The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored on each of their first two possessions and took a 14-0 lead into halftime on Friday night in their preseason opener at Miami. While both starting QB Josh Freeman and second-stringer Dan Orlovsky were efficient through the air, it was the Buccaneers' promising rushing attack that took center stage.
The Buccaneers' one-two backfield punch of LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin was instantly effective, each handling primary running duties on one drive, and each ending that march in a touchdown dive. Blount finished the game with 30 yards on seven carries plus a three-yard reception, while Martin ran seven times for 21 yards and added a seven-yard catch. Overall, the Bucs ran the ball on 20 of their 32 offensive plays in the first half.
Freeman played just one series and completed four of five passes for 41 yards. His 18-yard completion to Mike Williams got the ball inside the 10 and the Bucs then ran LeGarrette Blount four straight times, with his two-yard dive on fourth down cracking the end zone. Dan Orlovsky replaced Freeman near the end of the first quarter and went on to complete all seven of his throws for 89 yards, including a 44-yard deep post to WR Tiquan Underwood at the Miami three that set up Martin's one-yard touchdown run. Underwood was the Bucs' first-half receiving star, catching three passes for 76 yards and converting two long third downs.
The Bucs' defense was just as effective, though it was at times more opportunistic than dominant. The Dolphins picked up 143 yards of offense to the Bucs' 186, but they also lost one promising drive to a Lavonte David tipped-ball interception and another one just before halftime on a failed fourth-and-goal attempt. The Bucs played without defensive starters Mark Barron and Aqib Talib but got big plays from David, second-year CB Anthony Gaitor and second-year LB Mason Foster.
Miami had the ball first and put the offense in Matt Moore's hands with David Garrard out due to a knee ailment. Moore completed two of four of his passes on the opening drive for 22 yards, throwing only quick-hitters out of a hurry-up attack. The Bucs helped with a pair of defensive offside penalties among the first six snap attempts, and RB Reggie Bush escaped a potential tackle in the backfield near midfield to break away for 13 yards to the Bucs' 39. However, new Dolphins receiver Chad Johnson appeared to lose a pass in the lights on a quick slant on third-and-four from the 33 and the home team had to settle for a 51-yard field goal try. Dan Carpenter pushed his attempt just right and the game remained scoreless.
The Bucs, who intend to build their offense around the running game in 2012, started their first drive with three straight runs, two by Blount followed by Martin converting a third-and-two on a draw play. A dead-ball personal foul on WR Preston Parker cost the Bucs 15 yards after that first down, but they got back into Miami territory on a nifty hookup down the middle between Freeman and TE Luke Stocker for 14 yards. Blount followed with a 16-yard run around left end and Williams got the ball to the Miami six with a nifty move on a short pass for 18 more. Three runs by Blount into the teeth of the defense made it fourth-and-goal at the one and the Bucs elected to go for it. It was Blount once again, and this time he dived over the line for the score.
The Dolphins stayed in the hurry-up on their second drive and Moore completed his first two passes to get the ball to midfield. However, a massive hit by Foster at the line of scrimmage and good pressure by DE Adrian Clayborn on third-and-11 stalled the drive and forced a punt, which rolled to a stop at the Bucs' eight.
Orlovsky took over for the Bucs' second drive, which quickly moved into the third quarter. He converted a third-and-five with a 23-yard pass down the left sideline to Underwood. After two fine plays by Martin, including a 10-yard run in which he landed on his feet after being flipped and continued on his way, Orlovsky threw deep down the middle to Underwood again. S Jimmy Wilson was in position for a possible interception, but Underwood wrestled the ball away from him and landed at the Miami three. Once again, the Bucs stuck to the ground inside the five, this time with Martin, who on his third drive got it over the goal line with a leap and a second effort.
Down 14-0, the Dolphins got their best play of the night to that point on Rishard Matthews 45-yard kickoff return into Buccaneer territory. Moore's 21-yard hook-up with WR Roberto Wallace got the Dolphins down to the Bucs' 21, but David intercepted a pass that was tipped by the line by DT Frank Okam.
The Bucs went fully to reserves for their third drive but kept the ball moving. Orlovsky and Underwood hooked up again on third down, this time a deep out that converted a third-and-six with a nine-yard sideline completion. However, two Mossis Madu runs and a screen pass to Madu failed at the Bucs' 40 and Tampa Bay had to punt for the first time. David made an impressive solo tackle on the return to stop Matthews at the Miami 13.
Rookie first-rounder Ryan Tannehill came in to lead Miami's next drive but failed to move the ball. A fine tackle by DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim on RB Steve Slaton for a loss of two on second down and outstanding coverage by Gaitor on third-and-six forced a punt. Unfortunately, Parker fumbled the kick and Miami recovered at midfield as the two-minute warning arrived.
Tannehill completed his next two passes, including a 22-yarder to Julius Pruitt at the Bucs' seven-yard line. Two plays later, Wallace made a sliding catch in the end zone to cut Tampa Bay's lead in half with 58 seconds left in the second period…or so it seemed. As all scoring plays are now reviewed as policy, this one was kicked upstairs and eventually overturned, with the officials ruling that the ball hit the ground. After another completion to Pruitt took the ball down to the three, the Dolphins let the clock run down to 14 seconds and called a timeout before a fourth-and-goal play. The call after the break was an out to FB/TE Charles Clay along the goal line, but Gaitor had perfect coverage and was able to knock it away.