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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Bucs Show Improvement, Drop Opener

Tampa Bay’s offense took a step forward in the second week of the preseason, with QB Josh McCown and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans at the center, but the visiting Dolphins prevailed, 20-14


  • Game Ball: QB Josh McCown never got a chance to find a groove in the preseason opener, but better protection in Week Two led to a 128.6 passer rating and his first Bucs TD.
  • Play of the Game: The only touchdown scored by either starting offense came on Josh McCown's seven-yard strike to Vincent Jackson. But it was Gerald McCoy's sack-forced fumble that set up that score and was the best moment of the night for Tampa Bay.
  • Turning Point: Rookie WR Mike Evans showed off his hands, strength and size on a 42-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, but it was a 43-yard TD before replay showed he had fumbled before crossing the goal line.
  • It Was Over When: The two teams started liberally mixing in reserves in the second quarter. Preseason scores are not particularly meaningful when most of the points come from the second and third-string units.

    Mike Evans made the first start of his professional career on Saturday, and on one play in the second quarter he summed up everything the NFL preseason is about, especially for the young players who dominate playing time. Evans, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft and part of a massive influx of talent intended to overhaul the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense, was at the center of the decisive moment in the Bucs' 20-14 loss to Miami on Saturday night.

With the home team leading 7-3 and second-string QB Mike Glennon leading his first drive of the night, Evans caught a pass over the middle on third-and-15, bounced off a hit by S Jimmy Wilson and raced down the sideline for an apparent 43-yard touchdown. However, a replay challenge confirmed that hustling Dolphins CB Brent Grimes was able to poke the ball out of the receiver's hands just before he crossed the goal line, resulting in a fumble and a touchback. Miami subsequently drove 71 yards just before halftime to take a 10-7 lead on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Rishard Matthews.

The sequence that more completely summed up what the Buccaneers hope to see in the regular season came earlier in the second quarter. The defense started it, with All-Pro DT Gerald McCoy sacking QB Ryan Tannehill and forcing a fumble that DE Michael Johnson, the team's prized free agent acquisition, fielded on a hop and returned to the Miami 25. Four plays later, enjoying outstanding coverage from a rejuvenated offensive line, new starting QB Josh McCown hit WR Vincent Jackson in the back middle of the end zone with a seven-yard touchdown pass.

"That's exactly how you want to draw it out," said Head Coach Lovie Smith, whose defenses have always been known for their copious amounts of takeaways. "It's about taking the ball away, and after you take it away it's about getting a touchdown and we were able to do that."

McCoy and McCown, perhaps the most important players for the Buccaneers on each side of the line of scrimmage, had strong outings. For McCoy, that was a continuation of both his breakout 2013 season and his eye-opening performance a week earlier in Jacksonville. Playing exactly one quarter and one extra play in the second period, the fifth-year defender recorded three tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble…and even that doesn't adequately describe how often he was in the Miami backfield. He led a starting Buccaneer defense that allowed just 81 yards and three points in roughly a quarter and a half of play.

"The thing about the Tampa Two defense, historically, on a pass is that the guys in the back end were so good because the guys on the line were really good," said McCoy. "We're just trying to bring that back and make it easy on the guys behind us, actually let them be able to scrape free over the top in the run and then not have to cover for that long in passing situations."

McCown, meanwhile, enjoyed far better protection from his offensive line than a week before and made the most of it. He completed five of seven passes for 46 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 128.6. On several plays – even a few that ended in incompletions – he showed outstanding pocket awareness, stepping up to avoid pressure.

"It was better," said McCown. "It was more of what we need to start looking like. We're still not there yet, obviously. We'll take a look at the tape and clean some things up for sure, but it's a good feeling to finish with a touchdown. It was Buc football. That's what we want it to be. Coach Smith and I were talking about that. Takeaways and touchdowns, that's we have to do."

The Bucs' clearly took a step forward from Week One to Week Two in the preseason, but perhaps not as big of a step as Lovie Smith would have liked. His team still lost the turnover battle, two to one, and the defensive reserves weren't quite as stingy as the week before. Miami won the offensive yardage battle, 326 to 250. In addition, the game included a long list of injuries, which the Bucs will have to hope don't include any long-term situations. Among those who left the game early due to injuries were CB Rashaan Melvin (ankle), RB Mike James (shoulder), DE William Gholston (shoulder), S Major Wright (back), LB Brandon Magee (ankle).

The Buccaneers deferred after winning the coin toss for a second straight week because Lovie Smith trusts his defense to get a quick stop. The Dolphins did get one first down on a short third-down completion, but DT Gerald McCoy's pressure on a third-down pass attempt three plays later helped kill the drive. The Bucs took a penalty on the ensuing 1 and thus had to start at their own nine.

The Bucs' offense got off to a much better start than a week ago, with McCown stepping up under pressure on third-and-three and delivering an 11-yard pass to rookie WR Mike Evans. A roughing-the-passer penalty was tacked on the end to take the ball out to the Bucs' 42. The drive stalled there, however, and the Bucs had to punt for the first time. Michael Koenen boomed a 51-yarder that was fair caught at the Miami eight-yard line.

The Dolphins got out of that tough situation with a third-down catch for 12 yards by WR Brandon Gibson and a 26-yarder down the middle by WR Jarvis Landry. A hands-to-the-face penalty on T Dallas Thomas pushed the Dolphins back to their 39. The Bucs' defense got the Dolphins into a third-and-seven and McCoy tipped a pass intended for TE Dion Sims, but the deflection went right to WR Rishard Matthews for a first down at the Bucs' 32. CB Johnthan Banks subsequently broke up a pass intended for Brian Hartline on third-and-eight and the Dolphins settled for K John Potter's 48-yard field goal.

The Bucs' next drive nearly reached midfield thanks to two Martin runs for 12 yards and a nifty 14-yard catch-and-run by FB Jorvorskie Lane, but it sputtered out before reaching Dolphin territory. The resulting punt went into the end zone for a touchback.

Photos from the Buccaneers vs. Dolphins preseason game at Raymond James Stadium.

Despite a brilliant play by McCoy to trap RB Damien Williams for a loss of five early in the ensuing drive, the Dolphins got the ball to their own 41 on a 16-yard catch by Gibson on the final play of the first quarter. The first play of the second quarter was much better for the Bucs, as McCoy sacked Tannehill, forcing a fumble that Michael Johnson recovered on a hop and returned to the Miami 25.

Two plays later, McCown let a play develop and hit TE Brandon Myers for a first down at the Miami 10. After a three-yard run, McCown enjoyed great protection and had plenty of time to hit Jackson cutting across the back of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown completion.

DE William Gholston's hustling tackle on a first-down run by Williams and a well-covered third-and-five incompletion got the ball back to the Bucs' offense quickly. With Glennon now in to lead the attack (but the starting offensive line still in play), Glennon got the ball into Miami territory with a 14-yard strike to rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an 11-yard slant to WR Louis Murphy. However, DE Olivier Vernon's second-down sack created a third-and-15 from the Dolphins' 42. The resulting play looked like a winner for the Bucs, until it was challenged by Miami and reviewed. Glennon delivered a pass over the middle while getting hit and Evans caught it just before being hit by S Jimmy Wilson. Evans bounced off the hit and continued 30 yards for an apparent touchdown, but CB Brent Grimes was able to poke the ball out of the receiver's hands just before he crossed the goal line. The ball went into the end zone for a touchback, giving Miami possession at their own 20.

A penalty helped put Miami into a third-and-15 hole minutes later, but QB Matt Moore found WR Damian Williams (not to be confused with Damien Williams) down the right numbers for a gain of 21 to prolong the drive. The Bucs forced a punt from there and the offense took over at its own 20 with 4:11 left in the half. A defensive holding penalty on LB Danell Ellerbe erased a third-down sack for the Miami defense, but Glennon and company were only out to the 28 when the two-minute warning arrived. They ended up punting with 1:48 to go, and Miami used the remaining time to drive into scoring territory.

A pair of 18-yard catches by Damian Williams and Matthews got the ball down to Tampa Bay's 17 with 34 seconds left. CB Danny Gorrer broke up a potential TD pass with 13 seconds left to make it third-and-two at the nine. Moore used his last pass of the half to lob a touchdown pass to Matthews on the right edge of the end zone to give the Dolphins a 10-7 lead at the half.

The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half but did little with it, punting after a three-and-out. Miami got into Tampa Bay territory quickly with Moore's pass down the middle to WR Kevin Cone for 21 yards, Three plays later, Moore got another 21 yards on a pass down the left numbers to WR Armon Binns. Another tough catch by Cone in traffic produced a first down at the Bucs' three, and two plays later Damien Williams pushed it over the line for a score to make it 17-7.

With Glennon still under center, the Bucs got off to a good start on the next drive with three runs for 18 yards by Mike James. However, Tampa Bay quickly found itself in a third-and-14 and the result was a sack by DE Dion Jordan that forced a fumble by Glennon, with DE Terrence Fede recovering for Miami at the Bucs' 38.

Tampa Bay's defense gave up one first down and then held, forcing Miami to settle for three points off the turnover, with Potter knocking home a 51-yarder. Solomon Patton's 33-yard return of a kickoff driven nearly to the back line of the end zone set up the next Bucs' drive, which got close to midfield on a pass interference call. It stopped there, however, leading to another punt and a subsequent three-and-out for Miami.

The two teams traded punts again, and Mike Kafka came in to lead the Bucs' next drive. Two Jeff Demps runs gained 11 yards and a first down but a sack of Kafka by Fede helped

put the Bucs in a deep hole. An apparent first-down completion to TE Tim Wright was erased by a penalty and the Bucs kicked it away again.

Neither team was able to sustain a drive until Kafka took over again with just under two minutes to play. A 12-yard pass to WR Lavelle Hawkins on third down and a 22-yard sideline strike to WR Russell Shepard got the Bucs into the red zone. After three straight incompletions from the 13, Kafka and Hawkins hooked up for a touchdown pass just inside the left edge of the end zone to make it 20-14. The Buccaneers tried an onside kick but it failed and Miami kneeled to end the game.

Game Notes:

  • There are no official inactives during the preseason but the Buccaneers announced before the game that the following players would not suit up: RB Charles Sims, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Mike Jenkins, T J.B. Shugarts, DL Da'Quan Bowers and DE Steven Means.
  • The Dolphins indicated before kickoff that the following players would not take part in the game: RB Mike Gillislee, RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Daniel Thomas, TE Charles Clay, DT Micajah Reynolds, C Mike Pouncey, T Jason Fox, TE Arthur Lynch, TE Harold Hoskins and DT A.J. Francis.
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