QB Brian Griese's one drive at the helm Saturday night ended in a touchdown
Brian Griese had just one drive to work with Saturday night in Miami, but he made the most of it.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers divvying up snaps between four quarterbacks, Griese drew the shortest stick. He did all he could to extend that bit of playing time, however, leading the second-team offense on a 19-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in the only touchdown of the first half. Tampa Bay took a 7-3 lead into halftime before finishing off a 17-6 victory in the preseason opener for both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins.
"Brian Griese has had a great camp and did a heck of a job on the two-minute drill," said Gruden. "That was a great way to end the half. We still have a little bit more work to do."
That is essentially always the case after the first game of the summer, especially on offense, which often takes several outings to find its identity. Both the Bucs and Dolphins struggled to sustain drives when the first-teamers were on the field Saturday night, playing to a scoreless tie through the first quarter.
Tampa Bay's defense stayed strong throughout the game as second and third-teamers cycled in and out. The Dolphins finished with just 198 yards of total offense, 10 first downs and four conversions in 12 third-down tries.
The Bucs played the game without quarterback Jeff Garcia, moving Luke McCown into the starting role. McCown and the first-team unit stayed in the game for three drives and produced 76 yards and five first downs. Most of that came on the third possession, which pushed well into Dolphins territory but ended on the first of two missed field goals by kicker Matt Bryant. Miami's first three drives produced just 61 yards and three first downs.
Griese came in for the Bucs' fourth possession and completed 10 of 14 passes for 59 yards, one touchdown and a 103.0 passer rating. McCown was nine of 15 for 70 yards and a 71.5 rating before his departure.
"I think we did well," said McCown of the starting group. "We moved the ball. We were slow a little early. They did some good things on defense. We got it going after a series or two. We had a couple of good drives, but we just have to finish. I missed the throw in the end zone and we have to come away with points when we get good drives like that."
The Bucs pulled away in the fourth quarter. After Miami moved to within one on Danny Carpenter's second field goal, the Bucs scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on drives led by QBs Chris Simms and Josh Johnson.
As usual, the Bucs' focus in the preseason opener was two-fold, as evaluating young players and key newcomers was as important as earning the win. On the former front, the coaching staff will have plenty of encouraging game tape to study over the next few days. Among the reserves who posted strong performances were running backs Michael Bennett and Clifton Smith, tight end John Gilmore, WR Brian Clark, DE Jimmy Wilkerson and S Sabby Piscitelli.
Bennett scored the game's second touchdown on a one-yard run after getting the ball near the goal-line with a game-long 31-yard run. Bennett, who joined the team in a midseason trade from Kansas City last fall, finished the game with 74 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries plus a game-high four receptions for 16 yards. Rookie Clifton Smith, an undrafted free agent, added 28 yards on nine carries and three receptions and 12 yards. Smith's dazzling 30-yard punt return in the fourth quarter also set up the game's final score.
The Bucs were enamored of Gilmore's blocking skills when they nabbed him in free agency this spring but also insisted he could be put to good use in the passing game. Gilmore provided evidence to support that theory with three receptions for 25 yards.
Clark caught Griese's touchdown pass and played a large number of snaps with the first-team offense. Wilkerson provided two of the bigger plays on defense with a pass deflection on third down and a sack of QB Chad Henne in the second half. Piscitelli had the hit of the game, a hard shot to WR David Kircus that left the wideout momentarily dazed on the turf after a 20-yard catch in the second quarter.
Some not-so-new Bucs stood out, as well. CB Ronde Barber had the Bucs' first sack, forced a fumble and tied for the team lead with three tackles. And QB Chris Simms, seeing his first extended action in almost two years, was sharp on a pair of second-half drives, including one that ended in the game's second touchdown. Simms completed eight of 10 passes for 60 yards, though he absorbed two of the Dolphins' three sacks.
Rookie QB Josh Johnson took the Bucs' last two drives, the first of which produced a game-clinching field goal. Johnson threw just one pass, a 15-yard completion.
The Bucs can also gain some comfort from several things they did not see on Saturday night. The offense wasn't explosive, but it was efficient and mostly error-free. Tampa Bay did not commit a single penalty on the evening while the Dolphins were flagged eight times. The Bucs also didn't commit a turnover and were good on 11 of 19 third down tries.
The defense didn't allow a play longer than 21 yards and held a preseason opponent without a touchdown for the first time since the 2006 opener, a 16-3 home win over the New York Jets.
The Buccaneers' starters on defense made an impressive debut in the opening quarter. Miami's first drive was a quick three-and-out — two running plays that went nowhere and an incompletion that was momentarily ruled a fumble. John Beck did move the Dolphins offense into Buccaneer territory on their second possession, but Wilkerson's pass deflection on third-and-six forced another punt.
The offense's opening was less auspicious. McCown was sacked on the Bucs' first play from scrimmage and nearly intercepted on a third-down toss in WR Maurice Stovall's direction. Bennett started the second drive with a nice seven-yard run but that one, too, ended in three plays.
RB Ricky Williams was greeted warmly by the Dolphin Stadium crowd after his first carry, and he rewarded the fans with a tackle-breaking nine-yard scamper on his second play. That got Miami across midfield again, but a holding call and a sack by the blitzing Barber killed that drive.
WR Michael Clayton, who has had a strong training camp in his quest to regain a foothold in the Bucs' offense, started in place of Ike Hilliard but had a tough moment early when he dropped a potential big-gainer in the first quarter. McCown threaded one of his better passes of the evening to Clayton on a deep crossing route but Clayton had it slip through his hands after turning his head a moment too early to look upfield.
McCown and the Bucs rebounded from that play to get their first sustained movement on offense, with first-year back Kenneth Darby converting a pair of first-down runs as the first quarter came to an end. Clayton pitched in a key nine-yard grab at the Miami 39 and got open on third-down route into the end zone but McCown overthrew him. Bryant, who has been nearly perfect through the first two weeks of training camp, pushed his 36-yard field goal attempt wide to the right, leaving the game scoreless with 11 minutes to go in the half.
The Dolphins brought in the rookie Henne to quarterback the offense on the following drive, and the Bucs countered with an entire second-team defensive unit. Kircus held on to a 20-yard completion over the middle despite a crushing hit by Piscitelli, putting Miami in scoring territory. Carpenter nailed a 41-yard field goal to finally crack the zeroes on the scoreboard.
The offense switched to subs on the next drive, too, with Griese coming in at quarterback behind a second-team offensive line. Griese led the team across midfield and then took a deep shot to WR Antonio Bryant on third-and-one. When that failed, the Bennett converted the fourth-and-one with a three-yard run up the gut, then had to go for it again on fourth down from the Miami 36. Darby danced through a big hole for eight yards and the Bucs used their third timeout with 1:01 left in the half.
An impressive catch-and-run by Stovall got the ball down to the three but the Bucs had to hurry to get another play off. An incompletion in the end zone stopped the clock with six seconds to play and the Bucs gambled on one more snap before potentially trying a field goal. The gamble paid off when Griese found Clark just over the goal line on a quick stop route as time expired. Clark's helmet popped off as he was blasted by several Dolphins, but he held on for the score to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead.
Simms came in to helm the offense at the start of the second half, and the Bucs moved across midfield on his second drive. Bennett and Smith got the drive going with 10 and eight-yard runs, respectively, and Simms converted a third-and-three with a line drive strike to WR Chad Lucas at the Miami 36. However, Simms absorbed a sack by Rodrique Wright on the next third down, forcing Bryant to try another field goal from 52 yards out. This one, too, missed to the right.
That gave Miami excellent field position for its next drive, and they turned it into a quick three points on a 27-yard field goal march. Carpenter hit from 49 yards to cut the Bucs' lead to one, 7-6.
Simms' second drive was even better, as the Bucs marched 76 yards on 13 plays for their second touchdown of the game. Simms was four-of-four for 40 yards on the drive and Bennett got the ball down to the two on a 31-yard run around right end. The Bucs ran three times from the two, with Bennett getting it in on a stretch play to the right on third-and-one. The Bucs' lead increased to 14-6 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
The Bucs forced another punt, which Smith took up the middle to the Miami 43. Johnson came into the game and directed a 29-yard field goal drive that gave the Bucs a 17-6 lead with three minutes to play. Bryant hit it through the uprights from 32 yards out to cap the scoring.
The Bucs are 1-0 on the preseason and will return home to play New England next Sunday, August 17. The Dolphins are 0-1 and will travel to Jacksonville next Saturday.
Game Notes: While most of the first-team offensive line stayed in the game for a quarter and a half, C Jeff Faine was lifted after two drives to give Dan Buenning some work at center. Buenning is battling rookie Jeremy Zuttah for the backup center job; when the second-team line came in, Buenning stayed at center and Zuttah played right guard. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ The Bucs' offense was five-of-10 on third downs in the first half, while also converting a pair of fourth downs. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ Rookie CB Aqib Talib got his first NFL pass break-up at a fortuitous time. Miami QB Chad Henne tried to get the ball to WR Ernest Wilford on a fade stop on third-and-four early in the third quarter, but Talib knocked it away at the last second with his back to the ball. Talib played in the nickel formation with the starting defense and came in at left cornerback on the second-string unit, finishing the game with one tackle in addition to that play. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ Fellow rookie WR Dexter Jackson got his first catch early in the fourth quarter, taking a quick throw down the line and bursting upfield for a gain of 11 on third-and-four from the Miami 44. The Bucs scored four plays later on Michael Bennett's one-yard touchdown run. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ Yet another member of the 2008 draft class, QB Josh Johnson, got into the game and completed his first NFL pass, a 15-yarder to Cortez Hankton in the fourth quarter. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ Russian S Sergey Ivanov, who is on the team as part of the NFL's International Practice Squad program, got into the game during the final three minutes, playing strong safety. Ivanov can play during preseason games but cannot be put on the regular-season active roster. Ivanov posted a tackle on Miami's second-to-last play. Ã¢â'¬Â¦ The Dolphins are Tampa Bay's most frequent preseason opponent, as Saturday's game was the 23rd meeting between the two teams. Miami still holds the all-time edge in the preseason series, 14-9.
Inactives: There are no official inactives during the preseason. However, the Bucs left four players in Tampa to get extra rehab time: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Joey Galloway, FB B.J. Askew and DT Jovan Haye. The Dolphins scratched K Jay Feely, CB Andre Goodman, LB Joey Porter and DE Vonnie Holliday.
Injuries: The Buccaneers did not report an injury from the sideline Saturday night.
For the Dolphins, LB Charlie Anderson sustained a hamstring injury early in the second quarter and did not return. LB Kelvin Smith left the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.