QB Josh Freeman compiled a perfect passer rating in leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 7-0 lead Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, but two turnovers by fellow QB Josh Johnson helped the Miami Dolphins rally for a field goal just before halftime. The Buccaneers thus led 7-3 at the intermission of the 2010 preseason opener for both teams.
Freeman directed the Buccaneers' first two drives and completed all four of his passes for 53 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He put the Bucs in the end zone in the first quarter with a 13-yard scoring pass to WR Sammie Stroughter, set up two plays earlier by his 30-yard bomb to rookie WR Mike Williams.
Johnson was mostly sharp, as well, completing six of 10 passes for 61 yards. However, he threw one interception and also lost his grip on the ball on a second-quarter pass attempt, resulting in a lost fumble near midfield. Miami took that possession down to the Bucs' five but lost it on a fumbled snap by reserve QB Tyler Thigpen. The change in field position, however, resulted in a 34-yard Dan Carpenter field goal with nine seconds left on Miami's next possession.
The Buccaneers began mixing second-string defenders in on the Dolphins' second possession but remained sharp throughout the first half. The Bucs had allowed only 39 yards of total offense by the time starting QB Chad Henne and his first-team offensive line came out of the game in the second quarter, and by halftime the Dolphins had just 83 net yards. Tampa Bay's defense allowed just that one field goal despite three turnovers by the Bucs' offense in the second quarter.
The Bucs were simply sharper on offense, converting four of seven third-down tries while the Dolphins were 0-6 in that category. Both teams hurt their own causes with repeated penalties, most of them procedural mistakes such as false starts. The Bucs were penalized six times for 48 yards, Miami four times for 35 yards.
CB E.J. Biggers led the defensive charge with four tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery. DE Michael Bennett had the Buccaneers' lone sack of the first half. Both Biggers and Bennett are second-year players looking to nail down a spot on the 53-man roster.
A rainshower arrived just before the coin flip, which was won by the Dolphins, sending Connor Barth out to execute the opening kickoff. Tristan Davis muffed the opening kickoff and was swarmed over at the Miami 18, but a pair of eight-yard runs by Ronnie Brown got the ball out to the Miami 39. DE Kyle Moore stopped Brown on a second-down sweep to make it third-and-two at the 39 and a hold on third down pushed the Dolphins back 10 yards. Henne tried a screen to RB Ricky Williams out to the left side but a fast-moving Geno Hayes hit Williams as the pass arrived, breaking it up and forcing a punt.
WR Micheal Spurlock fielded the Dolphins punt at the Bucs' 26 and found a seam for a 20-yard return. The Bucs first play of the season is a run by Cadillac Williams for a gain of three, and the second was an out to WR Maurice Stovall for eight yards and the team's initial first down of the season. Three plays later, the Bucs faced a third-and-four at the Dolphins' 37 and Freeman tried to scramble for the first down but was knocked out after a gain of just one. Rookie Brent Bowden's first NFL punt was a beauty, spiking at the Miami one-yard line band bouncing back to the six, where it was downed.
A second-down pass intended for new Dolphin WR Brandon Marshall was broken up by CB E.J. Biggers and LB Adam Hayward nearly intercepted a third-down pass that was tipped by Kyle Moore. Fortunately for Miami, P Brandon Fields boomed a 63-yard punt out of his own end zone, pushing the Bucs back to their own 40 to start the next drive.
Cadillac Williams ripped off an eight-yard carry to start the drive and a bubble screen to WR Sammie Stroughter picked up just enough to move the sticks. On the next third down, this one from the Dolphins' 30, the Bucs went up top. Mike Williams fought off a press from CB Vontae Davis and sped down the right sideline, with Freeman hitting him in stride for a gain of 30. Two plays later, Freeman hit Stroughter for a 13-yard TD and a 7-0 Bucs lead with 3:07 left in the quarter.
The Bucs were fortunate on the next possession when Marshall dropped a potential big-gainer over the middle and a big blitz on third down helped force a wobbly throw that WR Brian Hartline couldn't haul in.
Johnson came in to lead the Bucs' next drive, which started at the 17 after a penalty on the Miami punt. A false start pushed them back further and but Johnson turned in a marvelous play to convert a third-and-16 from the 11. Johnson snatched a high snap with one hand, then shot around right tackle and weaved through the defense for a gain of 18.
The first play of the second half, however, proved to be the game's first turnover, as Johnson hung one up on a deep try to WR Reggie Brown and it was intercepted by CB Sean Smith at the Bucs' 28. Brown brought him down at the 34. The giveaway didn't hurt, however, as the Bucs' defense forced a three-and-out when Biggers and S Sean Jones caught Williams in the backfield on yet another screen pass.
Johnson lofted a 15-yard pass to TE Jeron Mastrud to get the Bucs' next drive started, then found him again for 11 yards out to the 46. RB Derrick Ward put the ball on the ground on the next play but TE John Gilmore alertly picked it up and fought for extra yards to get into Miami territory. An attempted bomb to WR Arrelious Benn just missed but Ward got three yards on third-and-two for a new set of downs. A string of procedural penalties on the Bucs' line followed, pushing Tampa Bay back to its own 44. On third-and-23 Ward took a delayed handoff up the middle for 10 yards but then fumbled it away. Nate Ness recovered for Miami at the Dolphins' 46 midway through the second quarter.
The Bucs' defense held again, this time thanks in part to the game's first sack, as DE Michael Bennett dropped Thigpen for a loss of eight. Thigpen looked deep to WR Greg Camarillo on the next play but it was well-defended and nearly intercepted by S Sabby Piscitelli. Another fine punt by Fields bounced out of bounds at the Bucs' seven.
Johnson got the Bucs out of trouble with a 12-yard strike to WR Michael Clayton, with another 15 tacked on for roughing the passer after LB Micah Johnson lifted the Bucs' QB and drove him into the turf. Three plays later, Stroughter snatched a hard pass out of the air on a crossing route and got 18 more yards, into Miami territory.
That's where the momentum changed, however. On the next play, the ball slipped out of Johnson's hand as he wound up for a throw and was recovered at the Bucs' 45 by Miami's Paul Soliai. Thigpen found WR Patrick Turner deep over the middle one play later for 34 yards down to the Bucs' 11. Three plays later, on third-and-four from the Bucs' five, Thigpen fumbled the snap and Biggers slid on the infield mud to recover it at the 11 with 1:14 left in the half.
The Bucs tried to run the clock down but three Ward runs found little room and the Dolphins used their three timeouts in succession to force a punt with 59 seconds left. Bowden's 37-yard kick was downed at the Tampa Bay 40. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Piscitelli two plays later moved the ball down to the Bucs' 24 with 37 seconds left. Facing a third-and-two at the 16, with only nine seconds left following an incompletion, the Dolphins brought out Carpenter to try a 34-yard field goal off the infield dirt. He hit it low but through to make it 7-3 at halftime.