Running back Ronald Jones yet again took the opening kickoff return duties as the Bucs won the toss and elected to receive. The first play went to running back Peyton Barber for a short gain. The next play was a long attempt to wide receiver Breshad Perriman from Jameis Winston. It fell incomplete but Head Coach Bruce Arians thought he saw some extracurriculars and challenged the no-call on pass interference. After winning one such challenge last week, this one stood as called, losing the Bucs a timeout about a minute into the game.
Winston again went to Perriman and got the first down this time. It was followed by back-to-back sacks, forcing the Bucs to punt from their own 15-yard line.
The Browns went to the air for the majority of their next drive. They wouldn’t get far after the 31-yard Tampa Bay punt as Bucs’ defensive tackle Will Gholston got a piece of the ball as he reached up at the line on third-down and two at the Bucs 36-yard line. Cleveland settled for the field goal and went up 3-0 with 8:40 left in the first quarter.
The first play of the Bucs’ next drive went to wide receiver Chris Godwin on a wide screen that went for 20 yards. On second-down, Winston again went to Godwin on the far sideline for another gain of 15 yards this time. Then running back Ronald Jones got nfvolved for a few key first downs before the Bucs stalled just inside the red zone. Kicker Matt Gay attempted a 37-yard kick that went off the right upright, leaving the score at 3-0.
Tampa Bay’s defense kicked into full gear, forcing a three-and-out after a great read by cornerback M.J. Stewart, who broke up a pass intended for Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins. Cleveland was forced to punt and the Bucs took over at their own 18-yard line.
The Bucs had no better luck as Winston was sacked on third down by linebacker Christian Kirksey to force the Tampa Bay punt right back at the end of the first quarter.
Cleveland moved down the field but was again stopped short on another big third-down play. Browns wide receiver Derrick Willies had the ball for a split second on a quick slant from Mayfield before cornerback Carlton Davis immediately stripped him of the ball. Cleveland again settled for a field goal, hitting a 36 yarder to extend their lead to 6-0 at the start of the second quarter.
Another third down sack of Winston forced another three-and-out for the Bucs. The Browns were able to move down the field in a hurry, despite the Bucs’ best efforts and a near-sack that turned into a roughing the passer call. Knocking at the door on the four-yard-line, Mayfield was sacked by defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, backing the Browns up to the 12-yard line. On third-down and 12, offsetting penalties gave Cleveland one more shot. Mayfield went to the tight end Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone but both safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback M.J. Stewart were right there to prevent the score. The Browns again settled for a field goal, going up 9-0 with about six-and-a-half minutes left in the half.
A fresh set of downs and another three-and-out as the Browns kept the pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston. A 46-yard punt and a 10-yard penalty on Cleveland had them starting at their own 26-yard-line.
The Tampa Bay defense returned the favor after forcing a Cleveland three-and-out. The Bucs had slightly better luck on the next drive but not enough to get out of their own territory and after rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller got his first NFL catch, along with a Bucs’ first down, the team was forced to punt just inside the two-minute warning.
The Browns’ last possession of the half was ended almost immediately when Whitehead picked off a pass from Mayfield as Cleveland tried a last-minute effort to get down the field. The half ended there and so did Jameis Winston’s night.
After a three-and-out from the Cleveland offense, quarterback Blaine Gabbert took over for the Buccaneers. After scrambling for a first down and getting it at the Cleveland 16-yard line, Gabbert would exit the game, getting shook up on the play. He headed straight for the locker room and quarterback Ryan Griffin took over. He led the Bucs down to the five-yard line where they would end up kicking the 23-yard field goal via the leg of Cairo Santos and cutting the Browns’ lead to one score, 9-3, with 6:42 left in the third quarter. It was Santos’ second consecutive game with a 23-yard field goal.
On the Bucs’ next drive, Griffin executed another well-balanced drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett following a couple key first down grabs by tight end Tanner Hudson. Gay was good for the point after and the Bucs took their first lead of the game 10-9 with 19 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bucs and Browns traded punts on the next couple series. Cleveland got inside the red zone on their next drive and initially had a touchdown before it was reviewed and determined that wide receiver Dorian Baker didn’t get two feet inbounds. A big third down sack by strong safety Darian Stewart would force the Browns to again settle for the field goal and a marginal lead, 12-10, halfway through the fourth quarter.
It was Tampa Bay's time to answer and they moved down the field, getting to the two-minute warning just outside the red zone. A leading with the helmet personal foul penalty on the Browns gave the Bucs half the distance to the goal, setting them up with a fresh set of downs at the 10 yard line.
It was Matt Gay that kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Bucs the one-point edge and the game, with a final score of 13-12.
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL’s 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.