DE Stylez G. White led the Buccaneers to a first-half lead with a string of big plays
Stylez G. White has been playing preseason NFL games since 2002, when he was a rookie with the Houston Texans and his first name was still Greg. It's doubtful he's ever had a better August outing under any name than the one he turned in Saturday night in Tennessee, however, during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-20 loss to the Titans.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers have had better second halves. After taking a 12-6 lead into the locker room at halftime, the visitors surrendered three second-half TDs en route to the seven-point defeat.
White intercepted a pass to set up the game's first touchdown, sacked Titans QB Kerry Collins for a loss of 10 yards, set up a disastrous Tennessee punt with a tackle of RB Chris Johnson for a loss of five more yards and stopped LenDale White's first carry of the night for just one yard.
All within the span of 3:20 on the game clock.
That's how standout performances unfold during the NFL preseason, in the brief opportunities players get as 150 men shuttle in and out of the game. White played right end for all of the second quarter after starter Gaines Adams left the game and made an early case to remain an integral part of the Bucs' D-Line rotation in the regular season.
White intercepted Collins on the first play of the second quarter, leaping to block his pass near the line of scrimmage and then cradling it against his chest as he fell to the ground. QB Byron Leftwich threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to WR Brian Clark two plays later to put the Buccaneers up, 7-3. After White's two tackles for loss on the Titans' next drive, Clark was held in the end zone by Titans TE Craig Stevens on a punt attempt, awarding the Buccaneers a safety.
The Bucs held a 12-6 halftime lead, but Tennessee controlled the action in third quarter against Tampa Bay's defensive reserves, scoring a pair of unanswered touchdowns. In the first half, however, the Buccaneers allowed only 96 yards with a mix of first and second-stringers in the game.
"I think it was good," said Piscitelli, whose first-quarter interception in the end zone killed Tennessee's first scoring threat. "We will watch film and see what we need to correct but I think we all played fast physical. That is something the Bucs defense has always been known for, playing fast and physical. We will go to the film tomorrow and make our corrections and go out next week and try to play better."
Before a tough third quarter, in which a pair of Titans rookies scored long touchdowns – a 37-yard reception by WR Kenny Britt and a 36-yard run by RB Javon Ringer – Tampa Bay's mix of young and old defenders executed new Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates' defense well, especially against the run. Tennessee had just 12 rushing yards at halftime, including seven on seven carries by Chris Johnson and six on three carries by LenDale White.
"It felt good with the guys that were out there for the first series," said CB Ronde Barber, the defense's veteran leader. "It is a learning process obviously but I think the best thing that we did is go out and play fast. We created some of the things that Jim [Bates] has been talking about all offseason, pressure and turnovers. If that can define us all year, I think we will have a pretty good defense."
Starting QB Luke McCown threw mostly short passes during his first-quarter run at the helm, finishing with four completions in eight attempts for 19 yards. Leftwich took over for the second half and immediately began pushing the ball downfield, eventually hitting on six of 14 throws for 61 yards and the one score.
"It was good to get out there and get some work," said Leftwich. "Everyone was a little rusty, which you can expect from the first game, but I am excited that we were able to hit on a few big plays."
Head Coach Raheem Morris was pleased overall with the work of both Leftwich and McCown.
"I am just ecstatic that the quarterbacks both came out here and executed," said the coach following his first game at the helm. "Our tempo was pretty good getting in and out of the huddle, as well as the execution. We will go back and evaluate the film and be able to get a better idea later."
K Mike Nugent gave the Bucs their six-point lead at halftime with a 51-yard field goal as time expired. Those three points were set up by several good runs from second-year back Clifton Smith, who finished with 27 yards on five carries plus a seven-yard reception. The Buccaneers ran for 138 yards as a team, keyed by rookie Kareem Huggins' 43 yards on nine hard-charging carries.
First-round pick Josh Freeman made his NFL debut to start the second half but failed to put the Bucs in the end zone. Unfortunately, the Titans did score on one of Freeman's passes, as CB Ryan Mouton picked off a throw near the right sideline and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Freeman finished with five completions in nine attempts for 52 yards and that one turnover.
Second-year man Josh Johnson got a chance to play, too, and made the most of it with a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter that got the Bucs back into the game with six minutes to play. Johnson also completed three of five passes for 15 yards. Combined, the Buccaneers' four quarterbacks produced relatively unimpressive statistics: 18 of 36 for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Though Collins completed just four of nine passes and was intercepted twice and sacked once, the Titans had to be pleased with the play of backup QB Vince Young, the former first-round pick who completed nine of 14 for 131 yards and the touchdown to Britt. It was also a good night for many of the Titans' premier rookies – 80 yards and a score on five receptions for Britt; six catches for 56 yards for TE Jared Cook and 51 yards and a TD for Ringer.
Neither offense was particularly sharp in the first quarter. Tennessee scored first on a 36-yard field goal, but it was the result of a four-yard drive following an Earnest Graham fumble. The Titans also had a scoring threat earlier in the opening period but were thwarted by Piscitelli's interception.
The Buccaneers failed to cross midfield in the first quarter, though with 34 total yards they almost matched the Titans' 49. However, they found themselves in striking distance just seconds into the second period when White made an impressively athletic play, leaping to block a Collins pass near the line of scrimmage and then trapping it on his chest as he fell to the ground at the Tennessee 24. Leftwich immediately took two cracks at the end zone and the second one hit, a 24-yard seam pass to Clark that put the Bucs up, 7-3, with 14:38 left in the half.
The Titans got the ball first in the second half but had to start at their own seven after a deep kickoff by Nugent and a holding penalty. Against a mix of second and third-string Buc defenders, Young completed a 12-yard pass to TE Jared Cook and scrambled for nine yards to get out to the 40. On third-and-three, Young found WR Lavelle Hawkins for a first down two yards into Buccaneers territory. Four plays later, Young faced a third-and-10 at the Bucs' 37 and he converted the first down, plus some. Stepping up into the pocket, Young found the rookie Britt wide open near the goal line for an easy touchdown pass, giving the Titans a 13-12 lead.
Freeman took over the Bucs' offense to start the second half and led a drive that pushed quickly into Tennessee territory. Freeman hit back-to-back completions to TE John Gilmore and WR Pat Carter to put the ball on the midfield stripe, and a 19-yard burst by Huggins put the ball at the Titan's 29. However, a sack by DE Dave Ball helped stall the march, and Nugent's 50-yard field goal try leaked wide to the left.
The Titans brought on third-string QB Patrick Ramsey for their next drive and he directed a methodical touchdown march that put the Titans up, 20-12. The drive was capped by RB Javon Ringer's 36-yard touchdown run after LB Adam Hayward failed to wrap up Ringer in the backfield for a loss.
Another bad moment put the Titans up 27-12. Freeman tried to hit WR Patrick Carter on the right sideline but CB Ryan Mouton jumped the route and intercepted the pass, returning it 29 yards for a touchdown.
Freeman started the next drive with a scrambling 20-yard completion to Stroughter, out to the Bucs' 42. Three more fine Huggins runs put the Bucs into a third-and-two at the Titans' 40 and after a failed draw play, the Bucs choose to go for it on fourth down. After a timeout, Freeman tried to throw a quick out to Stroughter but the pass was broken up by CB Tanard Davis.
The Bucs got the ball back quickly and inserted Johnson into the game at quarterback. A clutch 11-yard pass to Stroughter converted a third down and, three plays later Johnson turned a broken play into a touchdown, dashing 43 yards for the score. The Bucs went for two to get within seven points and succeeded on a nice leaping catch by rookie TE Ryan Purvis.
The Bucs' defense had the Titans backed up to their own 11 on the next possession but a pass interference call on rookie S C.J. Byrd on third-and-19 kept the drive alive as the clock ticked down below five minutes to play. Another catch by Cook put the ball into Buccaneers territory. The Bucs forced a fourth-and-one at their own 31 with 2:37 to play but Ramsey moved the chains with a two-yard run on a naked bootleg.
Game Notes: Head Coach Raheem Morris was successful on his first-ever replay challenge. The officials ruled that WR Brian Clark had fumbled after a third-down reception in the third quarter, but the Bucs challenged that Clark was down before the ball came loose. The officials agreed and the Bucs maintained possession, though RB Earnest Graham's fumble came a few plays later. Assistant to the Head Coach Jay Kaiser is the official keeper of the red challenge flag, but Morris grabbed the flag out of Kaiser's pocket in order to throw it onto the field before the Titans' offense could get a snap off. … TE Kellen Winslow's first reception as a Buccaneer was a five-yard gain midway through the first quarter. … S Tanard Jackson played only one series in his starting spot at strong safety. However, he came into the game on several other occasions as the second-string nickel back after the Bucs brought in a second-team defense. Jackson also came back into the game in the second quarter after Will Allen left with a shoulder injury. … The Bucs' safety on Saturday night was their first in the preseason since August 2, 1997, when DE Tyoka Jackson sacked Washington QB Trent Green in the end zone in the third quarter. … Tennessee closed the gap a bit in the team's all-time preseason series. The Bucs now lead that series 6-2, and it's 2-2 when the Titans are at home.
Inactives: There are no official inactives during the offseason. However, the Buccaneers revealed nine players prior to the game who would definitely not participate: K Matt Bryant, P Josh Bidwell, WR Joel Filani, WR Kelly Campbell, RB Cadillac Williams, C Jeff Faine, LB Angelo Crowell, WR Michael Clayton and WR Antonio Bryant.
The Titans also announced nine players who would not suit up: WR Chris Davis, S Nick Schrommer, FB Casey Cramer, LB Stephen Tulloch, LB Colin Allred, C Kevin Mawae, T David Stewart, DE Jacob Ford and DT Jason Jones.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, S Will Allen sustained a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return to the game. WR Dexter Jackson suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.
For the Titans, WR Kenny Britt suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.