The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2015 preseason finale was a success on two levels. The obvious win was just that, a 22-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium, evening Tampa Bay's final preseason record at 2-2. Perhaps more importantly, the team also got one valuable and final look at the back end of the roster, with the league-wide cut-down to 53 players looming just two days away.
While the Bucs will base their final roster decisions on evidence dating back to the start of training camp, there's little doubt that a handful of players helped their chances on Thursday night in Miami. New arrival Kyle Brindza certainly did, as did rookie wide receivers Adam Humphries and Rannell Hall, while linebacker Khaseem Greene had the game's single-most impressive play. Fourth-year safety Keith Tandy saved his heroics for the end, picking off two Josh Freeman passes in the game's final two minutes to seal the victory.
Photos from the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
Humphries scored the game's first touchdown on a four-yard pass from Mike Glennon in the first quarter, giving the Bucs a lead they would not relinquish. Humphries, an undrafted free agent out of Clemson finished the night with four catches on 62 yards on a total of five passes thrown his way. He and Hall saw extensive playing time and were on the receiving end of 11 of the team's 20 targets in the first half. Hall also caught four passes and led the team with 63 receiving yards. Fellow rookie Donteea Dye also had a nice moment in the second quarter with a tackle-breaking, 31-yard gain on a short pass.
"Both [Humphries and Hall] had an excellent training camp, but they need to finish that with a good performance tonight and we're taking note," said Head Coach Lovie Smith.
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Like most of the Bucs' starters, wide receiver Vincent Jackson didn't play on Thursday night, but he enjoyed watching his younger cohorts excel in an effort to join him on the regular-season roster.
"Adam's doing great," said Jackson of Humphries. "He's had a great camp. He's just one of those guys who comes in, works hard each and every day. He's really improved, taken the coaching and picked up the system very well."
Brindza, the kicker acquired by the Buccaneers in a trade with Detroit earlier in the week, had an impressive debut, hitting from 57 yards out on his first field goal try with the team. He later added a 55-yarder that made it with plenty of room to spare. Brindza also kicked off five times, producing one touchback, with each boot going deep into the end zone. Brindza's arrival created a three-way battle for the Bucs' placekicking job between him, Patrick Murray and Connor Barth. Barth had the only other field goal try of the night, a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter that was blocked.READ: BUCS, TIM JENNINGS AGREE TO TERMS
"He's got a strong a leg," said Smith of Brindza. "It's good to see him do that."
In his first game since apparently winning the Buccaneers' punting assignment over Michael Koenen and Karl Schmitz, Jacob Schum had a strong and solid outing. Schum punted seven times, with a gross of 44.6 yards and a net of 41.9. He dropped two punts inside the 20 and came up with a perfectly-angled 49-yarder in the game's last two minutes.
Meanwhile Greene turned a potential go-ahead touchdown by the Dolphins in the third quarter into a 12-point Buccaneers lead on one marvelous play. Greene dived to intercept a pass intended for RB Jay Ajayi, got up off the turf and started sprinting down the sideline. Near midfield, Greene leaped over a would-be Dolphins tackler, continuing on his way for a 98-yard touchdown to make it 22-10.
The Bucs spent most of the game testing out their young pass-catchers, at least until building a 12-point lead in the second half. During the first three quarters, Tampa Bay threw or dropped back to pass on 25 plays while running it 20 times. QB Mike Glennon played the first half and completed 11 of 20 passes for 141 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Seth Lobato ran the offense in the second half and completed two of six throws for 22 yards. Overall, the Buccaneers threw for 159 net yards while gaining just 75 on 28 carries.
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Even in games that don't count in the standings and are contested mostly by reserves, turnover ratio is critical to the outcome. The Dolphins gained 462 yards on the night to Tampa Bay's 234 but the Buccaneers won the turnover battle, 5-2. Tampa Bay's two touchdowns came on a short drive following a fumble and Greene's long return, and a potential go-ahead score by Miami just after the two-minute warning was turned away by Keith Tandy's end zone interception off Josh Freeman. The Dolphins actually got back into scoring position one more time before the game's end but Tandy once again ended the threat, cutting in front of a short out and returning his second pick 46 yards into Miami territory.
On the other hand, from the coach's perspective, the Bucs might have won by a larger margin if Glennon hadn't also thrown an interception near the goal line in the first quarter.
"It's good to take the ball away, but when we take it away we can't have a turnover deep in our red zone," said Smith at halftime. "We should have another score. We'll try to tighten those strings up in the second half."
Thursday's game also could impact several position battles for the Buccaneers, but in a less welcome manner. Guard Garrett Gilkey and defensive end Larry English, both potentially in line for key reserve roles, left the game on carts after sustaining knee injuries. The severity of their injuries wasn't immediately known.
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The Bucs scored first following the game's first takeaway. S Keith Tandy recovered a muffed punt by rookie WR DeVante Parker, the Dolphins' first-round pick, early in the opening period. Two plays later, Glennon hit Humphries for a four-yard score on a well-executed play-action rollout.
Tampa Bay's defense opened the game with, essentially, a starting secondary and a reserve front seven. Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks played, as did Major Wright and D.J. Swearinger. However, the defensive line consisted of T.J. Fatinikun and Larry English on the ends and William Gholston and Tony McDaniel in the middle. The linebacker trio was Bruce Carter, Jason Williams and Larry Dean. Clearly still looking to sort out the depth chart at safety, the Bucs rotated liberally between Wright and Swearinger and a Chris Conte-Keith Tandy combo. Wright didn't hurt his cause with a first-quarter interception of a pass that was deflected by LB Jason Williams, while Tandy came up with an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter
Verner's presence helped the Bucs' keep Miami out of the end zone in the first quarter. He broke up a pair of passes on third down, one that finished a three-and-out on the game's first drive and one in the red zone minutes later. The Dolphins had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Andrew Franks to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 7-3.
The Bucs got those three points back plus two more before the end of the first quarter. Brindza's kick was the payoff from Wright's interception, and the defense followed with a safety credited to rookie DE Ryan Delaire after a botched snap by the Dolphins. Miami pulled back to within two points midway through the second quarter with a 60-yard drive on six plays, all on the ground. Rookie Jay Ajayi had runs of 22, 13 and 12 yards and third-year man Mike Gillislee ran it in from three yards out.
Another long field goal by Brindza and Greene's pick-six pushed Tampa Bay's lead to 12 points in the second half but the Dolphins got within five on Gillislee's second TD run in the fourth period.
Additional drive-by-drive highlights:
- Tampa Bay's half-and-half starting defense got a three-and-out to start the game, with Verner nearly intercepting a third-down pass intended for WR DeVante Parker. Rookie WR Adam Humphries lined up deep for the game's first punt and got nine yards on the return, to the Bucs' 29.
- The Bucs' first drive got off to a decent start when Glennon hit Humphries down the seam for a gain of 20 yards to the Miami 47. However, a loss of four yards by Sims two plays later led to a third-and-14 and a timing route on an out to WR Rannell Hall just missed converting it. The Bucs punted and James muffed the kick, with Tandy diving underneath him to get the loose ball.
- That gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Miami nine, and they needed just two plays to put it in the end zone. A neutral-zone infraction call on the Dolphins helped; on second-and-goal from the four, Glennon faked a handoff to Sims, peeled off to his right and hit a wide-open Humphries in the flat. The rookie receiver easily sprinted into the end zone before Miami's defense could arrive.
- Miami's second drive was more successful, as a first-down rollout pass to WR Matt Hazel picked up 11 yards and had a roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on the end, pushing the line of scrimmage all the way to midfield. Another Hazel catch created a first down at the Bucs' 18, and two read-option runs by RB Mike Gillislee made it third-and-four at the 12.
- Two plays into the Bucs' next drive, Glennon tried to go deep down the left sideline to Hall but the pass was intercepted by a leaping Will Davis at the Bucs' 49. Tampa Bay's defense kept the turnover from resulting in points, as LB Jason Williams stopped RB Jay Ajayi for a loss of one and the Dolphins drew a personal foul on a third-down completion that came up a yard short.
- The Bucs had to start at their own five after a nice punt and couldn't advance the ball, but a good bounce and a holding call on the ensuing punt flipped the field position. Two plays after starting at their own 36, the Dolphins gave it away on a Bethel-Thompson pass that was deflected by Williams and intercepted by Wright at the Bucs' 37. Wright got back to the Miami 45 on his return, and even though the offense couldn't pick up a first down, Brindza came in to blast a 57-yard field goal on his first attempt as a Buccaneer.
- Tampa Bay's defense got on the scoreboard before the end of the first quarter on a miscue by Miami's offense. Bethel-Thompson let a shotgun snap go through his hands and bounce into the Dolphins end zone. Ajayi fell on the loose ball but he was beyond the goal line and it became a safety when rookie DE Ryan Delaire swiped him as he went flying by. The play was reviewed and confirmed, giving the Bucs a 12-3 lead.
- The Dolphins had to kick the ball back to the Buccaneers after that safety, and catches of 11 and 27 yards by Humphries helped the visiting team get back into scoring territory. The second play was a perfect seam pass that Glennon lofted over one level of defense and hit the receiver in stride. The drive came up empty, however, when Glennon tried to hit Brate on an out near the goal line and the pass was intercepted by Davis. The return brought the ball all the way back to the Miami 40.
- Runs of 13 and 22 yards by Ajayi put the ball into the red zone, at the Bucs' 19, and then another big hole sprang the rookie back for 12 more. Gillislee got the next two handoffs, and the second one was a three-yard touchdown.
- Hall's nice catch of a deep slant in traffic got the Bucs 20 yards to start the next drive, but the march stalled before midfield and the Bucs had to punt. Tampa Bay's defense countered with a three-and-out powered by Dean's sack of Bethel-Thompson, but Miami punter Matt Darr blasted a 65-yard punt that rolled to a stop at the Bucs' four.
- Another big catch in traffic by Hall on a quick slant for 14 yards, and Dye got 31 on the next play when he broke a tackle to turn a little curl into a long gain out to the Miami 44. After the two-minute warning, a trio of short passes, two of them complete, set up a fourth-and-three at the Miami 37. While Lovie Smith might have gone for it in a regular-season game, this gave the team another chance to test Brindza's leg. Brindza came through again, easily nailing the 55-yard attempt to make it 15-10 with less than 30 seconds left in the half.
- The Bucs got the ball to start the second half, with Seth Lobato in at quarterback. Lobato threw down the right sideline to Hall for 26 yards on the second play of the march. The drive stalled near midfield, however and the Bus had to punt. Miami answered with a 12-play, 82-yard drive that eventually came up empty when Bethel Thompson turned the ball over near the goal line. Bethel-Thompson's attempt to hit Ajayi at the goal line but Greene denied him with his diving pick.
- The Dolphins got back into Buccaneers territory on their next drive but stalled outside of scoring range and punted down to the Bucs' four. RB Mike James got the Bucs out of the shadow of their end zone with a 25-yard run on the first play of the march. However, Lobato's pass to WR Tavarres King deflected off the receiver's hands near midfield and was nearly intercepted by Miami.
- After an exchange of punts, the Bucs got the ball in Miami territory thanks to a shanked kick by Darr. However, that field position resulted only in a 50-yard field goal try by Connor Barth, which was blocked.
- The Dolphins pulled back within one score on the next drive, a 10-play, 60-yard march that ended in Gillislee's second TD run. Gillislee also kept the drive alive near the red zone with a two-yard run on fourth-and-one.
- Miami drove into the Bucs' red zone again in the final minutes off the game but the drive ended on Miami's fourth giveaway. After getting a first down at the Bucs' 18, Freeman threw an errant pass in the end zone that was easily intercepted by Tandy.
- The Bucs ran three times into the pile, costing the Dolphins all of their timeouts but leading to a punt. Schum helped the visitors' cause by perfectly angling a 49-yard punt to go out of bounds at Miami's 29. Completions of 19 and 20 yards by Freeman put Miami just outside the Bucs' red zone but the Bucs' blitzed on second-and-10, rushing Freeman into a quick pass left that Tandy intercepted.