RB Warrick Dunn had six touches - three carries, three receptions, on the Bucs' game-opening, 17-play touchdown drive
It may only be their second preseason contest as they gear up for the regular season opener next month, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked extremely sharp in all phases of the game in the first half Sunday night against the New England Patriots, jumping out to a 17-3 lead at the break. The Bucs held a total yardage advantage of 234-87 after two quarters of play.
The Bucs began the game on a great note, driving down the field on a 17-play drive, 80-yard drive that was capped by Earnest Graham's one-yard touchdown run. QB Brian Griese was perfect on the march, connecting on all eight of his attempts for 39 yards. Veteran back Warrick Dunn picked up 12 yards on three carries on the drive and added another 15 yards on three receptions.
The Bucs got off to a hot start as well on defense, forcing a quick three-and-out on the Patriots' first possession. The stand was capped by a near interception by LB Barrett Ruud, who leaped in the air and got one hand on a Matt Cassel pass. Ruud later got on the turnover board anyways, stripping RB Kevin Faulk early in the second quarter and having teammate DE Jimmy Wilkerson fall on the loose ball.
QB Luke McCown also led the Bucs on two scoring drives after entering the game in the second quarter.
The first points came on a drive highlighted by WR Antonio Bryant's dazzling 33-yard gain. Bryant reached out to snag a pass out in front of him on a slant pattern, shook off a would-be tackler and then sprinted all the way to the opposite sideline for yardage on the play. The drive stalled on an incompletion to TE Jerramy Stevens in the end zone, but K Matt Bryant extended the lead to 10-0 with a 34-yard field goal.
McCown then led the offense on an eight-play, 86-yard drive later in the second period that featured a number of fantastic plays by RBs Michael Bennett and Kenneth Darby, as well as a deep pass over the middle to WR Maurice Stovall. The drive was capped by FB Byron Storer's one-yard touchdown grab as the play action pass fooled the Patriots, leaving Storer all alone in the end zone.
The Patriots were able to cut into the lead late in the half, as K Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 53-yard field goal as time expired, but the Bucs tallied 16 first downs in the half and limited the Patriots to only five while outgaining New England 234 yards to 87.
- After a spirited round of applause for former Buccaneer John Lynch, the Patriots' recently-signed addition at safety, New England won the toss and deferred the choice. The Bucs then opted to receive the kick, which WR Dexter Jackson downed in the end zone for a touchback. RB Earnest Graham took the first play from scrimmage and made some shifty moves as he picked up six yards. Graham then picked up two yards up the middle, setting up third-and-eight. WR Antonio Bryant showed a burst of speed as he took an end around up the left side for 16 yards and a first down. On first down from the 45, Graham picked up three yards. FB Byron Storer snagged a Brian Griese pass for five yards and Griese connected with TE Alex Smith for four yards on third-and-two to move the chains. Another short pass to RB Warrick Dunn over the middle netted seven yards, setting up second-and-three at the New England 36. Griese audibled at the line before handing off to Dunn, who made a quick sidestep to his left, picking up three yards and another first down. Griese continued his accurate drive, hitting WR Ike Hilliard for seven yards. On second-and-three at the 33, Bryant looked confused as to where he was supposed to line up and the Bucs were forced to burn their first timeout of the half. After the break, Graham was stuffed for a loss of one. Hilliard kept the drive alive with a catch inches above the turf, picking up three yards and yet another first down at the New England 22-yard line. Griese and Dunn connected yet again, this time for a gain of four on a short pass in the right flat, and Dunn squirted ahead up the middle on second down for seven yards and a first down. Dunn picked up two yards on first down, then caught another dump off pass from Griese for five yards over the middle. Facing third-and-three at the Patriots' six, Bryant caught a low pass on a quick slant route, picking up first-down yardage but coming up just short of the goal line. On first-and-goal from the one, Graham plowed ahead for the score and giving the Bucs the early lead. K Matt Bryant's extra point was good, making it 7-0 Buccaneers. * After a 14-yard kickoff return to the 22 by CB Ellis Hobbs, RB Laurence Maroney picked up five yards for the Pats on first down then tacked on another three yards on second down. On third-and-two, LB Barrett Ruud made an athletic, one-handed attempt on QB Matt Cassel's pass, very nearly picking it off. In the end, the Bucs were able to get off the field on third down. It was originally ruled that Ruud had come up with the pick, but after a Patriots review, replays showed the ball hitting the ground. P Chris Hanson's punt bounced out of bounds at the Bucs 29-yard line and the offense took over again. * RB Michael Bennett ran left for four yards on first down, but Griese's pass intended for Smith was batted down by DE Richard Seymour. On third-and-six, Griese hit Hilliard near the right sideline, but the play picked up only four yards and P Josh Bidwell came on to punt. WR Maurice Stovall interfered with the return man, WR Chad Jackson, as he waited to field the punt, giving the Pats an extra 15 yards and setting them up at their own 38-yard line. * Maroney darted ahead for 10 yards on first down, but was stuffed on the next first-down run for no gain at the New England 48. On second-and-10, the Bucs plugged up the middle yet again, holding Maroney to a short, two-yard gain. Facing third-and-eight at midfield, Cassel hit the speedy WR Wes Welker on a quick pass. Welker dodged a tackle and sprinted ahead for 12 yards and a first down as the first quarter came to a close. * Cassel found Welker again on first down from the Bucs 38 for a six-yard gain. RB Sammy Morris then fought his way up the middle for two yards, setting up third-and-two. The Pats were forced to burn their first timeout of the half before the play, but the shifty Welker caught another pass over the middle for seven yards, moving the chains. On first down at the Bucs 23, DT Ryan Sims burst up the middle and swallowed up Maroney for a two-yard loss. The Pats were then flagged for a false start, backing up five more yards. On second-and-12, RB Kevin Faulk picked up five yards but was stripped by Ruud. DE Jimmy Wilkerson pounced on the loose ball as the Bucs defense picked up their first turnover of the year. * QB Luke McCown entered the game as the Bucs took over at their own 25. Bennett looked to be stopped for a minimal gain on first down, but somehow picked his way through the scrum and dashed ahead for 12 yards. Bryant then made a slick grab and eluded the defense as he zigzagged across the field, picking up 33 yards. Bennett then picked up seven yards up the middle and another two yards on second down, setting up third-and-one a the Pats' 21. Bennett then got just enough on third down to move the sticks, setting the Bucs up just outside the red zone. McCown then used his feet to make a play, scrambling left for a gain of four after being unable to find an open receiver. McCown then hit Storer on a short pass to the right for no gain. On third-and-six at the 16, McCown barely overthrew TE Jerramy Stevens in the middle of the end zone for an incompletion, bringing K Matt Bryant on to the field. Bryant's 34-yard attempt was true, extending the Bucs' lead to 10-0. * Hobbs took the ensuing kickoff back to the 22, where Cassel's first down screen pass was tipped in the air by Maroney before falling harmlessly to the grass. DE Kevin Carter and Sims then tracked Maroney down in the backfield for a three-yard loss, setting up third-and-13. Cassel was flushed from the pocket on a blitz but was nailed from behind LB Quincy Black after a seven-yard gain. Hanson's booming punt was fielded by Dexter Jackson and returned for a decent gain, but a penalty flag pushed the Bucs back to their own 14. * Bennett then flashed some speed and tackle-breaking ability as he gashed up the middle for 23 yards. McCown then found Stovall wide open over the middle for another huge gain as the Bucs picked up another 18 yards. Bennett found a hole in the right side of the line for another seven yards on first down. RB Kenneth Darby then got in on the act, juking a defender on his way to a 12-yard gain to the left side. Darby did it again on the ensuing play, catching a swing pass and making people miss on an 11-yard gain. Bennett was finally slowed by the Pats on first down from the Pats' 14 as he was held to no gain, and the clock wound down to the two minute warning. * Bennett took a short dump pass in the middle and continued to dazzle, making at least two Pats miss him as he got down to the one-yard line. McCown then connected with a wide-open Storer on a play action pass for an easy score. Bryant's extra point made it 17-0 in favor of the Bucs. * WR Matthew Slater returned the kickoff to the 30, and Cassel then found WR Randy Moss for 10 yards on first down. Bucs CB Elbert Mack laid a big hit on Cassel as he scrambled left for a one-yard gain on first down, but Cassel then found Faulk for seven yards and Moss for another 15 as the Pats moved to the Tampa Bay 35-yard line with only two seconds left in the half. The Pats opted to attempt a 53-yard field goal, and K Stephen Gostkowski's attempt sailed through the uprights, cutting the lead to 17-3 as the teams headed to the locker room.