Any concern about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking rusty after a forfeited offseason and just two weeks of a lighter-than-ever training camp schedule can be put to rest. The Buccaneers thoroughly dominated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half of Friday night's preseason opener at Arrowhead Stadium, going to the intermission with a 15-0 lead.
Starting QB Josh Freeman was sharp, completing nine of 13 passes for 73 yards and no interceptions while leading his team to scores on three of the first four possessions. Second-string QB Josh Johnson also moved the team, throwing for 54 yards and running for a team-high 32 in less than a quarter of play. Both passers looked repeatedly to second-year WR Dezmon Briscoe, who led all players with four catches for 60 yards.
In all, the Buccaneers out-gained the Chiefs, 199 yards to 77 in the first half, with a 75-49 edge on the ground and a 124-28 advantage through the air. The Bucs had 11 first-half first downs to Kansas City's three and were responsible for both of the game's turnovers.
Fumble recoveries by rookie LB Mason Foster and S Sean Jones set up a pair of Buccaneer scoring drives. After Foster jumped on a loose ball at the Chiefs' nine just four minutes into the game, Freeman ran the ball in from five yards out two plays later for the only touchdown of the half. Connor Barth added field goals of 25 and 40 yards and the Bucs' defense capped the scoring when DE Michael Bennett sacked QB Tyler Palko in the end zone for a safety. Johnson led another Buccaneer drive to the Chiefs' three-yard line in the closing minutes of the half but the Bucs failed on third and fourth-down throws into the end zone.
Rookie DE Adrian Clayborn was an active presence in the game, recording two tackles and looking very stout against the run. Foster showed off his closing speed on a key third-down scramble by Palko late in the first quarter.
The Bucs might have been more dominant on special teams than anywhere else. Newly-acquired P Michael Koenen blasted all four of his kickoffs into the end zone, resulting in three touchbacks and one drive that started at the Chiefs' eight. Koenen also forced a fair catch inside the 10 on his only punt, and Robert Malone added a 55-yard punt that stopped at the Chiefs' three, setting up Bennett's safety.
Koenen immediately showed his worth by blasting the opening kickoff high and deep. Return man Quinten Lawrence hesitated, then brought it out and was dropped at the eight-yard line. The Chiefs ran on each of their first three plays and then had to punt, thanks in part to CB Ronde Barber trapping RB Dexter McCluster in the backfield for a loss of two on second down.
The Bucs also wanted to start out on the ground, handing it to RB LeGarrette Blount on first and second down for two gains of four yards. Freeman had time to throw on third-and-two but the pass was incomplete as he tried to hit TE Ryan Purvis over the middle against tight coverage. Koenen's first punt as a Buc was a good one, too, as it forced Lawrence into a fair catch at the 10.
On Kansas City's next play, the snap was fumbled and rookie Foster submarined under the pile to get the loose ball at the nine. Blount ran up the middle for four yards and then Freeman dropped back to pass on second down. The protection was very good, but Freeman couldn't find an open man and eventually scrambled to his left. A few pump fakes kept the defenders back long enough for Freeman to tuck it away and run it in for a touchdown just inside the left pylon.
Koenen blasted his next kickoff nine yards deep for a touchback. The Chiefs finally got moving, however, by handing the ball to veteran back Thomas Jones, who broke off an eight-yarder followed by a 17-yard jaunt. Clayborn penetrated at the snap on the ensuing first down to stop RB Jackie Battle for no yards. On the next snap, Battle went left and got around the edge but he fumbled, with Jones recovering for Tampa Bay at the Chiefs' 49. The officials on the scene originally ruled that Battle was down but Head Coach Raheem Morris challenged the call and it was easily overturned.
Blount caught an outlet pass on the next play and faked out one would-be tackler to gain six yards, followed by a run for three yards. On third-and-one, the Bucs let Blount pound it up the middle and he pushed the pile for three yards and a new set of downs. Freeman then faked a handoff to RB Kregg Lumpkin and had an eternity to throw a downfield pass to Briscoe for 21 yards. From the Kansas City 16, Lumpkin ran for four yards and then caught a pass for five more, with G Davin Joseph getting downfield to provide a lead block. Unfortunately, Freeman's third-down pass to Briscoe was a little off-line under pressure and the Bucs settled for a 25-yard Barth field goal.
The Chiefs brought in Palko to lead the offense after another Koenen touchback, and Palko immediately completed two passes to Terrance Copper for a total of 15 yards. Elbert Mack broke up a second-down pass to Copper moments later, setting up third-and-four from the Chiefs' 41, and Clayborn flushed Palko out of the pocket. Palko nearly made it around the corner for a first down but Foster leveled him two yards short.
After the punt, the Bucs started again at their own 26 and quickly faced a third-and-four after a nice jumping catch by FB Rendrick Taylor on second down. Freeman threaded the needle over the middle on third down to WR Sammie Stroughter, who made a diving catch for a 13-yard gain. The half ended on a four-yard run by Lumpkin, and a 13-yard completion to Earnest Graham on the first play of the second quarter got the ball into Kansas City territory. Three plays later, on third-and-five from the Chiefs' 33, Freeman stood in against a rush and found Briscoe for just enough to move the sticks. Freeman tried to hit Williams in the end zone on the next snap but Williams couldn't quite haul it in in the back corner. A nice six-yard run by Lumpkin got the ball to the 22, but the Bucs couldn't convert the third down and had to once again settle for a field goal. Barth popped it through from 40 yards out to increase the Bucs' lead to 13-0.
The Bucs' brought in a team of reserves for Kansas City's next drive and Palko immediately found rookie first-round WR Jonathan Baldwin for a gain of 14 yards. Three plays later, on third-and-five from the Kansas City 39, Palko tried to hit WR Verran Tucker just past the third-down line but it was knocked out of Tucker's grasp by rookie CB Anthony Gaitor, forcing another Kansas City punt.
Johnson took over on the Bucs' next drive and immediately hit Briscoe for a gain of 14 yards. Two plays later, Johnson took off out of the backfield and picked up six yards for another first down at Kansas City's 46. The Chiefs' defense came up with the game's first sack on the next play as LB Eric Bakhtiari hit Johnson from behind for a loss of three. Rookie RB Allen Bradford got his first pro carry on second down but was dropped for a loss of one. On third-and-11, Johnson stepped up under pressure and nearly found WR Preston Parker at the sideline, but it was out of reach. James Malone came on to punt and hit a bouncer that rolled down to the Chiefs' three.
Clayborn stopped Battle from getting any cushion from the end zone, shedding a block on first down and spinning the back down for no gain. Another Battle run up the middle was good for just three, and the Chiefs' attempt to pass on third-and-seven turned disastrous. DE Michael Bennett got to Palko almost immediately in the end zone and sacked him for a safety and a 15-0 Bucs lead.
The Chiefs had to kick away after the safety and the Bucs' offense got the ball at its own 30. Johnson hit Briscoe for 20 yards on second down down the middle of the field and then got the exact same total of yards on the next play, a seam pass to TE Ryan Purvis. Purvis briefly juggled the ball as he fell on his back but was able to haul it back in before it hit the ground. Johnson then took off two plays later on an amazing scramble, cutting inside tacklers repeatedly to get 24 yards to the Kansas City four. Johnson was shaken up on the play but the two-minute warning gave him time to regroup. Two Bradford runs failed to get near the end zone, so Johnson tried to throw it on third down. WR Micheal Spurlock tried a quick slant but the ball was knocked away by Jalil Brown. The Bucs went for it on fourth down – probably a preseason-prompted decision – and a pass attempt to rookie TE Daniel Hardy over the middle was broken up .
The Chiefs had time to run one more play but Battle was stopped for no gain by DT E.J Wilson.