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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Preseason Game Slips Away on Wet Night

Tampa Bay's offense moved the ball well once again but struggled in the red zone, and despite a strong showing by the Bucs' special teams the visiting Browns were able to pull out a late victory.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' Preseason Week 3 matchup with the Browns.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns did battle on a wet and sloppy field Saturday night. The end zones seemed particularly inhospitable.

Cleveland scored the night's only touchdown just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter – a five-yard pass from Kevin Hogan to Jordan Leslie – securing a 13-9 victory in the Buccaneers' first home game of 2017. At that point, both teams were well into their reserves after spending most of the first three quarters in a war of field goals.

The elements contributed to a night in which both teams had trouble scoring points despite playing their starting units into the third quarter. Despite nearly 400 combined yards at halftime, the score was knotted at 3-3 at the intermission. Jameis Winston engineered a 53-yard field goal drive on his only possession in the third quarter to put the Buccaneers up before both teams went to their benches.

Kicker Nick Folk scored all of the Buccaneers' points on a particularly encouraging night on special teams, going 3-3 on attempts from 31, 42 and 43 yards. His efforts gave the Bucs a 9-3 lead but Cleveland rallied for 10 points in the fourth quarter. After Leslie's touchdown, the Buccaneers attempted their own comeback in the game's last two minutes but Browns DL Tyrone Holmes sacked backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, forcing a fumble that was recovered by CB Najee Murray.

Despite playing without starting wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and several starting offensive linemen, the Buccaneers' offense continued its preseason theme of moving the ball well but struggling in the red zone. Winston completed 17 of 27 passes for 200 yards, though he did throw his first interception of the preseason to end the game's opening drive. Without Evans and Jackson, rookie WR Chris Godwin was the top target with four receptions for 56 yards.

"He's just consistent," said Winston of his rookie teammate. "He comes to work every day, he works hard and today was his opportunity to show everyone what he has with the ones, and he did a great job."

Jacquizz Rodgers got the start in place of Doug Martin at running back, presumably because Martin will be serving a suspension for the first three games of the season. Rodgers ran for 34 yards on 10 carries and caught a 17-yard pass as the Bucs' starting offense continued to move the ball well.

"He is a load," said Winston of Rogers. "He brings the hat to other people; he doesn't allow the hat to be brought to him. We're very honored to have him in that backfield."

Tampa Bay's starting defense, which had pitched a shutout over three quarters in the first two weeks of the preseason, continued its stingy ways. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer, making his first NFL start, completed a succession of third-down passes but otherwise had trouble against Tampa Bay's secondary, hitting on just six of 18 passes. He was intercepted by CB Vernon Hargreaves on a pass tipped by LB Lavonte David.

Tampa Bay's kick-and-return unit handled the wet conditions well. Punter Bryan Anger landed all seven of his punts inside Cleveland's 20, without a single touchback. WR Bernard Reedy had several long returns – one nullified by penalty – as well as a 25-yard catch-and-run that led to a field goal.

"I just look at it like, wherever you are out there on the field you've just got to make plays, even special teams," said Reedy, who is fighting for a spot at the back of the Bucs' receiver depth chart. "Last year, we played in this weather and I had trouble handling the ball. This year, I felt more confident."

Folk obviously had a strong night, two weeks after the Buccaneers cut his kicking competitor, Roberto Aguayo. He said the 3-3 night was part of his process of building up to the regular season, a process that led to 87% kicking last year for the New York Jets.

"Yeah, [I'm] just kind of tweaking things. Probably the last four or five years I don't want to start out camp too hot, because it's really hard as a specialist – golfers for example – hard to hold your 100-percent readiness at all times. You kind of want to peak in Week One, so I'm still building to that.

"I feel pretty good for that being a dress rehearsal. I feel ready to get going in Miami."

The first half was a collection of unfulfilling drives. The Bucs racked up 189 yards and the Browns countered with 176 but each team settled for a single field goal. Tampa Bay's issue was third down, as the Bucs' offense failed to convert any of its seven tries. Cleveland was five-of-nine on third down attempts but faced bad field position thanks to good work by Tampa Bay's punting unit.

For the third week in a row, Winston led the Bucs' offense into scoring territory on the opening possession, but this time it ended in a turnover. Completions down the middle to Humphries, Howard and Godwin got the Bucs into field goal range, and they were set to attempt a 45-yarder before an encroachment penalty turned a fourth-and-four into a first down. Three plays later, Winston tried to hit Brate over the middle but the pass sailed directly into the grasp of rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. Peppers returned the interception to the Browns' 23-yard line.

Tampa Bay's starting defense – albeit with some key pieces setting out – gave up points for the first time in this preseason. Kizer led the Browns on a 10-play, 57-yard drive, converting a pair of third downs, including a scrambling pass to a diving Corey Coleman to get the ball into Bucs' territory. CB Robert McClain, who is battling for the starting nickel corner job, broke up a pass over the middle, intended for Kenny Britt, to force the Browns into a 38-yard field goal try. Cody Parker hit it for the game's first points.

The Bucs got their next scoring chance thanks to special teams and defense. A Tampa Bay drive fizzled near midfield but Justin Evans downed Bryan Anger's perfect punt at Cleveland's one-yard line. Kizer managed to get out of trouble with a pair of third-down completions to Coleman, but the next third down ended in a turnover. David's leaping deflection of a pass down the middle was grabbed by a diving Hargreaves for an interception. However, a holding penalty and a sack by Emmanuel Ogbah forced the Bucs to punt again.

Cleveland was forced to start at its three-yard line this time, but Kizer was able to drive the Browns into scoring territory again. A 15-yard completion to WR Rannell Hall – a former undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers – put the ball at the Tampa Bay 12, but rookie LB Kendell Beckwith forced a Johnson fumble and Glanton recovered at the Bucs' five-yard line. The ball was moved out to the 20 thanks to an unnecessary roughness flag on the Browns.

The Buccaneers didn't score on that drive but the defense got the ball back with four minutes left in the half. Rodgers got six on a run and 17 on a short pass to get the ball to Tampa Bay's 42. Another seven-yard dash by Rodgers made it third-and-three at midfield but Winston was sacked by LB Christian Kirksey on the next play to force another punt.

CB Ryan Smith helped get the ball back quickly for the offense with a great break on a short out and a near-interception on a diving attempt. After the Cleveland punt, Winston hit Godwin for 16 yards to the Cleveland 23. Winston then tried twice to hit Brate in the end zone but the first one was tipped at the line and the second one was broken up on the goal line by safety Derrick Kindred. Nick Folk tied the game with a 31-yard field goal as the first half came to an end.

The Browns got the ball first to start the second, bringing in Cody Kessler to play quarterback. Kessler got the ball into scoring territory with a pair of 12-yard completions to TEs Seth DeValve and David Njoku. However, a perfectly-timed slot-corner blitz by Robert McClain led to Noah Spence's sack back at the Bucs' 37. Cleveland sent Parkey out to try a 55-yard field goal but he hooked it left to keep the game tied at 3-3.

Winston, on his last drive, moved the Buccaneers into position for a go-ahead score. The big play was a 25-yard pass to Bernard Reedy, with Reedy shaking off one tackle to scamper down to the Cleveland 22. WR Donteea Dye nearly made an acrobatic catch at the left front pylon for a touchdown, but a Bucs replay challenge was denied, so the home team settled for Folk's 42-yad field goal and a 6-3 lead.

Fitzpatrick came in at quarterback on the ensuing drive and got the Bucs to midfield with sharp passes to Dye and Alan Cross. A punt forced Cleveland back inside its own 10 and Tampa Bay's reserve defenders forced a three-and-out and a return punt. The Bucs got good field position at their own 42 for the next drive but a driving rain complicated matters, leading to yet another Anger punt that pinned the Browns deep. Another three-and-out and a good return by Reedy put the Bucs in position for Folk's 43-yard field goal and a 9-3 advantage with nine minutes to play.

The Browns countered with a 10-play, 54-yard field goal drive, though it sucked four minutes off the clock. Third-string QB Kevin Hogan gained 24 of those yards on a pair of scrambles, but McClain broke up a pair of consecutive passes to force the field goal attempt. Parkey was good from 47 yards to make it a three-point game.

A 27-yard run by first-year RB Russell Hansbrough got the Bucs over midfield on the ensuing drive, but a third-down sack by DT Xavier Cooper forced the Bucs to punt with just over three minutes to play. The Browns had to start at their own 13 but Hogan put together an eight-play, 87-yard touchdown drive to put Cleveland up by four with 1:53 to play.

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