A trio of turnovers led to most of the points in the first half between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans Friday night at Raymond James Stadium. Unfortunately for the home team, it was the Titans who built a 20-7 halftime lead after capitalizing on two giveaways by the Bucs' second-team offense.
Neither offense mounted much in the way of sustained drives, as Tennessee put up 149 total yards to the Bucs' 42, much of it on a 39-yard run by reserve RB Darius Reynaud late in the half. Rookie RB Doug Martin looked sharp for the Buccaneers once again (23 yards on seven carries, plus a 16-yard run called back by a flag), but the running game as a whole was less effective than a week ago, picking up just 41 yards on 16 carries. The Buccaneers stuck with the run throughout the first half, however, even after falling behind by 13 points. RB LeGarrette Blount, who carried eight times for 11 yards, limped off the field after a four-yard carry just before the two-minute warning.
Tampa Bay's starting offense stayed on the field into the early part of the second quarter, with QB Josh Freeman completing four of 10 passes for 21 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead with a two-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams shortly after second-year safety Ahmad Black intercepted a Jake Locker pass and returned it to the Titans' two-yard line. The Bucs' offense struggled when the second wave came in with Dan Orlovsky, who was eight for eight last week in Miami, missing on all three of his passes and taking two sacks.
The Titans kept second-year QB Jake Locker and many of their starting offensive players in the game for most of the first half, but Locker completed just four of 11 passes for 21 yards and one interception. Both of Tennessee's touchdowns came on 14-yard runs by starting RB Chris Johnson, the second after an interception on a tipped ball by CB Chris Hawkins. The Titans also got three points off a fumble by Orlovsky caused by DT Sen'Derrick Marks.
The Bucs won the opening toss and, after running three times to start last week's game, started with a play-action pass on the first play from scrimmage but Freeman's throw failed to find Vincent Jackson, the intended target. After a four-yard run by Blount, Freeman went to Jackson again, enjoying a long time in the pocket as he found his #1 receiver for a gain of eight. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, Freeman tried to scramble up the middle for the necessary yardage but slid down a yard too short. Michael Koenen then blasted a 55-yard punt to push Tennessee back to its own 18.
Rookie safety Mark Barron, who was held out of the preseason opener, started at strong safety and made a tackle on Johnson on his first play from scrimmage. Johnson ran the ball on each of Tennessee's first three plays but came up a half-yard short of a first down. Barron was the second wave of defense on the stop of Johnson on third down as he appeared to have a crease in the middle before the rookie safety arrived to help out DE Michael Bennett.
The Bucs kept their starting offense on the field to start the next drive but brought in Martin to play running back. The rookie ripped off a nine-yard gain on a cutback run on first down but, after a play-action incompletion, the Titans' defense stopped him short on a third-and-one try.
Another good punt forced the Titans to start at their own nine and a stop of Johnson in the backfield by CB Eric Wright made it third-and-nine moments later. That set the Bucs' defense up for the first big play of the night. Good downfield coverage forced Locker to scramble for extra time, and he eventually threw back across the field, where it was intercepted by Black at the Tennessee 31. Black weaved through traffic in the middle of the field to get all the way to the Tennessee two.
It took Freeman and the Bucs' offense only two plays to punch it in from there. After a run for no gain by Blount, Williams ran a simple pattern a yard into the end zone on the left side and used his body to wall off the defender and catch Freeman's dart for the game's first score.
The Titans started again at their own 29 and Locker barely got off a first-down pass against a big Bucs blitz, with CB Aqib Talib knocking a pass away from Kendall Wright on a quick slant. Tampa Bay blitzed again on third-and-five, out of a dime package, and Barron broke up a pass intended for TE Jared Cook just past the sticks.
The Bucs' starting offense stayed out for a fourth possession, with four minutes still to play in the opening quarter, but a nifty 16-yard run by Martin was brought back by a holding call on C Jeremy Zuttah. The Bucs couldn't convert on third-and-18 and had to punt back to Tennessee, which enjoyed its best starting spot at the Titans' 29.
A big hit by Black on RB Javon Ringer drew a personal foul call that put Tennessee into Bucs territory, and Locker took on a 21-yard scramble two plays later to get inside the 20. From the 14, Johnson took a pitch to the right, danced between several tacklers and scored the game-tying touchdown.
Another Bucs three-and-out straddled the change of sides to start the second quarter, and a 35-yard punt return by Reynard set up the Titan's offense right at midfield with 14 minutes left in the half. The Bucs got instant pressure on Locker on first down and DT Roy Miller knocked down his hurried pass attempt, and a stop of Johnson by LB Mason Foster made it third-and-nine. CB Anthony Gaitor was on the spot on third down to knock away a pass intended for Cook.
Starting at their own 12 after the Titans punt, the Bucs brought in Orlovsky for the next series, while keeping in some of the front-line blockers as well as Martin in the backfield. Martin got the first two carries and picked up a total of nine yards, but a false start made it third-and-six. Fortunately, an offsides call brought it back to third-and-one, and Martin made a nice cut on his next carry to pick up three and move the sticks. Unfortunately, Marks shot right through the line on the next snap and sacked Orlovsky before he could set up, forcing a fumble that the Titans recovered at the Bucs' 10.
The Titans kept their first-team offense on the field and the Bucs stayed with most of their starting defense, allowing rookie LB Lavonte David to trap Johnson for a loss of five on first down. Two plays later, on third-and-goal from the 11, Locker looked for Cook again in the back of the end zone but every Titan was well-covered and the pass sailed long. Rob Bironas came on to kick a 24-yard field goal that gave Tennessee its first lead, 10-7, with 8:20 left in the half.
The Bucs turned the ball over again moments later. On the second play of their next drive, Orlovsky tried to zip a short pass to rookie TE Drake Dunsmore but it was tipped by diving LB Akeem Ayers and intercepted by CB Chris Hawkins, who returned it to the Bucs' 14. S Cody Grimm tipped away a potential touchdown pass on first down but Johnson found a seam again on the next play, on a delayed handoff and ran 14 yards for his second score.
The Bucs' offense failed to move the chains again on the ensuing drive, and Reynard followed with the biggest play of the first half, a 39-yard run over left tackle. The Bucs' defense held at that point, however, and the Titans settled for Bironas' 48-yard field goal to make it 20-7.
Two Blount carries left the Bucs in a third-and-four at their own 27 on the next drive, and just before the two-minute warning Orlovsky was sacked for a loss of six by DE Derrick Morgan. The Titans got the ball back near midfield and crossed into Bucs territory thanks in part to a seven-yard Matt Hasselbeck scramble, but a sack for 11 yards by LB Dekoda Watson left them in a third-and-18 with less than a minute left in the half. A screen pass to Ringer picked up 13 yards and Bironas came in to try another long field goal, but couldn't carry the distance from 56 yards.