Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Peaking

Tampa Bay’s starting offense seemed to hit its stride over a 1-1 final preseason week

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QB Brad Johnson led the Bucs' first-team offense to 315 yards in the equivalent of three quarters over the past two games

Within six days, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on both ends of a preseason blowout, manhandling New England, 20-3, then falling hard in Atlanta, 36-7.

Those two games, plus a pair of losses earlier in August puts the Bucs' record as they head into September at…

0-0.

Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy puts a lot of emphasis on victories in the preseason and was thus disappointed that his team got only one of them, but the slate is wiped clean now that the warmup season is over. Besides, there may have been more important pursuits this August.

It's safe to say that the one thing Buc fans wanted to see above all else this preseason was improvement in the team's starting offense, with new quarterback Brad Johnson at the helm. That was not immediately evident in the team's first two games, but there was an obvious upswing in the unit's effectiveness during that final two-game week, and that was encouraging.

Even Dungy, who struggled to say anything positive about the team's effort in Atlanta, reluctantly admitted that the offense was showing some very good signs.

"We've done some good things the last two weeks," he said. "We've moved the ball well and that's what you always want to see. We've had a couple of turnovers in the end zone, which you don't want to see, but we've gotten the ball in scoring position and we've started to use our guys and get them comfortable with what they're doing. We're starting to see some plays being made. There's some positives there. Now we just have to focus in on not having the penalties and not having the turnovers."

How well have the Bucs' moved the ball over the past week when Johnson and his group was in the game?

Statistically, quite well. Over the past two games, Johnson has directed 10 possessions, during which the team picked up 315 yards and scored three touchdowns. A typical game will include 13 or 14 drives per team, so Johnson and the crew put up those encouraging numbers in less than a full 60 minutes.

Only three of those drives were three-and-outs as the Bucs amassed 16 first downs, though two did end in interceptions in or near the end zone. On the other hand, Tampa Bay lost only 10 yards on penalties on those 10 drives, which would have to bring a smile to Dungy's face.

It is his belief that Johnson will be able to direct the Bucs' attack with a minimum of mistakes. Johnson certainly did so in Atlanta as Tampa Bay opened the game in a no-huddle offense. Simulating a two-minute situation, Johnson ran 12 plays before taking a seat; nine of them gained four yards or more. Johnson actually convinced the coach to switch gears to the red zone attack when the team reached inside Atlanta's 20.

"He did what we expected he would do – move the ball well, get people in the right position, make the right calls," said Dungy. "He actually wanted to come out of it and get some work in our red zone offense. Maybe, in hind sight, we could have kept going in that hurry-up. Brad's done well and he's played better every time out, so I think he's right on track."

Those six days and two games are over, and with it the preseason, so there's no looking back for the Buccaneers. The team can only hope that what it saw out of Johnson and the first-team offense during that span is an accurate preview of what's to come.

"We're basically going to focus in on Dallas, try to look at what they do and get ourselves geared in that way," said Dungy. "Our big deal is, we've just got to play the type of ball that we're capable of, not have the penalties and the mistakes, those kind of things. I think they've been lessening in our first unit, and fortunately those are the guys that are going to be playing more once the season starts. But we've just got to zero in on doing our job and get familiar with Dallas at this point."

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