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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defense Shines in Preseason Loss to Eagles

Turnovers doomed the Buccaneers in a 17-9 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday night, but the Bucs' amplified pass-rush kept the game close and keyed an impressive defensive performance.

Photos from the Buccaneers' Preseason Week 1 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.

What's new: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pass-rush looks like a vastly-improved part of the team's winning formula in 2016. What never changes: Turnovers decide ballgames, no matter what else goes right and wrong.

Buccaneers wide receiver Kenny Bell fumbled on the game's opening kickoff and Philadelphia defensive tackle Fletcher Cox swatted the ball out of Jameis Winston's hand on a pass-rush on Tampa Bay's second possession of the contest. Those plays in the game's first five minutes decided the Eagles' 17-9 win over the Buccaneers in Thursday night's 2016 preseason opener, as they led to two very short touchdown drives on a night in which the Buccaneers' defense allowed just 188 yards of offense.

"Even though we were in not such a great field position in the beginning, we as a defense have to bow up and play football," said linebacker Lavonte David. "But after we settled in, it got better with guys flying around, so that's a positive."

The Buccaneers' offense committed five turnovers, including a game-clinching interception in the end zone by Philadelphia's C.J. Smith with 29 seconds to play.

Wide receiver Russell Shepard, a special teams dynamo who is part of a wide-open battle behind the team's top three of Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries, caught three passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay's offense spent most of the night testing out its passing attack with Winston, Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin, rushing for just 31 yards on 21 carries. Winston threw only nine passes, but he completed seven of them for 97 yards and a nearly-perfect 148.6 passer rating. His best pass was a touch throw through traffic to Shepard at the end of a 79-yard scoring drive.

"It's an opportunity to make a play," said Shepard of his touchdown. "With this amazing team that we've got, they ask us to do more than one thing, so you have to take pride if they ask you to do [special] teams, if they ask you play receiver. Whatever they ask you to do, take pride in it and do it to the best of your ability. And that's all I'm doing."

Tampa Bay's offense managed 329 net yards on the evening. Reserve quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin threw one interception each, but the Bucs' passing attack did manage four completions of 24 or more yards, while Philadelphia's longest play was 19 yards.

The Buccaneers' first-team defense allowed 33 yards of offense in the first quarter, including negative-one yards in the passing game thanks to a quartet of sacks. By halftime, the Eagles had just 78 yards of offense, including 21 net yards through the air. That was the lowest total of net passing yards Tampa Bay's defense had allowed in a preseason game since giving up 19 to the Kansas City Chiefs on August 25, 2000.

Defensive ends Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones and defensive tackles Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence accounted for Tampa Bay's four first-half sacks. In addition, David was conspicuous in his one quarter of play with four stops and two tackles for loss.

"With new guys, we all have to get comfortable with each other, get a good feeling with each other," said David. "Once we settled down, things got going. That's our pass rush and coverage working together – guys getting after the quarterback and guys having tight coverage to give our D-line the opportunity to get to the quarterback."

The Eagles forced a turnover on the game's first play, with safety Chris Maragos recovering Kenny Bell's fumble on the opening kickoff return. The Eagles covered 18 yards on three plays, the final one a five-yard touchdown run by RB Ryan Mathews. Philadelphia made it 14-0 before the game was five minutes old thanks to a second turnover. DT Fletcher Cox swatted the ball out of QB Jameis Winston's hand and recovered the loose ball at the Bucs' nine. Tampa Bay's defense forced a third-and-goal and put pressure on QB Chase Daniel, but the second-string passer was able to scramble up the middle for a three-yard score.

Tampa Bay's first opportunity to mount an extended drive went well, with Winston hitting Mike Evans for 10 yards, Doug Martin for 11 yards and Mike James for 26 yards to get deep into Philadelphia territory. On second-and-10 from the 26, Winston dropped a pass between two levels of coverage to Shepard, who turned and ran untouched for the Bucs' first touchdown. Rookie K Roberto Aguayo hit the left upright on his extra point attempt to keep the score at 14-6. Aguayo later connected on his first NFL field goal attempt, a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter, but that was matched by Caleb Sturgis's 42-yard kick earlier in the period.

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