The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins finished the first half in a 10-10 draw on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, and remains to see if the two teams' starters will have anything to do with breaking that tie.
Both teams left their first units in for the entirety of the first two quarters on Saturday, as is customary in the third week of the preseason, and the results were even in many ways. The Buccaneers outgained the Dolphins, 192 yards to 160, and produced the only takeaway of the first half, but Miami's Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall stood out as the most explosive threat of the game.
The Buccaneers' defense allowed only two rushing yards on nine carries – an encouraging number after a tough outing a week ago against New England – but Henne completed 10 of 12 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown. Henne's two passes to Marshall gained 90 yards, including a 60-yard TD to open the scoring in the first quarter, but Marshall also fumbled on his second catch to set up the game-tying score.
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman completed 12 of 23 passes for 149 yards, many of them underneath tosses to RBs LeGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham. Blount's 52-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter set up Connor Barth's 21-yard field goal, and Graham's 15-yard gain on a screen pass late in the half set up his own two-yard touchdown run on a draw play. Freeman did find top target Mike Williams for three completions but also misfired high on several other downfield throws.
The Buccaneers' defense frequently put good pressure on Henne, sacking him twice and forcing several hurried throws, but it had trouble getting off the field on third downs. DE Michael Bennett and LB Dekoda Watson had the Bucs' two sacks, with Watson's takedown also causing a fumble inside the Miami five-yard line in the first quarter. Bennett finished an impressive first half with three tackles for loss.
The Buccaneers won the toss but started at their own 15 when Sammie Stroughter was swarmed over by the Dolphins' cover team. Blount ran for two yards on first down, and on second down WR Arrelious Benn broke up a possible interception by S Yeremiah Bell. Freeman converted the first third down of the game with a precision strike to TE Kellen Winslow on a crossing route for 12 yards. Two plays later, a middle dumpoff to Blount made it third-and-four from the 35. Graham came in as the third-down back and snuck out into the left flat for a 12-yard catch to move the sticks again. Freeman broke out for a very long scramble on the next play but it was erased by a holding call. The Bucs faced a third-and-16 three snaps later but got a second chance thanks to an encroachment penalty. Freeman looked for Mike Williams on a square-in on the next play but overthrew him to lead to a punt.
The Dolphins' first drive started at their 22 but lost ground immediately when DE Michael Bennett sacked Henne for a loss of five on first down. Henne made that ground up right away, however, by hitting TE Anthony Fasano over the middle for a gain of 22. On the next play, Henne went deep down the right sideline to Marshall and the Dolphins receiver fought off CB E.J. Biggers to haul it in. Marshall then eluded several other defenders to complete the 60-yard touchdown.
The Bucs were penalized for trying to challenge the touchdown play – that's a new rule this year; all scoring plays are automatically reviewed upstairs – which meant the Dolphins kicked off from midfield. Obviously, that led to a touchback, and on first-and-10 from their own 20 the Bucs gave it to Blount twice for a total of six yards. Freeman was forced to scramble on third down and he eventually threw the ball away under pressure.
Michael Koenen blasted a 48-yard punt and a holding penalty on the Dolphins pushed the ball back to the Miami 13. Bennett once again blew up the Dolphins' first play, hitting RB Reggie Bush in the backfield for a loss of three. Two plays later, Watson blitzed off the right edge and knocked the ball out of Henne's hand for a sack and a forced fumble, with the Dolphins recovering at their own two. A strong 59-yard punt by Brandon Fields got Miami out of trouble but the Bucs still go the ball back at their own 49.
An end-around to Benn got 11 yards to the Miami 40 but Blount was tripped up on the ensuing first down just before breaking around the corner. Freeman tried to hit Winslow on the next two snaps but was off target and the Bucs had to punt again, this one going out of bounds at the Miami 12. A holding call backed the Dolphins up six yards, and a Bush run gained just one yard. Good pressure on second down led to an incompletion, and on third-and-15, and the Bucs kept a dumpoff to Fasano from moving the chains. However, Fields blasted another deep kick and a personal foul on the Bucs pushed the ball back to Tampa Bay's 19.
Blount immediately switched the field position back by running out into the right flat and catching a pass without any defenders around. The second-year back turned upfield and rambled for 52 yards to the Miami 29 before going down. A quick out to Williams on the next play made it second-and-one at the 19. The teams switched sides as the first quarter ended and Freeman found Blount over the middle for a gain of five. From the 15, Graham got the carry but was stopped for no gain. Two plays later, Freeman looked to Winslow again on third-and-long but the play came up five yards short and the Bucs had to settle for Connor Barth's 28-yard field goal.
Koenen boomed the following kickoff to the back of the end zone for a touchback and the Dolphins hurt themselves with an illegal formation penalty. However, Henne responded to a huge blitz with a dumpoff to Fasano for nine yards. Two plays later, Biggers kept the ball away from Marshall on a sideline throw but was flagged for pass interference, making it first down for Miami at their own 45. Bush got 12 yards on a dumpoff on the next snap, putting the ball in Bucs territory, and a short pass over the middle to WR Davone Bess got eight. The Bucs dropped Bush for a loss of one on second down, but Henne converted a third-and-three by finding WR Clyde Gates for six yards. Three plays later, Lewis was hit with a pass interference call at the two-yard line on third down, making it first-and-goal. The Dolphins tried two runs, the second of which was a handoff to Bush that lost three yards when DT Frank Okam staggered him in the backfield. A good pass rush on third down forced Henne to run and rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers stopped him at the three. Dan Carpenter came on to kick a 21-yard field goal and make it 10-3.
Rookie TE Luke Stocker snared his first NFL reception to start the next drive, an eight-yarder, and a five-yard out to Williams moved the sticks. However, two incompletions made it third-and-10 from the 31, and Freeman's third-down toss to rookie TE Daniel Hardy was just out of reach. The Bucs had to punt and Koenen broke off a 55-yarder that pushed Miami back to its 24. On the next play, however, Marshall got a pass and broke free for a 30-yard gain before Biggers poked the ball out of his hands. LB Geno Hayes recovered the fumble for Tampa Bay at the Bucs' 46.
The Bucs threw two incompletions before the two-minute warning but got a first down just over midfield thanks to an illegal-contact penalty on Miami. After the break, an illegal-formation penalty pushed the Bucs back into their own territory, but Benn caught a short pass on the next snap and fought for 12 yards. The Dolphins blitzed but Freeman had time to find Williams, who made an inside move to gain eight yards and a first down at the Miami 24. Tampa Bay called time out with 1:08 left in the half. A screen pass to Graham worked to perfection, with the veteran back making one big cut inside to get all the way down to the Miami 19. Freeman then sensed pressure to his right and scrambled down to the Miami two. With 30 seconds left and two timeouts to burn, the Bucs lined up in a passing formation but Freeman handed off to Graham out of the shotgun and the Graham slipped through a crack for the game-tying touchdown.