Playing roughly 70 miles from the home of his college football glory, rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves picked off two passes to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 27-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night. The win evened Tampa Bay's preseason record at 1-1 and capped off a very productive week that included two joint practices at the Jaguars' complex earlier in the week.
Second-year QB Jameis Winston shook off a slow start to throw a five-yard touchdown pass to WR Mike Evans in the second quarter, and Mike Glennon's scoring toss to RB Mike James tied the game just before halftime. Hargreaves' first NFL interception, a leaping play down the left seam, led to a go-ahead 28-yard field goal by fellow rookie Roberto Aguayo just before the intermission.
HIGHLIGHTS: BUCCANEERS VS. JAGUARS
The Bucs' starting offense played until the six-minute mark in the second quarter. Winston looked for Evans repeatedly in the first two drives but the two had difficulty hooking up before a perfect fade pass in the left edge of the end zone tied the game. The Bucs hope that Winston-to-Evans will be one of the league's most prolific connections in 2016.
"Last year, if we had hooked up more than we did, you never know what could have happened," said Evans. "We're trying to improve that this season between the two of us. He's one of the best players in the league and I think I am, too. We're both young and we're both leaders on this team, so we're excited to keep getting better together."
Pictures from the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
RB Storm Johnson, a former Jaguar looking to restart his career in Tampa, scored on a one-yard plunge on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the visiting team a 10-point lead. Johnson, who is locked in a heated battle with James and rookie Peyton Barber for the Bucs' third tailback spot, ran for 27 yards on seven carries and added a 10-yard catch to set up his own touchdown run. Barber led the team with 40 yards on 11 carries, as starting tailback Doug Martin sat out with a minor injury.
The Buccaneers' offense finished with 377 total yards, including 158 on the ground after a sluggish first game in that category, but the starting unit scored only on that Winston-to-Evans connection. The Bucs moved the ball down into scoring territory on the game's opening drive but came up empty after Aguayo pushed a 32-yard field goal try wide to the left. Aguayo later hit from 28 and 34 yards and made three extra points, but he also missed just left on a 49-yard attempt in the fourth quarter.
"Well, it's great to get points, but we should have more," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter at halftime. "We should have more, on that first drive coming away with nothing after getting all the way down there. But we did some good things. That was a heck of a play by Vernon right there to give us another one; we'll always take that."
Hargreaves' second pick came on another acrobatic play down the middle of the field just three plays into the second half. After losing the turnover battle, 5-1, in the season opener, the Bucs were on the right side of a 4-2 edge on Saturday night, the final one an interception by rookie S Ryan Smith that ended Jacksonville's final comeback attempt. That allowed the team to overcome a slow start and take control of the action in the second half.
"The ball doesn't always go your way in the beginning, but you just have to keep fighting through it and anything can happen," said Evans. "This is the preseason, you know? We have to work on our chemistry and keep fighting toward the real season."
The Bucs' defense helped, too, putting in a second straight solid performance. The Jaguars finished the game with just 209 net yards of offense, including 136 in the first half, which was played mostly by first-teamers on both sides. Tampa Bay's pass-rush wasn't as dominant as it looked a week ago in Philadelphia, or during the two joint practices with the Jaguars, but rookie LB Luke Rhodes did record the team's lone sack on a third-quarter blitz. Tampa Bay's pass defense, the focus of much of the team's roster work in the offseason, allowed only 130 net yards and an opposing passer rating of 35.2.
S Josh Johnson's 79-yard interception return for a touchdown off a Ryan Griffin pass closed the gap to 24-21 with nine minutes left in the game. Tampa Bay's defense held strong from there and Griffin chewed up the last four minutes of the game with a 74-yard drive ending in Aguayo's 34-yard field goal. Rookie RB Russell Hansbrough's 18-yard run and Griffin's 41-yard strike down the right sideline to WR Jonathan Krause were the big plays in the drive.
The Buccaneers' return game had a better day after an up-and-down preseason opener. WR Donteea Dye started the outing with a 31-yard kickoff return, and Adam Humphries followed with punt returns of 17 and 16 yards. Krause also got into the act, returning one punt for another 18 yards as the team averaged 16.3 yards per try in that category.
The Bucs committed eight penalties for 68 yards on the afternoon, including two false starts and two delay-of-game infractions on offense. However, the Jaguars hurt themselves more thoroughly in that regard, drawing 13 flags for 121 yards, including 11-for-101 in the first half. Evans' touchdown catch came after a personal foul on S Peyton Thompson drawn from a hit to the head while breaking up an end zone pass to TE Cameron Brate.
The Bucs missed a chance to score on their opening drive when Aguayo pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide to the right. The Bucs had driven into scoring territory largely on the strength of two third-down penalties against the Jaguars' defense, plus a 12-yard run up the middle by Charles Sims. Jaguars LB Telvin Smith, a former Florida State teammate of Winston, broke up the Buc quarterback's scrambling third-down throw to force the field goal try.
Jacksonville scored first, capitalizing on the game's first turnover. Winston's third-down pass near midfield went through the hands of a leaping Brate and was snared by CB Dwayne Gratz on an impressive dive. A personal foul on the sideline by Kwon Alexander and a 10-yard run by T.J. Yeldon got the ball into the red zone and Bortles finished the drive off with a nice misdirection pass to Yeldon for 14 yards, with the Jacksonville running back diving over the line near the left pylon.
The Buccaneers tied the game on their next drive, marching 75 yards on 14 plays. The Bucs kept it on the ground for much of the drive, giving Barber an extended look, and Barber gained a combined 25 yards on six touches, including a 10-yard catch that got the ball to the Jacksonville 17. TE Cam Brate couldn't quite haul in a sharp seam pass from Winston at the goal line, in part because he took a shot to the head from Thompson that drew a personal foul flag. Two plays later, Evans made a leaping catch on a perfect fade pass on the right edge of the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.
The Jaguars took the lead right back on the ensuing drive, marching 80 yards on 11 plays and ending on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Hurns just over the leaping Grimes. The drive was kept alive by three straight third-down conversions on Bortles-to-Robinson passes, including a 17-yarder that got the ball down to the Bucs' 33.
Tampa Bay then brought in Glennon, whose second drive covered 59 yards on seven plays and ended in his five-yard touchdown pass to James. Hargreaves then picked off a deep seam pass on the left side and returned it to the Jacksonville 10-yard line, allowing Aguayo to give the Bucs a first-half lead with a 28-yard field goal as time ran out.
Hargreaves was it at again just after halftime, making a leaping interception of a deep Chad Henne pass down the middle on Jacksonville's third play. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty leveled on the Bucs' sideline for coaches being on the field put the offense in a hole on the ensuing possession, however, leading to a quick punt. The Jaguars threatened again on their next possession but a third-down sack by Rhodes forced a punt from midfield.