The true value of an NFL preseason finale is generally found the next day in the game tape, where coaches can dissect the minute details as they prepare for the upcoming roster cuts. It's unclear how much value the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' decision-makers will find in the video record of Thursday night's 30-12 loss to the Washington Redskins but, ready or not, those cuts and the start of the regular season are right around the corner.
There were undoubtedly some bright spots, starting with the play of second-year linebacker Najee Goode, who started at middle linebacker and racked up a game-high six tackles plus two passes defensed. Goode's 37-yard interception return for a touchdown accounted for Tampa Bay's only score of the first half, as the Buccaneers' offense struggled to find a rhythm and recorded just 35 yards in the first half.
Other Bucs who created some noteworthy tape included RB Peyton Hillis, WR/KR Eric Page and DE William Gholston. Hillis played extensively in the second and third quarters and looked sharp, gaining 33 yards on nine carries. Page continued to strengthen his hold on the Buccaneers' punt and kickoff return jobs, gaining 69 yards on three kickoff returns and 16 yards on one punt return, despite having a 105-yarder early in the game snuffed by a penalty. Gholston contributed four tackles, including three in the Washington backfield for losses.
Some of the other numbers weren't nearly as pretty, as Tampa Bay was outgained 311 yards to 146, and produced just 10 first downs (2 off of penalties) to Washington's 14. Rookie QB Mike Glennon got the start and played halfway into the third period but finished with just seven completions in 16 attempts for 63 yards and one interception. He was picked off in the second quarter by his teammate at North Carolina State last year, CB David Amerson, to set up a QB Pat White touchdown run that made it 27-6 at halftime.
Again, however, such numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as the majority of the competitors on the field Thursday night are men fighting for reserve spots on their respective depth charts. Signs that this was not your typical game were abundant, from WR Jordan Norwood playing just one day after being signed by the Buccaneers (and catching one pass for 25 yards) and rookie CB Mason Robinson getting nine carries at running back. Norwood later got several carries out of the backfield, too, as the Bucs' eventually chose to get all of their running backs out of harm's way.
The contest still provided an opportunity to rehearse the team's reactions to a variety of game situations, such as when a possible Robinson fumble prompted QB Dan Orlovsky to hurry his team to the line and run a one-yard sneak on second-and-11 before the play could be reviewed. Rian Lindell's 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was another example of the preseason providing a perfect setting for what could be a deciding moment in an important roster battle. Lindell is trying to beat out first-year man Derek Dimke for the Bucs' placekicking job; Dimke also nailed a 30-yard field goal of his own but knocked an extra point attempt off the upright and missed a late 45-yard attempt.
As has become customary in the fourth week of the preseason across the NFL, the Buccaneers rested almost all of their starters and opened the game with mostly reserves on both sides of the ball. The only player listed as a starter on the depth chart who opened the game on offense for Tampa Bay was tight end Luke Stocker. On defense, strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson and cornerback Leonard Johnson were the only listed starters to play.
The Buccaneers won the toss to start the game but deferred and Rian Lindell kicked off to start the game, with CB Mason Robinson tackling Thompson at the 21. The Bucs' defense forced a quick third-and-six but White threw a short pass to Briscoe to move the sticks, and Briscoe slipped a tackle to make it a much bigger play. CB Leonard Johnson eventually caught Briscoe at the Bucs' nine after a 66-yard gain. Two plays later, Royster ran it in from one yard out for the game's first score.
WR Eric Page appeared to get the Bucs in position to strike right back when he shot up the middle on the ensuing kickoff and ran 105 yards to the Washington two, but the play was erased by a holding penalty and the Bucs were forced into a first-and-10 at their own seven. The Bucs almost went three-and-out with three Glennon incompletions, but a roughing-the-passer penalty continued the drive and made it first down at the 22. James had an impressive 10-yard run two plays later but the Bucs were unable to overcome a false start as Glennon's third-down pass was batted down at the line.
Washington started again at its own 44 after the Bucs' punt and got into Tampa Bay territory on a 10-yard scramble by White. However, a stop of RB Keiland Williams on third-and-two for a loss of one by DE Da'Quan Bowers made it fourth down at the Bucs' 37. Washington elected to go for it, but the coverage was tight and White eventually settled for a deep attempt to WR Lance Lewis that sailed out of the end zone. Despite a nice six-yard run around left end by James, the Bucs failed to move the sticks again and had to punt it right back.
Washington got back into Buccaneer territory on a 36-yard breakaway by Royster, and two plays later Thompson found a seam over left guard to get 16 more to the Bucs' 17. A holding penalty and a strong tackle by Johnson on WR Josh Morgan forced Washington into a third-and-16 and a short pass over the middle fell well short of the first down, bringing in Kai Forbath to try a 37-yard field goal. Forbath knocked it through to increase Washington's lead to 10-0 with one minute left in the opening quarter.
The Redskins managed to score again before the quarter ran out, thanks to Thompson's long return. The Bucs started up at their own 23 to start the second period but couldn't record a first down and had to punt once again. However, that indirectly led to the Bucs' first score, as three plays into the ensuing drive White tried to hit WR Nick Williams on the left numbers and Goode read it, leaping into the path of the pass and reaching behind him to make an acrobatic interception. From there, he darted to the right sideline and ran untouched 39 yards for the Bucs' first score of the game. K Derek Dimke's extra point attempt bounced off the right upright to deny Tampa Bay the seventh point on the score.
Perhaps inspired by that score, the Tampa Bay defense followed with a quick stop, helped by a facemask penalty on Washington TE Jordan Reed. Rookie CB Deveron Carr broke up a third-down pass intended for WR Skye Dawson and Page returned the ensuing punt 16 yards just across midfield.
The Bucs' hopes of further chipping into Washington's lead ended quickly, despite a nice seven-yard run by Hillis over left tackle to start the drive. On the next play, Glennon lost control of the football and the ensuing fumble was recovered by DE Phillip Merling and returned five yards to the Bucs' 47. Sharp passes of 11 yards to Dawson and 18 to Williams got the ball into Tampa Bay's red zone, but the Bucs held there and Forbath came on to kick a 30-yard field goal, increasing the Redskins' lead to 20-7 with 5:26 left in the half.
The Bucs achieved their first non-penalty first down moments later when, after two runs for a total of eight yards by Hillis, TE Nate Byham pulled down a three-yard out pass. Three plays later, Glennon dropped back on third-and-six and tried to hit Page but it was intercepted by CB David Amerson, who returned it 35 yards to the Bucs' nine-yard line. A tackle in the backfield for a loss of five by rookie DE William Gholston on Royster helped put Washington into a third-and-goal at the seven, but White got the ball into the end zone with a tough scramble, diving just far enough to hit the right pylon for the score.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half and, after another hard-hitting return by Page to the 23, Hillis rambled around right tackle for a gain of nine. His three-yard carry moved the chains, and two plays later Glennon found Norwood on the right sideline for a gain of 25. Page held on to a sharp pass down the middle two plays later for a gain of 20 despite a very hard hit, and that put the Bucs in position for Dimke's 35-yard field goal.
Washington pushed the ball into Buccaneer territory on runs of 10 and 14 yards by RB Jawan Jamison but had to punt after rookie DE Steven Means came up with a big third-down stop of Thompson at the 39-yard line. Dan Orlovsky came in to lead the next drive after Washington's punt but failed to produce a first down. Williams' 29-yard return of Chas Henry's punt got the Redskins right back over midfield, and though the Bucs' defense held, Forbath came on to blast a 47-yard field goal and increase the visitors' lead to three touchdowns.
Norwood drew a pass-interference call on the third play of the ensuing drive to get the ball to midfield, and Orlovsky's seven-yard pass to Byham produced another first down at Washington's 39. Three runs by Norwood failed to move the chains but set up Lindell for his 50-yard blast.