During a short break in the second-quarter action on Saturday night, the BucVision Videoboards at Raymond James Stadium ran a feature chronicling the longest touchdowns in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. The player occupying the top spot on the list wasn't a receiver or a return man but a linebacker, former Buc great Shelton Quarles.
Apparently inspired by his middle linebacker predecessor, Barrett Ruud intercepted a David Garrard pass at the goal line just moments later and returned it 80 yards in Tampa Bay's 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ruud didn't quite match Quarles' 98-yard return following an interception off Green Bay's Brett Favre in 2001, and he didn't quite reach the opposite end zone either. But that turnover – the biggest play in a fine first half by Tampa Bay's starting defensive unit – set up the only touchdown of the first half. As is the usual pattern in the third game of the preseason, both teams left their starters in for the entire first half, and the Buccaneers had to be pleased with the results, especially on defense.
Jacksonville notched only two field goals in the first half, despite gaining 220 total yards and entering Bucs territory four times. Ruud's big played turned away the best scoring threat after the Jaguars had driven down to Tampa Bay's one. The Jaguars invaded the Bucs' red zone one more time just before halftime but another Ruud pass breakup in the end zone helped force a field goal and the Bucs took a 10-6 lead into halftime. The Buccaneers' starting defense has allowed just one touchdown and 13 points through approximately four quarters of play during the first three preseason games.
"I would have liked to have gotten that last two minute stop from the defense," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris. "Other than that, I didn't see the yardage or anything like that, but it was a pretty good showing from those guys to hold the team to six. You know, it's about getting points, then getting the ball back. We had great pressure on the quarterback tonight with our guys."
Indeed, though they didn't sack Garrard, the Bucs' starting defense was credited with six quarterback hits. Playing together extensively for the first time, rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price made the Buccaneers feel very good about their first two picks in the 2010 draft. McCoy in particular was a force, consistently breaking through the Jacksonville line before their plays could take shape. On one notable snap, McCoy's quick rush drew two blockers out of the middle, opening a hole that Price shot through to force a dump-off by Garrard."
The team's trio of linebackers – Ruud, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black – made the big plays in the red zone. Hayes knocked away a potential scoring pass to TE Zach Miller at the goal line two plays before Josh Scobee's second field goal of the half. The next step, said Ruud, is to allow fewer incursions into the red zone.
"It's been a lot of bend, don't break, but we have probably bent a little too much for our liking," said Ruud. "We would like to get more three-and-outs and more turnovers."
The Jaguars also hurt themselves repeatedly with penalties, drawing eight flags in the first half and nine by game's end. They did finish with a robust 397 yards of offense and put together several strong drives under the direction of second-string QB Luke McCown, who battled for Tampa Bay's starting quarterback job last summer before being traded to the Jaguars. McCown's first two possessions produced 10 points as the Jaguars took a 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs committed only five penalties, two in the first half, but more importantly didn't turn the ball over until a desperation throw on their last offensive snap. The interception off third-string QB Rudy Carpenter is the only giveaway the Bucs have committed over their two preseason home games.
QB Josh Johnson, starting in place of the injured Josh Freeman, also had his second straight impressive outing, this time completing nine of 14 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 115.8, a week after compiling a mark of 132.5 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Four plays after Ruud's interception return, Johnson put the Bucs in the end zone with a two-yard play-action touchdown pass to fullback Earnest Graham.
"We have to get more positive yards out of our first and second downs and stop getting into so many third-and-long situations," said Johnson. "We've moved the ball pretty well, the defense gave us a turnover, and we were able to capitalize and get a touchdown."
Johnson completed passes to six different players, but it was once again rookie WR Mike Williams who stood out with three catches for 83 yards. On Tampa Bay's first play from scrimmage, Williams beat CB Derek Cox off the line and caught a 53-yard pass after Cox slipped.
The Jaguars had a nearly two-to-one edge in time of possession at halftime and then controlled the action through much of the second half. The Jaguars finished with exactly 39 minutes of possession, limiting Tampa Bay's opportunities on offense. Jacksonville ran 76 total plays to the Bucs' 43. For that reason in part, the Bucs were never able to get their running game untracked, gaining just 42 yards on 15 carries. RB Derrick Ward did have his best showing of the preseason, gaining 19 yards on four carries for an average of 4.8 yards per tote.
The Bucs were also not as strong as usual on special teams, with the exception of Connor Barth's two field goals, the first of which was a 51-yarder. Seeing his first action of the preseason, Pro Bowl return man Clifton Smith fumbled on the Bucs' first kickoff return, though it went out of bounds before either team could recover it. Rookie P Brent Bowden had several outstanding punts, including a 51-yarder late in the fourth quarter, but his 20-yard misfire in the third period set up the Jaguars' go-ahead TD. In addition, Jaguars return man Scotty McGee opened the game with a 50-yard kickoff return.
Both teams scored on their opening possessions. The Jaguars' first drive was aided by that McGee and ended in Scobee's 35-yard field goal. The Bucs countered with their own field goal drive, most of it coming on Williams' catch and run on the first play. Barth turned that into three points with his impressive long-range shot.
The two defenses clamped down after that, and then nearby lightning did them one better just as the first quarter ended, causing Referee Jerome Boger to suspend the game for 30 minutes. Click here for a detailed report of the game's first half.
The Bucs had the ball to start the second half, which means it was the offensive starters who got to play into the third quarter. Morris wanted his first-teamers to get the experience of making halftime adjustments and putting them into action on the field, and it went well. Johnson completed passes of 18 and 12 yards to Williams and Ward added a weaving 12-yard run to propel a 10-play, 58-yard drive. Barth finished it with his second field goal, a 40-yarder, to restore the Bucs' seven point lead.
The Bucs' starting defense took a seat in the second half, however. Jacksonville kept its first-team offense in to start the half and took off quickly on their first drive with a 12-yard run by Bolen and an 18-yard end-around by Thomas. The Bucs did force a third-and-five at their own 43 but Garrard escaped a blitz and scrambled for eight yards and a first down. Bolen broke one tackle and avoided several others to get 18 yards down to the Bucs' 17 on the next play. Bolen later converted a fourth-and-one at the Bucs' eight with a four-yard run, after LB Adam Hayward had stopped him on third-and-one. However, rookie S Cody Grimm followed with a fabulous breakup of a fade pass to Mike Thomas in the end zone and once again the Bucs' kept Jacksonville out of the end zone. Scobee's 26-yard field goal cut the lead to 13-9 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Carpenter came in to finish the game and immediately threw two passes in the direction of TE John Gilmore, neither of them complete. A third-down pass to Ward also came up empty and the Bucs had to punt. A very strong punt and tackle on fourth down was erased by a penalty and Bowden's second attempt didn't go well, traveling just 20 yards to the Bucs' 30. S Sabby Piscitelli upended Bolen with a hard hit on first down but former Buccaneers QB Luke McCown then threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to WR John Matthews, who crossed the goal line as he finished the diving catch.
Tampa Bay struggled on its next possession, too. A loss of four by RB Kareem Huggins and a near interception made it third-and-14 at the 21, and a short completion to TE Ryan Purvis brought the third quarter to an end.
After a much better punt by Bowden, McCown once again led the Jaguars into Buccaneers territory, beginning with his own 13-yard scramble. Rookie CB Myron Lewis's sure tackle of WR Clarence Denmark on third-and-10 forced the Jaguars to kick another field goal and take a six-point lead. The next pair of possessions was the same – a Buccaneer three-and-out and a methodical drive by McCown. However, this time LB Niko Koutouvides got the ball back with an interception, giving the Bucs one more chance with six minutes to play.
Carpenter took an early shot downfield to Micheal Spurlock, who had gotten behind the defense but the ball was just a little too long for Spurlock despite a diving attempt. The Bucs ended up punting from their own 42 with four minutes left. Bowden angled his punt down to the Jaguars' eight to give Tampa Bay's defense some room to operate.
The defense did its job, forcing a quick three-and-out when LB Dekoda Watson wrapped up RB Chad Kackert on a short third-down throw. Unfortunately, the Bucs' last drive went in the wrong direction, thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on T James Lee and a sack by LB Jacob Cutrera. Facing a third-and-26 from the 18, Carpenter heaved up a throw under pressure and it was intercepted downfield by S Tyron Brackenridge.
Jacksonville now leads the all-time Bucs-Jaguars series, 6-3. The two teams have now played each other in nine consecutive seasons…The Buccaneers showed a Wildcat formation on their second play from scrimmage, with WR Micheal Spurlock set to receive the snap, but committed a false start and never got the play off … Second-year DT Roy Miller was used as a fullback on a first-down running play when the Buccaneers reached a first-and-goal at the three in the second quarter.
There are no official inactives during the offseason. However, the Buccaneers revealed four players prior to the game who would definitely not participate: QB Josh Freeman, G Davin Joseph, LB Jon Alston and WR Maurice Stovall.
The Jaguars also announced six men who would not play: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Deji Karim, LB Daryl Smith, LB Kirk Morrison, C John Estes and G Kynan Forney.
For the Buccaneers, S Sabby Piscitelli suffered a mild concussion in the fourth quarter and did not return.
The Jaguars did not report an injury from the sideline during the game.