-Rookies make a huge impact.
Of course, we have to start with the rookie kicker. It’s only the preseason but the Buccaneers put their kickers in myriad situations on Friday night. Rookie Matt Gay in particular had the opportunity to go for an extra point as well as two field goals, one of which was the 48-yard game winner. Bucs down two? No problem. Time expiring? No problem. Soggy field conditions after it rained all day in Tampa? No problem. Gay did it anyway and Head Coach Bruce Arians was pleased with what he saw out of the fifth-round draft pick after the game.
Before the game, Gay said that Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong challenged him to go after every kick the same way, whether it be a PAT or you know, a game winner. Gay did exactly that and his coaches and fellow teammates couldn’t have been happier for him. It also helped to get experience in a pressure situation during the preseason, where the pressure isn’t really there at all.
“Preseason is great, it’s good to feel a win, but it is preseason,” Gay said. “We have preseason for a reason – to get us going into the season – so to have that situation in a game that still feels like it matters [and] means everything is – you can’t even put a price on it because it’s just priceless to be able to get that situation before you go into the regular season and just feel comfortable in that situation.”
Cornerback Jamel Dean was happy for his fellow rookie not just because it was a good kick, but because selfishly, it absolved him a little bit after he was beating himself up over a dropped interception earlier in the game. Dean said he was looking at the scoreboard knowing he could have made an impact on it, as he had room to run had he caught that pick - likely all the way to the end zone. Granted, Dean made up for that missed opportunity himself, but more on that later.
It may be a bit too early to declare Gay the winner of the kicking competition though – Arians made a point to mention that Santos, who hit a 23-yard field goal in Friday’s game himself, was also doing well.
Gay wasn’t the only rookie who had a good night. As I alluded to before, Dean redeemed himself all on his own from a dropped interception. Late in the game as the Dolphins were threatening to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Dean read the release of his man, who happened to be wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, and got his head around to see the ball coming their way. He dropped underneath Blacknall and picked off the pass in the back corner of the end zone. It resulted in a touchdown drive for the Bucs, putting them up 13-6 with 3:35 left to play in the game.
-Then there were all the sacks.
After recording just seven sacks all preseason last year, the Bucs got five in tonight. It was first-year Buccaneer Shaq Barrett that got the ball rolling in the second quarter. He came through and nailed quarterback Josh Rosen, dropping him for a loss of seven. Barrett was aided by Pat O’Connor, who walled off his blocker, allowing Barrett access to Rosen in the first place. The very next play, O’Connor took one for himself and sacked Rosen for a loss of six.
Devante Bond was another one who got a sack – this time from the outside linebacker position. If you recall, Bond was listed as an inside linebacker and had been until this week in practice. He got some work at outside linebacker for the first time as a pro in the second half of Friday’s game and he was productive – not only recording the sack but batting down a ball at the line, too.
“It’s his natural spot,” Coach Arians said of Bond. “He’s a pass rusher. The fact that we trained him as an inside linebacker and then putting him back at his natural spot, he’s found his niche. That’s one of those guys now that gives us great position flexibility and he’s a great special teamer. His pass rush ability is unique.”
Bond himself said he felt great during his return to a position he played back in college at Oklahoma, though the switch came as somewhat of a surprise to him this week.
“They literally pulled me out of a meeting and said, ‘Bond, take your stuff, bring your books [we're] move you to another room,” he said. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ But I definitely took it and ran with it. This is something I played in college so I’m happy […] Honestly that’s the position I want to play.”
-Resiliency from the reserves.
The first-time offense wasn’t able to put points on the board after opening last week’s game with a near-perfect touchdown drive. As a result, the reserves were starting from square one and behind another solid performance on offense by quarterback Ryan Griffin, who went 14-of-21 for 201 yards passing and a touchdown, the Bucs came up with a two-point victory.
It was still a come-from-behind one, though. After trading two field goals apiece by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Bucs got into the end zone first, leading 13-6 with just three-and-a-half minutes to play.
Unfortunately, a couple of ill-timed penalties kept Miami’s next drive alive and they were able to not only answer with a touchdown, but convert on a two-point play to give the Dolphins a one-point edge with 34 seconds left in the game. The biggest negative to be taken from the night for the Bucs was again, costly penalties. Coach Arians went so far as to say many guys are lucky ‘we’re not cutting tomorrow’ given the challenges penalties presented with field position on top of keeping opposing drives afloat.
Undeterred, Griffin went into overdrive and completed two long passes to tight end Tanner Hudson, covering 45 yards in a hurry and getting the Bucs to Miami’s 30-yard line. From there, you know the rest – Gay booted the 48-yarder with ease and the Bucs went up 16-14 with six seconds left. A Dolphins’ kneel would seal the Buccaneer victory after that.
“Most teams, when you give up that touchdown and two-point conversion, go in the tank,” Coach Arians said following the win. “Offensive guys were ready to go. They had a plan. They were ready to go and went and won the game.
“It’s huge,” Arians continued. “To come in and give up the touchdown after we scored a touchdown, that’s demoralizing, whether it’s the threes of not. Even the ones take it [badly]. I think the most excited guys on the sideline were Mike Evans and Jameis [Winston]. When they saw two completions and Matt [Gay] make the kick, they were going crazy. It bleeds into next week’s practice. It really does.”
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