RB Thomas Jones rushed for 57 yards on just seven carries and scored the game's only touchdown
Watch enough preseason football and you eventually learn to expect the unexpected.
On Saturday night in Raymond James Stadium, the bizarre moments were many…and that was before both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars brought in several waves of substitutes.
When the smoke had cleared, Tampa Bay had a huge statistical edge but a narrow 10-6 victory.
What seemed out of place?
After two seasons in Tampa, the second of which ended in a Super Bowl victory, quarterback Brad Johnson has come to define impeccable decision-making, yet two ill-advised throws led to a pair of first-quarter interceptions for the Jaguars, the first of which led to a four-yard field goal drive and the second of which killed a scoring drive in the end zone.
Last year, Johnson threw just six interceptions in 13 games, and only once was picked off twice in the same game. The Bucs ended the season with a plus-17 turnover ratio.
Yet Tampa Bay nearly had a third turnover in the first quarter, a possible fumble by WR Keenan McCardell that set off a strange chain of events. McCardell appeared to catch the ball for a 20-yard gain before fumbling it away, but the Jaguars chose not to challenge when informed that a quick whistle meant they couldn't gain possession. That led the Bucs to toss out the red flag, but an embarrassing situation for the officiating crew was avoided when referee Gerald Austin ruled that McCardell hadn't gotten his second foot on the ground long enough before fumbling.
Tampa Bay, in fact, was out of challenges before the second quarter was a minute old. WR Joe Jurevicius made a spinning catch at the one and clipped the pylon with his right foot before going out of bounds, but the Bucs' challenge was denied when Austin ruled that the receiver must also get his second foot down, even if he has hit the pylon before going out of bounds. The Bucs had to settle for a field goal.
The only other scoring in the first half was a 55-yard field goal by the Jaguars' Seth Marler. Thus Tampa Bay's touchdown in the third quarter - a Thomas Jones run set up by outstanding special teams play - was the game-winner and the only TD of the contest. Jones' rugged four-yard scoring run off left guard was just one of many highlights for the fourth-year back.
Perhaps most bizarre, the Bucs held an enormous edge on the stats page yet barely eked out a victory. Tampa Bay gained 322 yards to the Jaguars' 193, allowed only two third-down conversions in 14 tries, out-rushed the visitors 125-42, controlled the ball for 35 of the game's 60 minutes and gained 5.0 yards per play to Jacksonville's 3.5.
So why the nail-biter? Three turnovers (WR Karl Williams also lost a third-quarter fumble), 12 penalties (a persistent preseason problem) and third-down struggles (four-of-15
"We had a couple of nice drives offensively but we only came away with three points," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "Penalties and turnovers in the red zone obviously hurt us."
That said, the first home game of the season for the Buccaneers did produce some familiar - and encouraging - sights.
Erase the interceptions and Johnson was sharp once again, completing nine of 16 for 125 yards. His finest pass was a surprising third-and-one lob deep downfield to TE Rickey Dudley. Though the play was well-covered, Johnson's pass dropped perfectly over Dudley's shoulder for a 43-yard gain.
"I am extremely proud of how we moved the ball," said Johnson. "It's unfortunate that we had the two turnovers. We had a couple of great drives getting down to the red zone but we weren't able to convert. We did some good things. We'll learn from it and we'll get better."
The first-team offensive line did not allow either Johnson or reserve Shaun King to be sacked in the first half and helped a dynamic Aaron Stecker pick up 33 yards on six carries. Stecker finished the game with 42 yards on eight carries and two receptions for 13 yards.
The Bucs' running backs were impressive as a whole for the fourth time in four preseason games. Starter Michael Pittman was most effective in the passing game, catching four passes for 35 yards despite having a 39-yard screen pass erased by a penalty.
However, Tampa Bay's most impressive offensive player was Jones. The promising runner acquired in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals in June picked up 57 yards on seven carries, added four receptions for 35 yards and even contributed a 44-yard kickoff return, the longest of the preseason for Tampa Bay. As he has throughout August, Jones consistently hit the holes at top speed and quickly moved into the second level of tacklers.
"What Thomas Jones did tonight was a very, very positive thing for our football team," said Gruden.
On defense, DE Simeon Rice had all the moves, and not only when he was caught dancing to 50 Cent's In Da Club on the videoboards in the first quarter. Rice disrupted nearly every play on the Jaguars' first two possessions, sniffing out Mark Brunell's intentions before the plays could develop. Rice thwarted two Brunell rollouts, cut off a pair of screens, tracked down an underneath handoff to the fullback and batted down another pass, all in the first quarter.
With Rice's harassment and strong coverage downfield, the Bucs were able to hold Brunell to 7-of-18 passing for 75 yards, 37 of them coming on a diving sideline catch by WR Matthew Hatchette late in the second quarter. Brunell completed just two passes for 18 yards in the first quarter.
The Jaguars did have 77 yards of offense in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs' reserve defensive linemen made a number of game-turning plays. Among them was a sack and forced fumble by first-year DT Cleveland Pinkney at the Bucs' 28 and a fourth-down sack by second-year DE Corey Smith. Linebackers Ryan Nece (four tackles, three special teams stops) and Nate Webster (four tackles, two for losses) were also bright spots.
The Bucs improved to 3-1 on the preseason while the Jaguars took their first loss and fell to 2-1. Tampa Bay concludes its preseason in just five days, facing the visiting Houston Texans on Thursday, August 28.
Notes: DT Anthony McFarland, who re-signed with the Bucs through the 2008 season on Tuesday, started on Saturday but in a new position. With DT Warren Sapp sidelined by a turf toe injury, McFarland slid over to Sapp's defensive tackle spot, allowing Chartric Darby to start at nose tackle. … Veteran WR Keenan McCardell, who played for Jacksonville before joining the Bucs last summer, was one of the three Tampa Bay captains to meet the Jaguar captains on the field for the coin toss. … Martin Gramatica returned after missing two games for the Buccaneers, but first-year player Rob Bironas still handled kickoffs for Tampa Bay. … The popular 'Ask the Bucs' segment on the BucVision videoboards in the first quarter asked players what they would do if they were the NFL Commissioner for a day. While there were a variety of suggestions, the most popular ones were guaranteed contracts, relaxation of the uniform rules and the return of end zone celebrations. … The Bucs kept most of their first-team offense on the field into the third quarter. However, midway through the second period, they made two substitutions, bringing in Shaun King at quarterback and Jason Whittle at right guard. Whittle's action was his first of the preseason. Later, G Cosey Coleman, who started at right guard, replaced Kerry Jenkins at left guard. … Rookie P Andy Groom got his first chance to kick in two games on a third-quarter punt and made the most of it. Groom hit a high punt that landed at the four and bounced sideways, where the Bucs downed it for a 42-yard gain in field position. Groom eventually kicked four times for 169 yards, averaging 42.3 yards gross and 37.5 yards net and downing two inside the 20.
Injury Updates: TE Ken Dilger missed most of the game with a shoulder stinger. DE Ellis Wyms turned his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. G Kerry Jenkins also turned his ankle in pregame warmups but was able to play in the first quarter. Rookie DE Dewayne White sprained his left shoulder in the fourth quarter.
Quarter Reports: During Saturday's game, Buccaneers.com provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.
First Quarter Update
The Bucs dominated the first quarter of play Saturday night yet came out of it on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Thanks to two turnovers and another near-giveaway, the Bucs had a 171-22 yard edge at the end of the period but were losing 3-0.
Jacksonville won the toss and elected to receive. Rob Bironas' high kick came down at the goal line and Jermaine Lewis got back to just the 19 before Tim Wansley dropped him.
Jags QB Mark Brunell wanted to throw a screen pass on first down but the Bucs defended it perfectly and Brunell wisely scrambled before throwing the ball away. After Fred Taylor's second down run pick up four yards into a crowd, DE Simeon Rice again anticipated Brunell's move, cutting off a scramble to the right and forcing Brunell into a desperation pass to TE Kyle Brady that was incomplete. The Jags had to punt.
After Karl Williams' fair catch at the Bucs' 33, Michael Pittman tried to run around left tackle but was caught for no gain. Two plays later, on third-and-10, QB Brad Johnson threw an ill-advised pass off his back foot and it was intercepted by CB Kiwaukee Thomas. Thomas got the ball back to the Bucs' 19 before being tackled by T Kenyatta Walker.
Rice made another fine play on the next snap, sniffing out an underneath handoff to FB Marc Edwards and dropping Edwards for no gain. Two snaps later, on third-and-six, Brunell's quick pass to WR Matthew Hatchette was a bit behind the receiver and Tim Wansley's well-timed hit broke it up. The Jags settled for Seth Marler's 35-yard field goal.
A holding penalty on the Bucs on the ensuing kickoff forced the home team to start its second drive at their own 14, but the team moved near midfield in a hurry. On first down, Johnson found Pittman on the right sideline for a gain of eight, and on second down RB Aaron Stecker made two beautiful cuts to turn a simple run up the middle into an 18-yard gain. WR Joe Jurevicius then grabbed a rollout pass by Johnson for a gain of nine to the Bucs' 45.
After Pittman's second-and-one carry got nothing, the Bucs caught Jacksonville off guard on third-and-one by going up top. Johnson threw a lob down the right hash to TE Rickey Dudley and, despite very good coverage by S Marlon McCree, Dudley hauled in the pass over his shoulder at the Jags' 12 for a gain of 43.
A holding penalty on LB Mike Peterson gave the Bucs another first down at the Jaguars' four. A rough run up the middle by FB Mike Alstott netted two yards, and Peterson broke up a near touchdown pass to Jurevicius on second down. On third down, Johnson rolled right before throwing into coverage in the back of the end zone and S Donovin Darius picked it off.
Rice continued to thwart everything Brunell tried to do, this time cutting off another rollout on first down and forcing a throw-away. However, on third-and-nine, Brunell found Hatchette over the middle - just before Rice hit him - for a gain of 17 and Jacksonville's first first down of the game.
CB Ronde Barber's instant penetration of the line of scrimmage on the next play resulted in a four-yard loss for Taylor. The omnipresent Rice knocked down Brunell's next pass, and DE Greg Spires pressured the quarterback from the other side on third down to force another throw-away.
The Bucs' next drive started at their own 20 and got a first down quickly on a seven-yard run up the middle by Pittman and a six-yard reception in the right flat by WR Keyshawn Johnson.
On the next play, a screen to Pittman worked magnificently thanks to a quick cut-back by the back. However, most of the 39-yard gain was erased by a holding penalty on TE Rickey Dudley. The result was a first-and-five at the Bucs' 39, and Stecker moved the chains with a six-yard slash off left guard. On the next snap, B. Johnson enjoyed a well-protected pocket and eventually threw a 23-yard completion to K. Johnson, who was wide open underneath the deep safeties.
Two plays later, on second-and-eight, Johnson found WR Keenan McCardell open in the middle of the field but the receiver couldn't hold on to what would have been a 20-yard gain. On third down, Johnson turned to Jurevicius, barely zipping an out past Darius near the right sideline. As he was tackled, Jurevicius extended the football just far enough to get the first down. That play ended the quarter.
Second Quarter Update
The Bucs continued their domination on the yardage chart but left the second quarter the same way they left the first, down by three points. Tampa Bay out-gained Jacksonville 195 yards to 101 in the first half but lost the field goal battle, 2-1. The Bucs' two first-quarter turnovers played the key role in that discrepancy. It was 6-3 Jacksonville at halftime.
The Bucs started the second quarter with a first down at the Jaguars' 22. On first down, RB Michael Pittman swept left but was strung out towards the sideline and unable to gain a yard. On second-and-10, QB Brad Johnson threw a perfect pass over a Jaguar safety to WR Joe Jurevicius, who caught the ball inside the one with one foot down and hit the pylon with his other foot. The play was called incomplete since Jurevicius didn't get the second foot down inbounds, and that ruling was upheld despite a Buc challenge.
A screen pass to Pittman worked well thanks to G Kerry Jenkins' block, but Pittman came up a few inches short. FB Mike Alstott's run on fourth down got just enough yardage to move the sticks.
However, the Bucs couldn't punch it in. After Alstott's two-yard run and an incompletion, Johnson was forced into an underneath throw to Pittman on third down and the play came up five yards short. K Martin Gramatica was true from 24 yards out and the game was tied.
From the Jacksonville 28, RB Fred Taylor started the next drive with a seven-yard run off left guard. The Jags got tricky with a flea-flicker on the next play, but LB Dwayne Rudd's mad dash at Mark Brunell forced the quarterback to fling the ball well out of bounds. On third-and-three, Brunell tried a quick pass to WR J.J. Stokes on the left sideline but CB Ronde Barber dove over Stokes to knock it away.
QB Shaun King relieved Brad Johnson on the next drive, playing with the first-team offense. After a tripping penalty set up first-and-20 at the 17, RB Aaron Stecker dashed off right tackle for a gain of six. King then hit WR Keenan McCardell on the run over the middle for a gain of 13, and Stecker got the last tough yard for a first down at the 37.
Three plays later, on third-and-four, King scrambled to the left and tried to extend the ball past the sticks but was ruled out a yard short. Tom Tupa's resulting punt was fair caught at the Jacksonville 11.
FB Marc Edwards' catch on first down was good for seven yards and rookie LaBrandon Toefield moved the chains with a four-yard run up the middle. After a false-start penalty, Brunell threw deep down the right sideline to WR Matthew Hatchette, who made a diving catch for a 37-yard gain despite good coverage by Barber.
The Jaguars moved the ball down to the Bucs' 27 with three plays for Toefield, a five-yard run, an eight-yard catch and a five-yard catch. The last play brought on the two-minute warning. After the break, Brunell remarkably got off a completion while being buried by three linemen - Greg Spires, Anthony McFarland and Simeon Rice - but the play was erased by a holding penalty. Two plays later, on third-and-15, a screen pass to Toefield was thoroughly denied, with Spires dropping the back for no gain.
With 52 seconds left and the Jaguars in no-man's land at the Bucs' 37, Jacksonville chose to go for a 55-yard field goal and Seth Marler nailed it for a 6-3 Jaguar lead.
RB Thomas Jones' 44-yard kickoff return got the Bucs out to their own 48 and Stecker's six-yard catch got the ball out of bounds at the Jags' 46 with 32 seconds left. However, two more passes gained nothing and the Bucs were forced into a fourth-and-four with 16 seconds left. A quick rush around left end forced an incompletion and Jacksonville took over with 13 ticks left. Two dropped passes and a six-yard run killed the clock.
Third Quarter Update
The Bucs' offensive dominance finally resulted in a lead on the scoreboard as the Bucs scored the game's first touchdown in the third quarter and took a 10-6 advantage. By the start of the fourth period, the Bucs had a 298-116 edge in total yardage and a 14-4 edge in first downs. The Bucs also had controlled the football for 28 and a half of the game's first 45 minutes.
A holding penalty on the return forced the Bucs to start at their own 10 to start the second half, but RB Thomas Jones zipped through a seam off left tackle on the first play to pick up 12 yards and a first down. Jones' next carry in the same direction was just as good, but this one was erased by a holding penalty and the Bucs were back at the 12.
A screen pass to Stecker picked up seven yards, but a dumpoff to Jones was good for just three more thanks to a good tackle by LB Mike Peterson. On third-and-10, a completion to WR Karl Williams not only failed to pick up the necessary yardage but also gave the ball away when Williams fumbled (forced by Peterson) and Kiwaukee Thomas recovered a the Bucs' 25.
Both the Bucs and Jags brought in their second-team units for the next drive. WR Jimmy Redmond got nothing on an end-around, but RB Joe Smith got four yards up the middle on second down. After a false start, QB David Garrard dropped an underneath pass to Smith, but LB Ryan Nece trapped him five yards short of the first down. Garrard nearly made a wonderful play on a fourth-down rollout pass to FB Marc Edwards, but Edwards dropped the pass inside the 10.
The Bucs thus took over at their own 20 and got nine quick yards on a pass to Jones, with the back cutting around several potential tackles on the left sideline. After a false start penalty, King hit Williams on the right sideline for a gain of 13. Two plays later, a toss-sweep to Stecker around the left end was good for nine yards, and a similar play to Jones on third-and-one picked up 13 more to the Jaguars' 41.
A near interception by S Marlon McCree and a holding penalty forced the Bucs into a second-and-20 from just inside the midfield line, and King's next pass, over the middle to TE Todd Yoder, was too hot to handle. After a short pass, the Bucs had to punt.
The Jaguars couldn't get out of that hole. Smith's first-down carry gained just one yard thanks to LB Ryan Nece and Garrard was nearly sacked in the end zone for a safety by DE Dewayne White and DT DeVone Claybrooks. After that incompletion, Garrard tried to hit WR Micah Ross on a slant but CB Ronyell Whitaker was on hand to disrupt it.
Chris Hanson's punt was nearly blocked, then returned by Tim Wansley to the Jacksonville 35. A facemask penalty put the ball at the 20 and the Bucs were instantly in scoring position. Three Jones runs got it in from there.
On first don, Jones dashed around right end and dragged several Jacksonville tacklers for a gain of 13 yards. On first down from the seven, Jones went off left guard for three runs, then barreled over left tackle for four yards and a touchdown on the next snap. That score gave the Bucs a 10-6 lead.
Garrard stayed in for the Jaguars' next drive but handed off to David Allen on first and second down. On third down, after DT Cleveland Pinkney's fine tackle of Allen on second down, Garrard threw an incompletion under pressure, leading to a punt. After three offensive penalties, Jacksonville finally got a punt off, and this time the Bucs were flagged for holding on the return; the result was a first down for the Bucs at their own 45.
A four-yard pass to Thomas Jones brought the third quarter to an end.
Fourth Quarter Update
The fourth quarter was scoreless, which suited the Buccaneers fine. Tampa Bay held onto its 10-6 final edge by thwarting two Jacksonville drives that reached into Buc territory. Both drives ended on sacks. The Bucs' final yardage edge was 322 to 193 and they allowed Jacksonville just two third-down conversions in 14 tries.
The Bucs had a second-and-six at Jacksonville's 49 when the final period began, but DE Chris Combs batted QB Shaun King's next pass into the air and incomplete and a third-down completion to WR Jacquez Green came up a yard short due to CB Kiwaukee Thomas' superb tackle. The Bucs had to punt, but LB Ryan Nece dropped return man David Allen at the Jaguars' 15.
However, two plays got the Jaguars quickly into Buccaneer territory. The first was a 16-yard completion over the middle to WR Cortez Hankton that QB David Garrard barely got of before being hit hard by the blitzing Nece. The second was a pass interference penalty on CB Tim Wansley that netted Jacksonville 29 yards to the Bucs' 40.
Two plays later, on second-and-six, Nece's rush again put Garrard on the run and Corey Ivy and Nate Webster trapped the QB for a two-yard sack. The Jags tried a delayed-handoff to Allen on third-and-eight but Webster met him in the backfield for a four-yard loss. The resulting punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
Rookie QB Chris Simms came on to direct the next drive and completed his first pass to WR Reggie Barlow for a first down at the 30. Two plays later, Combs broke straight up the middle for an eight-yard sack. After a 12-yard run by Thomas Jones and two penalties trying to get the punt off, rookie P Andy Groom hit a 41-yarder and S James Rooths forced Allen to fumble, though Allen recovered at the Jags' 44.
However, on the next snap, Garrard hit Hankton wide open over the middle for a gain of 30 yards down to the Bucs' 26. Garrard was forced into a grounding penalty on the next play but found Hankton again for 13 yards on the next play, even as he was flattened by Tim Wansley. The Bucs sent FB Dan Alexander up the middle on second-and-two, but Webster stood him up for no gain. On third-and-two, the Bucs appeared to have Joe Smith stopped in the backfield but the back fought through a Jermaine Phillips tackle to get past the first-down marker.
An apparent touchdown pass to Smith on the next play was erased by a pass-interference penalty on TE George Wrighster, setting up second-and-20 from the 25. CB Corey Ivy blew up a receiver screen on second down, dropping Jimmy Redmond immediately for a loss of three. A screen pass to Alexander picked up six yards, but the Bucs took the ball away on the next snap. DT Cleveland Pinkney shot around left end to knock the ball out of Garrard's hands for a sack then recovered it for Tampa Bay at the 28.
With the clock ticking down towards four minutes, the Bucs sent Travis Stephens into run the ball and he picked up three yards on first down but lost it back on second down trying to get around left end. On third-and-10, TE Will Heller dropped a short pass, stopping the clock at 3:36 and setting up a punt.
Backed up to their own 35, the Jaguars sent rookie Byron Leftwich in to quarterback and he immediately hit Hankton on the right sideline for a gain of 22. Two plays later, on second-and-two, Leftwich hit Allen for a gain of three and a first down at the Bucs' 32.
The last play before the two-minute warning was an incompletion to Alexander that on replay appeared to be a forced fumble by LB Justin Smith. A pass down the middle of the field to Wrighster was off target and incomplete, and a screen to Allen was thoroughly squashed, as was Allen by hurtling DT Buck Gurley.
The Jags' last hope came down to fourth-and-18, with 1:31 left on the clock. It ended abruptly when DE Corey Smith sacked Leftwich from behind, forcing a fumble that came to rest at the 45.
Three runs by Stephens killed the last 1:24 on the clock, preserving the Bucs' 10-6 win.