Rookie WR Sammie Stroughter sparked a Buccaneer rally with two big plays in the second quarter
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will name their starting quarterback for the 2009 season at some point this week, and Luke McCown made the most of his final audition on Saturday night in Jacksonville. If McCown wins the job, he should save a special thank you to one of his newest teammates, rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter.
Stroughter returned a kickoff 75 yards to set up one touchdown and caught the second of McCown's two TD passes to put the Bucs up, 17-14, at halftime of a 24-23 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Stroughter was perhaps the biggest star on a night that saw the visiting Buccaneers rebound from an incredibly bad start and barely hold on to victory in the second game of the '09 preseason.
Jacksonville QB David Garrard faked a handoff and went deep over the middle for a 74-yard touchdown pass to WR Troy Williamson on the first play of the game, giving the Jaguars a quick seven-point lead that they extended to 14-3 in the second quarter.
The tone for the game seemed to be set by the respective first plays of each team. After Williamson's TD, the Buccaneers began with a false start by TE Kellen Winslow. The first official play from scrimmage was a one-yard loss by RB Derrick Ward. For good measure, the second play was a well-designed route that got WR Michael Clayton open against a linebacker down the right seam, only to see an unpressured Leftwich overshoot his man.
However, Leftwich kept that drive alive with a 17-yard pass to WR Maurice Stovall on third-and-16, and the Bucs, too, refused to give up. McCown, who would complete six of nine passes for 51 yards and two scores on his three drives, sparked a Buccaneers offense that finished the game with 330 yards, 32 less than the Tampa Bay defense allowed to the Jaguars.
The comeback began, however, with Stroughter's long return, just another way the Bucs' seventh-round receiver has impressed the coaching staff almost since the day he stepped foot in team headquarters.
"You can't talk enough about the young man," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "He is a seventh-round draft pick out here playing for his life. We respect him and he respects this opportunity. We have a lot of love for Sammie. You never count anybody out. It gives us an opportunity to make a big time special teams play, to go down there and get a big return. It sparked the team with the two touchdowns and gave us the lead heading into halftime."
Much of Jacksonville's output came on two passes to Williamson, the second a 61-yarder that set up Greg Jones' one-yard TD run. Buccaneers safety Sabby Piscitelli was in the vicinity of both Williamson grabs but was unable to break up either. Those two big gains may have masked a pretty good performance by Tampa Bay's defense, which allowed only 227 yards on the Jaguars' other 61 plays. Fifty-four of those yards came on a last-minute drive that ended in Todd Bouman's 20-yard TD pass to TE Jared Lorenzon; the Jaguars went for two after that score and failed, sealing the Bucs' victory.
Defensively, the key to the Bucs' victory was their play on third down, which Morris had emphasized in practice all week. Amazingly, Tampa Bay's defense didn't allow a single third-down conversion until the fourth quarter, and overall allowed just two successful tries in 14 attempts. Meanwhile, the Bucs' offense moved the chains on seven of their 16 third downs. The Buccaneers also out-rushed their opponents for the second straight week, gaining 159 yards on the ground to Jacksonville's 61. With the Bucs short two tailbacks — Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams — FB B.J. Askew pounded out 52 key yards in the fourth quarter. Starter Derrick Ward gained 40 yards on just five totes.
The Bucs played much of the game with reserve defenders but were still pleased with their response to that opening touchdown. DE Louis Holmes helped the Bucs hold off the Jaguars in the late going with two of the team's five sacks.
"I guess it was good to have some adversity right now," said LB Barrett Ruud. "You never want that during the regular season. Whenever you give up a big play on the first play of the game, it is always good to see how it affects the defense. I thought our group responded extremely well with some three and outs. But we need to shut down the big plays."
After the McCown-led rally in the second quarter, rookie Josh Freeman took over in the second half and produced the touchdown that would prove to be the winning points. Freeman led an 80-yard drive that impressively included three converted third downs, the last on his own 28-yard scramble for a touchdown. Josh Johnson played the rest of the first half, but with the Bucs trying to run out the clock threw just four passes, completing two for 25 yards. In all, the Bucs' four quarterbacks combined to complete 17 of 30 passes for 182 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 96.8 passer rating.
After the game's shocking beginning, Leftwich took the Bucs into Jacksonville territory on their first three possessions but came away with just three points on a 46-yard field goal by K Mike Nugent. The Bucs' passing attack seemed to click in terms of getting men open in the early going, but Leftwich was erratic, finishing with six completions in 12 attempts for 63 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was relieved by McCown in the second quarter.
The Jaguars' extended their lead to 14-3 midway through the second period on an 89-yard touchdown drive, with Garrard getting most of it on his seam pass to Williamson. The Bucs seemed to force Jacksonville into a third-and-goal with two goal-line stops, but Piscitelli was flagged for lining up offsides on the second one and Jones scored on the next play.
The Buccaneers got the ball to start the second half and began play with rookie QB Josh Freeman at the helm. Freeman's nine-yard pass to WR Mario Urrutia gained a first down at the Bucs' 32, but a false-start penalty made it second-and-16. However, Huggins took a delayed handoff 13 yards to the 39 and FB B.J. Askew converted the third-and-three with a four-yard run. Three plays later, Freeman found rookie TE Ryan Purvis wide open on a crossing route and found him for a gain of 25 on third-and-eight. A holding penalty balanced a 13-yard pass to Urrutia to set up third-and-eight from the 28. Freeman did more than convert the third down, he scrambled to his left and followed a block by FB B.J. Askew to run 28 yards for his first career rushing touchdown and a 24-14 Bucs lead.
That drive ate up almost half of the third quarter. When Jacksonville started again from their own 30, it as with backup QB Todd Bouman at the helm. LB Adam Hayward leaped to break up Bouman's first pass but RB Chauncey Washington followed with an 11-yard run. Former Buccaneer RB Josh Vaughan followed with an eight-yard run but the Jags forced a third-and-six at their own 45 moments later. S Tanard Jackson cut in front of WR Jarrett Dillard on third down to bat away a sure first-down pass and force a punt on the next play.
After the punt pinned the Bucs at their own 13, Freeman committed an intentional-grounding penalty at the two. That helped to force a punt that gave Jacksonville the ball at the Bucs' 42. Bouman threaded a 21-yard pass over the middle to Dillard to put the ball at the Bucs' eight. DE Kyle Moore trapped former teammate Vaughan for a loss of nine on the next snap, helping force the Jags into a 29-yard field goal by Josh Scobee.
A penalty on the subsequent kickoff forced the Bucs to start at their own eight again, but a 12-yard run by Askew helped get the ball to the 22 as the third quarter expired. A third-and-one run by Askew moments later seemed to move the sticks, but rookie T Xavier Fulton was called for holding, making it third-and-11. Johnson was hit just as he threw on the next down, forcing an incompletion that set up a punt.
The Jaguars started anew at the Bucs' 45 but faced a third-and-10 after CB E.J. Biggers dropped Vaughan for a loss of five. An offsides penalty on rookie DE Jarriett Buie erased a dropped pass by WR Tiquan Underwood on third-and-10, but DE Chris Bradwell knocked down the next pass. The Jags went for it on fourth-and-five but Underwood was unable to haul in Bouman's out pass.
Johnson found WR Marcus Maxwell for a gain of 15 to the Jacksonville 46, and Askew ripped off a 13-yard run around left end three plays later, making it first-and-10 at the Jaguars' 31 with seven minutes to play. On third-and-seven from the 28, Johnson tried to find Hankton in the end zone but the pass was broken up. Nugent tried to hit another 46-yard field goal but it banged off the right upright.
That gave the Jaguars possession at their own 36 with five minutes to play. A sack by DE Chris Bradwell helped put Jacksonville into a third-and-26 hole at their own 20, but Bouman somehow found Underwood in a hole in the zone for a gain of 30 to the midfield stripe. Holmes stripped Bouman on a sack on the next play, leading to a loss of seven even though Jacksonville recovered. This time, on third-and-17, the Bucs brought a big blitz and Bouman's quick pass over the middle to Lorenzon was incomplete. The Jags came on to punt with exactly three minutes to play and Stroughter executed a fair-catch at the Bucs' nine.
The Bucs tried to keep the ball on the ground to drain the clock but had to punt at the 2:30 mark, although Jacksonville used all three of their timeouts in the process. A fine 56-yard boot by Dirk Johnson helped push the Jags back to their own 46, and they soon faced a fourth-and-10. However, Bouman found WR Andy Strickland over the middle for a gain of 16 yards as the two-minute warning arrived.
A strange intentional-grounding play on which Bouman's arm was hit by Holmes led to a 10-yard penalty for the Jaguars, which was quickly offset by Bradwell's personal foul. That made it first-and-10 at the Bucs' 33 with 1:49 to play. After two incompletions, quick slant to WR Todd Peterson gained 11 yards and a first down at the 22. Three plays later, CB Kyle Arrington leaped to barely get a hand on a potential touchdown pass on third-and-eight. Unfortunately, Bouman found a wide-open Lorenzen on fourth down to make it 24-23.
The Jaguars went for two, surely a decision based on the game's August date. Bouman tried to hit Underwood on a quick fade out to the right sideline, but the pass was well-defended and incomplete. Brian Clark recovered the subsequent onside kick and the Bucs kneeled to end it.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers got a touchdown run of more than 20 yards from one of their quarterbacks for the second straight week. Josh Freeman's 28-yard score against the Jaguars followed a 43-yard TD jaunt by Josh Johnson last weekend at Tennessee…K Mike Nugent has yet to try a field goal from closer than 46 yards out. He nailed a 46-yarder against Jacksonville and then hit another 46-yarder off the upright after hitting a 51-yarder and missing a 50-yarder against Tennessee…The Buccaneers no trail the all-time preseason series with Jacksonville, 5-3. Tampa Bay is 2-3 all-time in preseason games at Jacksonville…WR Maurice Stovall replaced Brian Clark in the starting lineup opposite Michael Clayton. Stovall finished the game with five catches for 42 yards…DE Chris Bradwell made an impact in the fourth quarter, breaking up one pass at the line of scrimmage and sacking QB Todd Bouman for a loss of 11 yards with four minutes to play.
Inactives: There are no official inactives during the offseason. However, the Buccaneers revealed nine players prior to the game who would definitely not participate: K Matt Bryant, WR Dexter Jackson, WR Kelly Campbell, S Will Allen, S Donte Nicholson, RB Earnest Graham, C Jeff Faine, TE John Gilmore and WR Antonio Bryant.
The Jaguars also announced 10 players who would not suit up: WR Mike Walker, CB Derek Cox, DB Don Carey, RB Rashad Jennings, FB Montell Owens, CB Scott Starks, LB Justin Durant, WR Mike Thomas, TE Zach Miller and DT Jonathan Lewis.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, Jermaine Phillips sustained a shoulder injury in the first quarter but was expected to return. In the second half, RB Kareem Huggins sustained a knee injury and didn't return. CB Elbert Mack also did not return after injuring his right ankle. T Anthony Alabi sustained a knee injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.
For the Jaguars, S Brock Bolen suffered a blow to the head but was able to return. LB Clint Ingram also sustained a blow to the head and did not return. DL Jeremy Mincey suffered a thumb injury in the second half and did not return. LB Lamar Myles sustained an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.