay's offense – hands to the face erasing a nice gain by TE Brandon Myers – pushed the ball back to the 39. On the next play, Winston converted the first-and-20 by threading a 22-yard seam pass to WR Russell Shepard. A false start cost the Bucs another 10 yards, and Winston tripped in his drop-back on the next play, absorbing a painful sack. Two snaps later, Winston had to throw the ball away on a quick rush by the Bengals defense, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty on a punt.
Michael Koenen bounced a kick near the goal line and rookie Kenny Bell leaped over the line to bat it back to Shepard, who downed it at the one. Two plays later, an on-target pass to WR A.J. Green went through his hands and was picked off by Verner. Verner took off immediately towards the end zone and got there, diving through a pile of players at the goal line for the score.
Cincinnati's next drive ended in a turnover, too, as McDougald snared a pass thrown over the head of TE Tyler Eifert and returned it 38 yards to the Bengals' 12. A ninth Buc penalty and a pair of incompletions left the Bucs in a third-and-20, and the Bengals dialed up a big blitz. Glennon recognized it and called the perfect audible, lofting a 22-yard touchdown pass to Shepard, who beat one-on-one coverage with no over-the-top help. K Patrick Murray pulled the extra point attempt wide to keep the score at 20-0 in the home team's favor.
The Bucs got their third straight takeaway moments later, with CB Mike Jenkins poking the ball out of Hill's grasp and LB Bruce Carter recovering at the Bengals' 31. The offense got nowhere from there but Murray came on to drill a low line drive for a 53-yard field goal.
On the ensuing drive, Cincinnati got into Buccaneers' territory for the first time when Jenkins was flagged for pass interference on a deep pass intended for WR Marvin Jones. That gave the Bengals a first down at the Bucs' 24, but a well-timed hit by Swearinger on a goal-line pass to Eifert led to a third-and-five and the Bengals couldn't convert. K Tom Obarski came on to break the shutout with a 37-yard field goal.
The Bucs got into Cincinnati territory in the final two minutes, with Glennon fitting an 18-yard deep out into the hands of TE Brandon Myers on the left sideline, between two defenders. On third-and-nine from the 30, Glennon took a sack and fumbled, with G Kadeem Edwards falling on it to prevent the turnover. The Bucs punted with 26 seconds left in the half, and it was downed expertly inside the five.
After a touchback to open the second half, the Bengals soon found themselves in a third-and-16 at their own 14 and reserve QB A.J. McCarron tried to go deep to WR Greg Little and Swearinger arrived just in time to break it up. The Bucs took over near midfield after the punt.
Another holding penalty backed the Bucs up to start the drive but Myers made a nice catch of a 21-yard pass up the middle from Glennon to move the sticks. Glennon kept the drive alive three plays later with a sharp nine-yard pass to rookie WR Adam Humphries, producing a first down at Cincy's 32. However, on the next third down Glennon was buried by an eight-yard sack and the Bucs brought Murray out to try a 50-yard field goal. This one he pulled to the right with 8:22 left in the game.
After a three-and-out by McCarron and the Cincinnati offense, the Bucs got the ball back at their own 10. A defensive holding penalty and a 13-yard run by James got the drive started and a seven-yard grab by TE Cameron Brate created another a first down at the Bucs' 41. Several plays later, Glennon went deep down the right sideline to rookie WR Donteea Dye, and the Bucs got a scoring chance out of it when CB Chris Lewis-Harris dragged Dye down by the arm, drawing a pass interference penalty. Rookie RB Dominique Brown bashed from the two-yard line to the one on the final play of the third quarter.
The Bucs tried Brown three more times from the one to start the fourth quarter but Cincinnati stopped him every time. Tampa Bay still got a score out of it, as LB Danny Lansanah trapped RB Cedric Pearman in the end zone on the next play for a safety.
That forced the Bengals to kick the ball back to Tampa Bay, but Cincinnati's defense was able to force a punt and a touchback. McCarron then directed an 80-yard touchdown drive on a series of underneath passes, including a 16-yarder to Jake Kumerow that produced a first down at the Bucs' 27. Kumerow went over the middle for another 11 yards three plays later, putting the ball at the five, and Wilder ran it in from there.
The Bucs attempted to run out the clock on the next possession but the Bengals seemed intent on extending the game, calling timeouts after two short Brown runs. On third-and-five from the Bucs' 17, QB Seth Lobato faked a handoff and threw to TE Cameron Brate for 14 yards and a new set of downs. Cincinnati burned its last timeout and the Bucs hit the two-minute warning with another short Brown run. The Bucs had to punt before the clock ran out but that did give the defense enough time for rookie DT Caushaud Lyons to record his first NFL sack on the game's last play.