S David Gibson (right) recovers a Dolphin fumble, helping the Bucs turn back another red zone threat
Florida football fans have pinned their dreams of rejuvenated offenses on the shoulders of a pair of imported offensive coordinators, Les Steckel of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chan Gailey of the Miami Dolphins. On Thursday night, those two teams met and generated 498 yards of total offense.
Steckel and Gailey are likely to produce the results Buccaneer and Dolphin fans are craving, but tonight they were stymied by two of the best defenses in the NFL. Miami came out victorious, 15-13, turning back a spirited fourth-quarter rally by the Buccaneers thanks to five Olindo Mare field goals.
The Bucs can definitely gain pleasure from a defensive performance that produced three turnovers and repeatedly held firm in the red zone. The special teams also provided several highlights, including two long kickoff returns that nearly went the distance. Both led to touchdowns.
With the Bucs trailing 9-0 near the end of the third quarter, Yo Murphy took an Olindo Mare kickoff at the Bucs' goal line and streaked 51 yards to the Dolphins' 49. That set up a touchdown drive built mostly on strong inside running by backup RB Rabih Abdullah but finished on a beautiful touch pass from QB Eric Zeier to FB Kevin McLeod for 17 yards and a score.
That was the first play of the fourth period. Later in that final quarter, with the Bucs now down 12-7, Aaron Stecker took a kickoff 78 yards, setting up a simple two-play, 13-yard rally. Fittingly, Stecker took it into the end zone from two yards out for the go-ahead score.
It wouldn't last, however, as second-string Miami QB Mike Quinn directed a final-minute scoring drive of 44 yards, setting up Mare for a 42-yard game-winner.
Miami outgained the Bucs in total yardage, 295-203, and squelched the Bucs' hopes of gunning the engine on their running attack. Tampa Bay gained 77 yards on 23 carries, an improvement over last Friday's 50 on 26 totes, but not yet in the range desired by Head Coach Tony Dungy. Dungy was reached for comment at halftime, with the Bucs trailing 6-0, and wasn't in a very complimentary mood.
"It was not a very good half of football," said Dungy. "We didn't play smart. We weren't fundamentally sound and we made too many mistakes in the first half. We are playing very poorly right now, so I guess you have to give the Dolphins credit. It just wasn't a very good half of football."
While the Bucs' still struggled between the tackles, highly-touted receiver acquisition Keyshawn Johnson continued to be as dominant as advertised. In one half of play with the first-team unit, Johnson caught four passes for 54 yards, including a remarkably acrobatic 27-yarder on the right sideline in the second quarter. He wasn't any more impressed than Dungy with the first-half effort, but he was optimistic about the near future.
"We didn't play very well in the first half," said Johnson. "We didn't get that many things going offensively, but we'll work that stuff out. We will get back on track next week when we face New England. We will work hard this week and I think we will be fine."
In two games, the Buccaneers' defense has surrendered just 27 points and one touchdown, numbers reminiscent of its strong 1999 performance. The Bucs were the NFL's second-hardest team to score touchdowns against in the red zone last year, and they appear just as stingy in that arena again.
"We didn't play too well in between the 20s," said DT Warren Sapp at halftime. "We missed a couple of tackles and had a couple of timing errors, but once we got in the red zone, we tightened up and hung together and stopped them from scoring the big plays. And that gives us a chance to win the game."
The Bucs didn't do that tonight, although they did manage their second straight fourth-quarter comeback before Miami turned the tables. Buccaneers.com posted detailed reports of the action after each period, and those wrap ups follow.
Miami won the toss, leading to a Martin Gramatica that went out of bounds at the three-yard line. That was a somewhat disastrous result for the Buccaneers, considering a bizarre delay of game penalty before the kick. The resulting penalty gave Miami possession at their own 45. Three runs by Lamar Smith got Miami to the Bucs 44 for a first down.
Even worse for Tampa Bay, second-year had to be helped off the field after suffering an injury on the first play from scrimmage. He was diagnosed with a right ankle sprain and was removed for the game.
The Dolphins' next series was just as successful. S John Lynch came on a blitz on first down and came up with a three-yard sack of QB Damon Huard on first down. On third-and-13, however, Huard completed a 22-yard pass to WR Tony Martin over the middle, resulting in another first down at the Bucs' 25.
Two plays later, Smith darted up the middle for 13 yards down to the 12.
The Bucs' first break came on the next play. Huard threw a quick pass to former Buccaneer WR Bert Emanuel over the middle, but the ball bounced out of Emanuel's hands into the waiting arms of LB Alshermond Singleton.
QB Shaun King and the Buccaneers thus began their first possession at their own six, and RB Warrick Dunn quickly picked up four yards on a rush up the middle. However, Dunn tried to sweep left on the next play and immediately lost three of those yards back.
On third and nine, S Keyshawn Johnson made a leaping grab at the sideline over CB Patrick Surtain, but it came up a yard short and P John Shay had to kick it away. Shay's 43-yarder was fair caught by WR Leslie Shepherd at the Dolphins' 42.
Two runs by Smith set up a third-and-one. With Emanuel in at quarterback, the Dolphins ran a keeper and Emanuel picked up the first down with a two-yard run. Smith then pounded for eight yards with a nice second-effort run on first down, and followed with a two-yard gain for a first down at the 36.
The Bucs then forced a third-and-nine thanks to a streaking Shelton Quarles, whose pressure of Huard disrupted a swing pass to FB Rob Konrad. That didn't stop the Dolphins, however, as Huard threw a quick out pass to RB Thurman Thomas, who turned it into a 17-yard gain down to the Bucs 18.
An 11-yard run by Smith helped earn the Dolphins a first-down at the six, but the next two runs lost three yards. The resulting situation was third-and-nine, and the Bucs kept Miami out of the end zone thanks to a strong rush up the middle from DT Anthony McFarland and a hustling tackle of RB Autry Denson from behind by DT Warren Sapp. The Dolphins settled for Olinde Mare's 26-yard field goal.
Before the Dolphins' final play of the drive, S John Lynch headed to the sideline thanks to a case of bruised ribs. He was benched for the remainder of the game due to the injury.
After a kickoff return to the 22 by Aaron Stecker, the Bucs ran one play, losing a yard on a Dunn sweep before the quarter ended.
The first half ended in a 6-0 Dolphin lead, thanks in part to two takeaways by the Bucs and one by the Dolphins, all three in enemy territory. The Dolphins had the only score of the second quarter on a short field goal set up by an ill-timed penalty, but the period did have its share of highlights.
The Bucs' first drive of the second quarter went nowhere, as completions to WR Keyshawn Johnson on second and third down came up two yards short of a first down. After Mark Royals' punt, the Dolphins started anew at their own 31-yard line. They quickly fell into a third-and-ten thanks to the dubious strategy of testing CB Donnie Abraham. Abraham broke up a long pass on first down and an intermediate out route on second down.
On third down, DE Marcus Jones broke through for a five-yard sack of QB Damon Huard. On fourth down, P Matt Turk shanked a kick that bounced into WR Karl Williams' arms at the Bucs' 35, setting up a slashing 19-yard return. On first down, RB Warrick Dunn found a seam on a sweep to the left and darted upfield for eight yards. Dunn gained a first down on the next play with a short reception over the middle.
Two plays later, Miami got their first turnover of the game to end the Bucs' drive. On third-and-eight, QB Shaun King scrambled to his right and tried to throw downfield on the run. The pass fell short and into the arms of S Brock Marion, who returned the pick 14 yards to the Dolphins' 22.
RB Lamar Smith, who barreled for 54 rushing yards in the first quarter, blasted for eight on first down but was stuffed for a loss of three by LB Jamie Duncan. The Dolphins then tried a toss-sweep to the left with Thurman Thomas, but he was quickly surrounded and stopped after gaining just two yards.
The Bucs opened their next drive at the team's own 24-yard line, and quickly picked up 14 yards on a King pass over the middle to TE Dave Moore. After a one-yard Dunn run, King hit Johnson on a quick slant for another 14-yard gain. Two hardnosed runs by Dunn in traffic set the Bucs up at the Dolphins' 41-yard line at third-and-four. King's pass attempt to Reidel Anthony on a short out was nearly intercepted by CB Sam Madison, ending the drive. P John Shay's kick was fair-caught by rookie CB Ben Kelly at the 13, but a penalty on the Buccaneers brought it back. Royals came on for take two, and his kick was fielded by Kelly at the 29.
Smith ran for five yards on first down. On second down, QB Damon Huard's pass was nearly intercepted by S Shevin Smith, who would have had an easy stroll to the end zone. That came back to haunt the Bucs when Huard somehow slipped out of what seemed like a sure sack and found WR Bert Emanuel for a 37-yard gain.
On first down from the Bucs' 29, CB Ronde Barber broke up a pass attempt to Tony martin, but Smith slashed for seven yards on second down.
That's when the Buccaneer defense came up with another turnover. With blanket coverage downfield, Huard tried to scramble up the middle but was caught from behind by DT Anthony McFarland. McFarland knocked the ball from Huard's grasp and DE Marcus Jones recovered at the Bucs' 23.
Johnson then helped the Bucs' offense assert itself with the type of acrobatic reception that became his trademark in New York. King floated a pass down the left sideline and Johnson leapt to catch the ball around the Dolphins defensive back for a 27-yard gain to the Bucs' 49. An incompletion, a one-yard loss and a false start later, the Bucs were in a third-and-16 hole at their own 45. That proved too deep, as a screen pass to Dunn gained just half of that. The Bucs punted from the Miami 47.
The Dolphins started inside their own 30 but moved to the 48 with four straight short completions. With 16 seconds remaining, Miami called a timeout with a first down at the 48.
Then, disaster. Miami directed Huard to loft a cloudscraping bomb over the middle. The ball was knocked down by S David Gibson, but not before Smith committed a pass interference penalty at the five-yard line. First down at the five for Miami. The Dolphins tried one run up the middle to no avail, then brought on K Olindo Mare for a 21-yard field goal. It was good and the quarter ended.
The Bucs' second-string offense fared no better than the first on its opening drive, starting at its own 19 and losing six yards before punting.
After a short punt, the Dolphins took over at the Bucs' 44 with backup QB Mike Quinn under center. Their first play from scrimmage in the third quarter also had negative results, as WR Nate Jacquet took a handoff on an end-around but fumbled and was trapped for a 12-yard loss. A six-yard pass on second down set up a third-and-16 from the midfield stripe. Tyoka Jackson then pushed the Dolphins back to their own 41 with a nine-yard sack. The Dolphins punted and Karl Williams was stopped without a gain at the 19 on his return.
The Bucs started their second drive with an apparent determination to run the ball at all costs. After a defensive penalty, RB Rabih Abdullah ran twice to gain a first down, then ran again for four yards and was stopped for no gain on second down. On third down QB Eric Zeier's pass was broken up by tight coverage on Williams.
After a penalty, John Shay's high, 49-yard punt was returned to the Dolphin 29 by Robert Baker. The Dolphins seemed similarly content to keep it on the ground, picking up four yards on two runs by J.J. Johnson. On third-and-six, DE Tyoka Jackson sacked Quinn in the backfield but the Bucs opted to take a personal foul penalty and a third-and-20. Autry Denson gained 13 yards on a pass over the middle, but the Dolphins had to punt.
WR Andre Hastings, an accomplished punt returner signed midway through training camp, took a 53-yard punt by Matt Turk and weaved through traffic for 13 yards to the 28. Zeier threw one pass incomplete and another to TE Lovett Purnell for three yards, setting up a third and seven. Zeier gave the Bucs their first third-down conversion of the game with a very sharp timing pass to Williams for 12 yards.
However, his next pass was deflected at the line by DT Jermaine Haley and intercepted by DT Damian Gregory. Miami thus picked up possession at the Bucs' 42. Though they could gain just six yards on three plays, K Olindo Mare converted his third field goal of the game, powering a 54-yarder through the uprights for a 9-0 Dolphin lead.
Mare also helped his team on the next play, when WR Yo Murphy fielded Mare's kickoff at the goal line and returned it 51 yards. It might have gone the distance if Mare hadn't cut off Murphy's angle near midfield.
Still, that was excellent field position for the Bucs, and they picked up a first down at the Miami 27 thanks to a 15-yard power run by Abdullah that looked like it was stopped after a short gain. On the next play, RB Aaron Stecker ran around the left corner for a 12-yard gain, but Stecker was then stopped for a two-yard loss trying the same thing on second down. At second-and-12 from the 17, the quarter ended.
After three quarters of offensive frustration, the Buccaneers opened the final period on a very auspicious note. QB Eric Zeier faked a handoff to Aaron Stecker, spun and rolled to his right, then threw back to the left to FB Kevin McLeod. McLeod hauled in the pass as it dropped over the defender, then stepped into the end zone for a 17-yard score, cutting the Dolphins' lead to 9-7.
The Dolphins immediately answered with a long march of their own, though it came up empty thanks to another Buccaneer takeaway. The drive got going with a 16-yard Mike Quinn pass to Leslie Shepherd to the Dolphins' 41. A few snaps later, RB J.J. Johnson took a short pass from Quinn and picked his way for 14 yards. The Dolphins gained a first down at the Bucs' 25-yard line after a Curtis Alexander nine-yard run, but Alexander coughed up the ball two snaps later and the fumble was recovered on one hop by S David Gibson. Gibson was tackled at the 29.
Rookie QB Joe Hamilton came in to lead the comeback effort and quickly fired a 13-yard pass to WR Andre Hastings to move the ball to the Bucs' 42. Three snaps later, on third-and-10, Hamilton found WR Yo Murphy cutting over the middle and hit him for an eight-yard gain at midfield. The Bucs elected to go for it on fourth-and-two.
That move didn't work out. QB Joe Hamilton intended to pitch the ball to RB Ketric Sanford, but he was tripped as he came out from under center and the pitch was tough to handle. Sanford lost control and LB Tommy Hendricks recovered the ball and returned it all the way to the Bucs' 10-yard line. The Bucs' third-stringers kept Miami out of the end zone, but Olindo Mare capitalized with his fourth field goal of the game, this one a 25-yarder.
That left Hamilton 4:21 on the clock and a situation very similar to last week's game. He got a very nice assist from Aaron Stecker, who took the next kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins' 18. A five-yard facemask penalty on Miami left the Bucs with a first down at the 13.
On first down, Sanford swept right and picked up 11 yards to the Miami two. Stecker finished it on second down, going off right tackle to power into the end zone. The Bucs attempted a two-point conversion but failed, leaving the score at 13-12, Tampa Bay.
The Bucs then held defensively, forcing a three-and-out and a Dolphins punt, which was fielded by Hastings at the Bucs' 27.
Tampa Bay then ran twice to set up a third-and-four, and suffered near disaster on the next down when a bootlegging Joe Hamilton fumbled and the loose ball was nearly recovered by the Dolphins. However, TE Jason Freeman eventually fell on the ball, forcing the Bucs to punt from their own 30.
The Dolphins took over at their own 32-yard line and gained 13 yards on a quick pass over the middle. On the next play, first-year WR Kevin McKenzie caught a pass near the right sideline to pick up 23 yards and a first down deep in Bucs territory. Quinn's seven-yard scramble three snaps later put the ball at the 27, allowing Mare to win the game with a 42-yard field goal.