Starters for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans played to a 7-7 first-quarter tie Friday night at Raymond James Stadium, but the Titans controlled the remainder of the action and left with a 30-7 victory in the second preseason game for both teams.
Starting QB Josh Freeman completed four of his 10 passes for 21 yards and put the Buccaneers up, 7-0, in the first quarter on a two-yard pass to WR Mike Williams. That score came two plays after second-year safety Ahmad Black secured the Bucs' only takeaway of the game, an interception off Titans starting QB Jake Locker that he returned to the two-yard line.
"Our defense did a good job of getting a turnover and putting us in a prime position," said Freeman. "And, really, Mike made a [great] a play. It was really a one-on-one matchup. You have to trust your receiver and Mike is a guy that I trust a lot. He makes a lot of plays like that and it was awesome to see him make that catch."
Freeman also completed his first pass to prized free agent acquisition Vincent Jackson, an eight-yarder on the game's opening drive. The Buccaneers' offense looked relatively sharp in the first quarter, and Freeman enjoyed outstanding protection from the first-team O-Line, but that first-team crew just missed converting two early third downs and thus never built a sustained drive before giving way to the reserves.
"It felt good, going out there and playing against someone new instead of our own defense," said Williams. "We got a little rhythm early on, but we felt we should have had more than seven points. We have to get that together."
After Freeman exited the game a few plays into the second quarter, the Buccaneers' offense never again found a rhythm and gained just 36 net yards from that point forward behind Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff.
Orlovsky, who completed all eight of his passes in last week's win at Miami, was just one of five for six yards, but he also suffered from poor protection, absorbing four sacks. Ratliff completed both of his passes for 11 yards but mostly handed the ball off.
Though his time in the game was relatively short, rookie RB Doug Martin was impressive again. Displaying sharp cut-back moves and the ability to break tackles, Martin gained 23 yards on seven carries, losing another 16 yards on a holding call behind the play. Martin could become even more important to the Bucs' offense in the coming weeks if incumbent starter LeGarrette Blount misses any time due to an apparent leg injury, though Head Coach Greg Schiano said after the game that the injury didn't appear to be too serious. Blount left the game under his own power a few minutes before halftime after briefly staying down at the end of a four-yard run. He went to the locker room shortly thereafter but later rejoined his team in the bench area, still in full uniform.
Even though the returns weren't quite as good as the week before, the Bucs once again demonstrated that they are committed to the ground game, running on 29 of their 50 offensive plays. Last week against Miami the Bucs ran the ball on 32 of 58 snaps.
The Titans gave the start to second-year QB Jake Locker, their first-round pick in 2011, and Locker played almost the entire first half. He completed just four of 11 passes for 21 yards and one interception, but did gain 24 yards on two runs. It was on the ground that the Titans racked up most of their 341 yards of offense, gaining 216 yards on 37 carries. RB Chris Johnson, trying to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season, scored on two 14-yard runs and had 46 yards on 10 total carries. Later, Tampa Bay's defensive reserves struggled with missed tackles, a problem Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out after the preseason opener in Miami.
"It was pretty good, the guys all coming together," said DE Michael Bennett of the first quarter of work on defense. "We're still learning the defense, but I felt we looked pretty good as a defense. There are a lot of situations we had to deal with, but overall I thought we played well."
Tampa Bay's pass defense did limit Tennessee to 125 yards through the air, much of it in the fourth quarter. A week after breaking up seven passes in Miami, Buc defenders got their hands on eight more against Locker, Matt Hasselbeck and Rusty Smith.
On special teams, the Buccaneers struggled on punt and kickoff coverage, giving up a total of 158 return yards. However, rookie RB Michael Smith was once again a bright spot in Tampa Bay's return game, gaining 131 yards on five kickoff returns and consistently hitting the first available seam at top speed.
The Titans took a 20-7 lead into halftime, built largely on a quick 10 points scored off two turnovers in the second quarter. Shortly after entering the game to replace Freeman, Orlovsky lost a fumble on a sack by DT Sen'Derrick marks, which led to a 24-yard Rob Bironas field goal despite a fine defensive stand inside the 10. Two plays later, Orlovsky's attempted pass to rookie TE Drake Dunsmore was tipped by LB Akeem Ayers, with CB Chris Hawkins hauling in the deflection. That led to Johnson's second 14-yard touchdown run of the first half. Bironas later tacked on a 48-yard field goal to give the visitors a 13-point lead.
Both teams played their starting offenses (or, at least, the majority of their starters) into the second quarter, though the Titans stuck longer with Locker, who made his first start after Matt Hasselbeck got the opening call the week before.
Click here for a detailed account of the first half of action on Friday night.
In the second half, the Titans' second-team offense immediately drove into Bucs territory, following a 42-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud. RB Jamie Harper ripped off successive runs of six, 12 and 11 yards, the last one originally a 32-yarder before a holding call downfield. However, Tampa Bay's defensive reserves held after that, with LBs Najee Goode and Adam Hayward combining to stop Harper on a fourth-and-one run at the 17.
The Titans took their next drive into the Bucs' red zone, as well, with Reynaud getting down to the Bucs' 10 on a 15-yard sweep around left end. A big hit by rookie DB Keith Tandy knocked the ball out of TE Taylor Thompson's grasp in the end zone and Tandy also had tight coverage on TE Cameron Graham on a third-and-goal incompletion. Bironas' 23-yad field goal pushed Tennessee's lead to 23-7 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bucs failed to pick up a first down on either of their third-quarter drives, and the second one ended quickly as Orlovsky was sacked twice in a three-play span. Ratliff played the fourth quarter but the offense never got any farther than the Tennessee43. Behind Rusty Smith, the Titans tacked on a touchdown march in the fourth quarter, the big play a 33-yard catch by WR D.J. Woods down the right sideline. Smith completed the drive with a 15-yard TD pass to Graham over the middle on third-and-eight.