The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the ingredients to field one of the NFL's best offenses again in 2022, but very few of them were in the mixing bowl on Saturday at Nissan Stadium as the visitors dropped a 13-3 decision to the Tennessee Titans.
The Buccaneers fell to 0-2 in the 2022 preseason on an evening that featured little offensive cohesion on either side. Tennessee didn't score until the game's 10th drive and didn't get the ball into the end zone until the final 30 seconds of the first half. The two teams combined for just 429 yards of offense, 23 first downs and five third-down conversions in 28 tries, with the Bucs capped at 174 yards. In part due to injuries to a handful of wide receivers, the Bucs only played one of their usual starters on offense, RB Leonard Fournette.
Veteran QB Blaine Gabbert started the game but ceded duties to second-year QB Kyle Trask after just two series. Trask delivered a number of strong throws but the Bucs were hamstrung by two turnovers and four penalties, several of which erased big plays. Trask finished with 105 yards on 11 of 24 passing while absorbing four sacks, two of which led to a fumbles, the first erasing the Bucs' first scoring threat of the night in the third quarter.
The Titans started rookie quarterback Malik Willis and played him into the third quarter before turning to Logan Woodside, as Ryan Tannehill got the night off. Tampa Bay's defense did an excellent job of pressuring Willis throughout his time in the game but the elusive rookie frequently broke free from tacklers and was able to run five times for 42 yards. The Bucs did sack him three times, led by 1.5 by rookie inside linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi. Fatukasi also led the team with nine tackles and even added a stop on special teams.
"I though the guys that played on defense early on did a good job when they came into the ball game to start," said Bowles. "We were good on third downs; not enough turnovers. We thought we had some hard-ball runs against a good defense like that [but] we didn't break enough. The physical part was there, the details weren't when the young guys got in the ballgame."
The Titans scored the game's decisive points late in the first half thanks to a pair of Buccaneer turnovers. Rookie RB Rachaad White lost a fumble in Tampa Bay territory, leading to a Tennessee field goal on, fittingly, a zero-yard drive. On the next Bucs possession, LB Joe Jones picked off Trask and returned the ball into the Bucs' red zone, after which Willis hit TE Chig Okwonko on a six-yard score.
Trask and the Bucs' offense did find a bit more success in the second half with drives of 40 and 46 yards. Still, they only penetrated the Tennessee red zone once and were held to 93 yards rushing. With the offense sputtering, rookie punter Jake Camarda was busy and he showed off his strong leg, averaging 50.4 yards per punt with a long of 65. Meanwhile, veteran kicker Ryan Succop accounted for the Bucs' only points of the night with a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter. Succop is battling first-year player Jose Borregales for the Bucs' kicking job in 2022; Borregales hit a 55-yard field goal in the preseason opener but also bounced a 49-yarder off the right upright as time expired in a two-point loss.
Third-year RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn led the team with 54 yards on 10 carries.
"We didn't have a whole lot of offense," said Bowles. "I can't say one person stood out. I think everybody had their share of mistakes. I thought Ke'Shawn did a good job when he was in there. I can't say much about anybody else without seeing the type."
View the top photos from Preseason Week 2 vs. the Tennessee Titans.
Despite the loss and the offensive power outage, Bowles was pleased with the week of work in Nashville. The Bucs and Titans held two very useful joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.
"I thought it was a great trip from a continuity standpoint," said Bowles. "Being in the hotel and being on the road like old-school camp, I thought we came together as a team. I thought we got better with the practices and saw some different things. I think we're in a good place. I think we learned how to run the ball efficiently for the most part, with the exception of tonight, and I think the young guys got a great look and we got a great look at a lot of young guys so we can make educated decisions going forward."
Adding injury to insult, the Buccaneers also lost a potential key performer on offense when G Aaron Stinnie went down with a left knee injury in the third quarter. He left the field on a cart. Stinnie was in the competition to start at left guard, along with Nick Leverett and rookie second-rounder Luke Goedeke. Goedeke got the start at that spot on Saturday while Stinnie opened the game at right guard.
The Bucs got the ball first and Fournette ripped off a 10-yard run on the first play behind rookie left guard Luke Goedeke. Four-yard gains for Fournette on one run and one catch made it third-and-two but Gabbert couldn't connect with WR Scotty Miller on a speed out and the Bucs punted it away.
Titans rookie WR Kyle Phillips seemed to ill-advisedly field Jake Camarda's 62-yard blast a yard deep in the end zone but it worked out as Phillips weaved for 27 yards out to the 26. Willis then found WR Nick Westborook-Ikhine down the right hashes for a gain of 21. On the subsequent third-and-seven, DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches nearly sacked Willis but he escaped for a five-yard scramble, making it fourth-and-two. The Titans went for it but the Bucs' defense wasn't fooled at all by Willis's zone-read and OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka tripped him up for a loss of four.
The Bucs thus took over just shy of midfield but quickly faced a fourth-and-two at the Tennessee 43. Gabbert thew to TE Kyle Rudolph, who had a step on S Joshua Kalu but Kalu threw his right arm at just the right moment and knocked the pass away. The Titans took over on downs but didn't move the sticks thanks largely to a sack of Willis by rookie inside linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi. The resulting punt put the Bucs back at their own nine.
Trask took over under center but his first possession was brief as he was sacked back near the goal line on second down by OLB Rashad Weaver. After Camarda's second punt, the Titans started up again at the Bucs' 46. Patrick O'Connor and Deadrin Senat combined on a three-yard sack on second down and Willis was chased into a hurried incompletion on third down, leading to another punt. A penalty on the Titans' coverage team put the ball at the Bucs' 20-yard line.
Another three-and-out and punt followed, and Phillips broke loose again, this time following a 55-yard Camarda kick with a 35-yard punt. Camarda himself helped slow the returner down near midfield so that rookie TE Cade Otton could save the touchdown with a tackle at the Bucs' 44. Tryon-Shoyinka made a brilliant outside-in move to stop RB Julius Chestnut for a loss of one but then jumped offsides on the next snap to give five yards back. On third-and-12, Willis escaped the pocket and scrambled down to the Bucs' 39 to make it fourth-and-five as the first-quarter clock expired.
The Titans gave it back on the first play of the second period, as Willis' pass over the middle to Okwonko was off target and incomplete. Two snaps later, WR Tyler Johnson ran a vertical route up the right seam and Trask hit him in a gap in the zone for a gain of 17 to the Titans' 44. The Bucs averted disaster when a Kaylon Geiger fumble was ruled out of bounds as it was touched by a Titans player contacting the sideline. However, the drive still ended in a punt. Camarda's high punt was fair caught at the eight.
Willis made another impressive escape job of a near-sack near the goal line, eventually firing an 18-yard strike to WR Dez Fitzpatrick. Two strong Chestnut runs made it first down at the Tennessee 39 but the Titans then faced a third-and-five at the 44. Willis converted that with a rollout sideline strike to Phillips at the Bucs' 45. The Bucs continued to get pressure on the rookie passer but he escaped again and this time ripped off a 25-yard run down the right sideline. On third-and-goal from the 14, rookie DL Mike Greene chased Willis off his spot, eventually leading to a wild throw to the end zone from the right sideline, which fell incomplete. The Titans recorded the game's first points on Randy Bullock's 32-yard field goal with six minutes left in the first half.
Miller got a quick outside release and went deep on the first play of the Bucs' next drive but couldn't quite hall in Trask's pass. White broke free for a long run on the next play but it was called back by a holding penalty on Goedeke. Trask improvised an underhanded shovel to White on second down and the rookie back once again picked up big yardage, but he fumbled at the end of the play and it was recovered by the home team at the Bucs' 31. The drive went nowhere but the Titans still got a 49-yard field goal from Bullock to double their score.
White delivered a fine kickoff return out to the 32, but the Bucs quickly fell into a third-and-six; Trask converted that with a sharp 15-yard pass to Miller on a deep slant. Another fine White run was erased by a holding call on Goedeke and Trask went down on a six-yard sack by DE Da'Shawn Hand to make it third-and-18. Trask was hit as he threw on third down, leading to a floater Jones intercepted and returned to the Bucs' 19. That one resulted in Willis's six-yard touchdown strike to Okwonko to make it 13-0 at the half.
The Titans got the ball to start the second half and got one first down but had to punt again when Fatukasi and Jordan Young chased him out of bounds for a five-yard sack on third down. A 68-yard punt by rookie Ryan Stonehouse led to a touchback and a starting line of the 20 for the Bucs' offense. On third-and-three, Trask threaded a sharp pass between defenders to Thompkins, who made an impressive diving catch to move the sticks. RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn then ripped off a 17-yard run up the gut and two plays later Trask escaped pressure and delivered a perfect 34-yard pass to Thompkins to the Titans' 19. Trask found Geiger on a deep slant two plays later but the young wideout couldn't haul it in as he crossed the goal line. The Bucs ended up with no points from the drive as OLB Ola Adeniyi forced a fumble by Trask on third down, pushing the ball back to the 40 and leading to a punt.
Logan Woodside replaced Willis at quarterback on the next drive and produced one first down but the Titans eventually punted from their own 44 and Stonehouse hit it into the end zone for a touchback with five minutes left in the third quarter. Runs of 10 and 14 yards by Vaughn helped get the ball across midfield but the Bucs faced a third-and-six at the Titans' 34. An attempted deep shot on the next play was off Geiger's fingertips and the Bucs brought on veteran kicker Ryan Succop to try a 52-yarder, which he snuck over the crossbar for his team's first points of the night.
The Bucs got the ball back on their first takeaway of the night, with rookie CB Don Gardner intercepting a deep Woodside pass intended for WR Treylon Burks at the Bucs' 20. Recently-added RB Patrick Laird came into the game and got one yard on a run and a catch and the Bucs punted it back after a deep ball to Jerreth Sterns was broken up by S Adrian Colbert.
Tampa Bay's defense got a quick stop and put the Titans into punt formation but Tennessee held onto the ball after Stonehouse dropped the snap and elected to pick it up and run, getting around the right end and past the sticks for a first down on the midfield stripe. That was just a minor delay, however, as a third-down tackle for loss by Fatukasi forced another punt attempt. Unfortunately, the Bucs' drive went nowhere and led to another punt.
Tennessee got the ensuing drive across midfield but punted it back with just under three minutes to play after a sack by Bucs rookie edge rusher Andre Anthony. The Bucs went nowhere on their next possession, ending in an incomplete fourth-down pass that gave the Titans possession at the Bucs' 15.