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Two for Two

Miami’s decision to go for two at the end of Friday night’s game – and Ryan Nece’s defense on the play – moved the Bucs to 2-0 in the preseason, and put a satisfying end on a mostly impressive evening


RB Michael Pittman scored the Bucs' first touchdown behind a big block from FB Mike Alstott

In the continuum of popular NFL items, preseason overtime ranks somewhere beneath hamstring pulls, Friday night curfews and Veterans Stadium. It is, just barely, more desirable than 100-yard gassers.

That explains the Miami Dolphins' decision to go for two at the end of Friday night's preseason game. Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Ryan Nece dived to deflect a Sage Rosenfels pass in the end zone to preserve Tampa Bay's 20-19 victory.

The win, which appeared to be well in hand halfway through the fourth quarter before Miami's comeback, pushed the Bucs' preseason record to 2-0. The defending Super Bowl Champions have not lost since a December 23 meeting against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miami is 0-1.

The Bucs' second preseason game of 2003 was played 7,200 miles away from the first, and the early results were as different as sushi and fried grouper.

In the end, though, it tasted just as good.

A week after not punting once in a 30-14 American Bowl win over the New York Jets, the Bucs' offense stalled on its first drive Friday night against Miami. However, Tampa Bay's offense exhibited none of its red zone struggles of a week ago, building a 13-0 lead on a pair of touchdowns, one each by the first and second-team units.

Tampa Bay's defense, which kept its starters in for one quarter, forced a turnover on Miami's first drive, something it couldn't do until the fourth quarter last weekend. The Bucs capitalized with a touchdown. And while the Jets' first-team offense easily reached the end zone on their opening drive in Tokyo, the Miami Dolphins' could manage just 11 yards in the first quarter on Friday night.

Finally, well the Bucs easily held onto victory against the Jets with strong play up and down the roster, the substitute defenders were plagued by penalties and coverage mistakes in the fourth quarter, when Rosenfels led two touchdown drives in the game's final 10 minutes.

Beneath those surface differences, the Bucs' victory was built on many of the same strengths as a week ago. The running game, a major trouble spot for most of 2002, was once again very strong even as the team cycled through a long list of tailback candidates. Four different Bucs had at least 20 yards – led by Thomas Jones' 28 and Aaron Stecker's 27 – as the visitors ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. Last week, the Bucs opened their '03 preseason with 152 rushing yards against the Jets.

Quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Shaun King and Chris Simms were sharp once again and the play-calling was impressively varied. Among the plays used to great effect by the Bucs' attack were a shovel pass, a wheel route up the sideline by a running back, an end-around, a fourth-and-one fullback dive and a collection of perfectly-thrown timing routes. Head Coach Jon Gruden even slipped a flea-flicker into the game plan, though the result was an incompletion.

Safe to say, the Buccaneers were not appreciably dispirited by those 7,200-mile flights to and from Tokyo, nor by a short week, a pair of intervening two-a-days in sweltering heat or a nagging virus that ran through the team.

The Bucs took the lead in the first quarter on a 45-yard touchdown drive following Dwight Smith's recovery of a Randy McMichael fumble. CB Brian Kelly forced the fumble with a hard tackle, just three plays after a hard break-up of a deep pass intended for Chris Chambers. The first Buc play from the 45 was that wheel route to RB Michael Pittman, who slid at the 17 to make a 28-yard catch. FB Mike Alstott converted a fourth-and-one at the Miami eight with a two-yard dive over the middle, and Pittman ran it in from six yards out on the next play.

Alstott's final stats were unremarkable – two carries for six yards and one eight-yard catch – but he was impressive in his brief work. His reception earned the Bucs a first down and his block of Pro Bowl LB Zach Thomas opened a hole for Pittman on the touchdown run.

"We are fortunate to have a great combination in Alstott and Pittman," said Johnson. "They both bring different things to the table for us. They can be explosive at times in the passing game and also able to pound the rock when we have to, especially in short yardage situations."

The Dolphins, playing in their preseason opener, had slightly different substitution patterns than the Buccaneers, leaving their first-team offense on the field halfway through the second quarter while Tampa Bay's first defensive unit was pulled at the end of the first. The Bucs also had their second-team offense by the six-minute mark of the first quarter, well before the Dolphins switched defenses.

The closest approximation of ones on ones was the first quarter, and Tampa Bay dominated that period. The Bucs gained 126 yards on offense to the Dolphins' 11, limiting Miami to one first down.

"Right now, the offense is a well-oiled machine," said Kelly, who was himself impressive despite a nagging turf toe injury. "They look very sharp at this point in the season. It's nice to see, defensively, where we give them opportunities and they cash in on them."

QB Shaun King took over in the second quarter and immediately marched the Bucs 74 yards on 14 plays for another touchdown. King completed five of seven passes for 45 yards on the drive and also showed impressive speed, twice scrambling through the middle of the Dolphins' defense for first downs. On third-and-goal from the five, King fired a hard pass to WR Joe Jurevicius in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was muffed, but the Bucs still had a 13-0 lead.

King completed eight of 12 passes for 72 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. For the second straight week, his passer rating was over 100.

Tampa Bay's starting offensive line stayed in for King's first drive and received praise from a variety of Buccaneers.

"It was just a simple post route," said Jurevicius of his touchdown. "On that particular play, it worked. Shaun (King) made a great throw and kept it low and away from the safeties, and I was able to get down and make a play on it. But that whole drive was set up by our line. They helped us move the ball. We ran, we passed and we moved that ball."

Miami's offense did rebound a bit in the second quarter against the Bucs' second-teamers, posting two consecutive field goal drives, one of 57 yards and one of 53. Third-string QB Sage Rosenfels directed the second drive, hitting rookie WR J.R. Tolver for 28 and 11 yards on successive plays.

Simms, the rookie who was coolly efficient in his NFL debut last weekend, once again showed poise, confidence and impressive decision-making skills. He completed four of 10 passes for 26 yards and an interception, the pick coming on a deep third-down pass that was as effective as a punt. Most importantly, Simms led the Bucs on a 56-yard scoring drive that improved the lead to 20-6 near the end of the third quarter.

On the drive, Simms repeatedly escaped pressure and made strong throws on the run. He converted two third downs, one on an improvised sideline lob to rookie TE Will Heller and the other on a bullet to WR Reggie Barlow at the four-yard line. Thomas Jones ran it in from one yard out, giving Jones two touchdowns in two games as a Buccaneer.

Miami's fourth-quarter comeback was built in part on missed opportunities by the Buccaneers. The first touchdown drive was set up by a Reggie Barlow fumble on a reception that had converted a third-and-two situation. Tampa Bay helped the Dolphins convert a fourth-and-one at the five on that drive when DE Corey Smith jumped offside. Rosenfels hit WR Ronald Bellamy in the back of the end zone on the next play.

The Bucs then appeared to seal the game with a fumble recovery inside Miami's 10, but an overturned touchdown catch by rookie WR Fabian Davis and a botched field goal kept the lead at seven points. The Dolphins capitalized with an 80-yard drive, converting another fourth down in the process, and scored on a two-yard pass to FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo on third down with 28 seconds left. Nece then denied the two-point conversion and the Dolphins failed on their onside kick attempt.

The Bucs committed nine penalties in the game and missed on two short kicks thanks to high snaps. Rosenfels was able to complete 19 of 33 passes for 153 yards, most of it in the fourth quarter.

On the positive side, the Bucs got impressive play from rookie DE Dewayne White, the team's second-round pick. White tied for the team lead with five tackles, recorded one of the team's sacks, forced a fumble and had several other quarterback pressures. CB Tim Wansley had three tackles and a pass defensed and turned in two impressive returns on Miami punts. Davis had an impressive 34-yard kickoff return and nearly dragged his toes sufficiently to make that acrobatic touchdown catch.

Tampa Bay's August schedule will now relent a little bit after their difficult but successful first week. The players will have Saturday off, Sunday's practices have been cancelled and there is not another game on the schedule until the following Monday, August 18. The Bucs break camp in Orlando on Friday.

Notes: German kicker Ralf Kleinmann handled all of the Bucs' placekicking duties after veteran Martin Gramatica (hamstring) was unexpectedly held out. Kleinmann, one of the NFL Europe League's all-time leading scorers, was signed by the Buccaneers just before training camp. He is on the roster under an exemption aimed created specifically for NFL Europe 'national' players. … Friday's game was played with the Florida Marlins' dirt infield still cut into the playing surface. On one punt return, RB Aaron Stecker stood almost exactly where second base would be before the kick, then ran directly to the pitching mound to field the kick, though it's doubtful Stecker was aware of his infield positioning. … Jon Gruden pulled Brad Johnson and most of the offense's skill position starters after two drives, but the offensive line remained in for one more drive, which resulted in a touchdown. … On defense, the Bucs took out their starters at the beginning of the second quarter, though S Dwight Smith and LB Dwayne Rudd remained in for several more drives with the second team, as had been planned. … Miami P Mark Royals, a long-time Buccaneer, was unable to punt in the game after his hamstring tightened up in pregame warmups. Bucs K Martin Gramatica was also held due to a hamstring issue.

Injury Updates: The Bucs did not report an injury from the sideline until the fourth quarter, when CB Torrie Cox sustained a left knee sprain. K Martin Gramatica did not play in the game due to a hamstring injury and is expected to miss six to 10 days. RB Earnest Graham suffered a left shoulder injury. Both Cox and Graham will receive MRIs back in Tampa.

Quarter Reports: During Friday's game, provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.

First Quarter Update

After a game-opening drive that produced little, the Buccaneers dominated the rest of the first quarter. Tampa Bay took a 7-0 lead on RB Michael Pittman's touchdown run and were inside the Dolphins' 10 again when the quarter ended. The Bucs produced 126 first-quarter yards to Miami's 11.

The Buccaneers won the toss and elected to receive, with CB Tim Wansley deep for the kickoff. Wansley got back to the 18, and the Bucs opened in a one-back set, with Pittman alone in the backfield.

Pittman got three yards on a delayed handoff, cutting away from a tackle at the line of scrimmage. The Bucs then picked up the game's initial first down on a nice timing pass to FB Mike Alstott in the left flat for a gain of eight. Alstott was tackled by new Dolphin LB Junior Seau at the Bucs' 29.

Three plays later, the Bucs faced a third-and-six from the 33. QB Brad Johnson's throw to WR Keenan McCardell was off target, in part due to a hit from DE Jason Taylor from behind. After a short punt, the Dolphins took over at their own 37.

With Brian Griese under center, getting his first game action as a Buccaneer, the Dolphins tried a medium-range pass to WR Chris Chambers on first down but CB Brian Kelly came off his man to break up the pass. However, Griese found WR Sam Simmons on second down after a long time in the pocket, picking up 13 yards.

The Dolphins' first running play, a handoff to Ricky Williams towards left tackle, was well-defended and good for only two yards. On the next snap, the Bucs took the ball back. DE Simeon Rice nearly sacked Griese, but the quarterback got a pass off to TE Randy McMichael on the right sideline. Kelly came up quickly to tackle McMichael and forced a fumble in the process, with S Dwight Smith recovering.

The Bucs immediately moved into the red zone with a first-down completion to Pittman, who ran an out-and-up on the left sideline and made a nice sliding catch of an underthrown pass at the Dolphins' 17. Three plays later, on third-and-six (after offsetting penalties erased a short completion), Johnson bought time with a scramble to the right and hit McCardell for a gain of five, technically. On fourth-and-inches, the Bucs brought in a power backfield and let Alstott dive over the middle. He succeeded, getting a first down at the six.

On the next snap, Alstott moved up to fullback and had a key block in front of Pittman, standing up LB Zach Thomas to allow Pittman to cut behind him and reach the end zone on his feet. The six-yard scoring run gave Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead.

Miami's next drive started at their own 29 after Torrie Cox and Ryan Nece combined on a hard tackle of return man Charlie Rogers. The Bucs followed with their second consecutive big play on defense, as a blitzing Shelton Quarles dropped Griese for a nine-yard sack. The Buc rushers got on top of Griese quickly on the next snap, too, though the quarterback got off a quick throw to Williams that resulted in a loss of one. On third-and-20, the Dolphins took the safe route, giving it to Williams on a delayed handoff for a gain of six. Miami's first punt was erased by a Dolphin holding penalty, but the next one was marred for Buc purposes by a holding penalty on the return, forcing the Bucs back to their own 26.

QB Shaun King came in to lead the next drive, but the first two snaps were handoffs to RB Aaron Stecker, good for a total of three yards. King moved the chains himself on third-and-seven, scrambling up the middle and showing an impressive burst of speed to pick up 11 yards to the Bucs' 40.

King's first pass was a completion to Karl Williams for a gain of six. The Bucs tried a little razzle-dazzle on second down, with Stecker and King combining on a flea-flicker set up, but there was a lot of traffic in the pocket and King's hurried throw to Joe Jurevicius was too high. On third down, King went to Jurevicius in the left flat and the receiver made an impressive, spinning, one-handed catch for a gain of nine and a first down at the Dolphins' 45.

Two Stecker plays, a run off right guard and a catch on an out to the left, picked up a combined 14 yards and a first down at the 31. However, Stecker's next run lost four yards thanks to Zach Thomas' instant penetration, and King scrambled again on second down for a gain of nine. On third-and-five, the Bucs ran a perfectly-executed shovel pass to Stecker, who exploited a seam to pick up 15 yards down to the 11. Stecker fumbled at the end of the play but recovered the ball himself seven yards closer to the end zone. That was the final play of the first quarter.

Second Quarter Update

Each side scored six points in the second quarter, though the Bucs were the only team to reach the end zone. A touchdown and missed extra point balanced two Miami field goals and the Bucs took a 13-7 lead into halftime. Tampa Bay's second-team defense played the entire second quarter, about half of it against Miami's first-team offense, which helped the Dolphins close the overall yardage gap to 177-126.

The Bucs started the second quarter with a first down at Miami's eight and got into the end zone three plays later.

QB Shaun King had a bead on WR Joe Jurevicius in the end zone on first down, but his pass was knocked away at the line of scrimmage. After a Thomas Jones run off left guard picked up three yards, King went back to Jurevicius and this time found him open in the back middle of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good when K Ralf Kleinmann hesitated after watching a high snap momentarily bobbled by holder Andy Groom.

The Bucs' second-team defense (for the most part) came in to start the second quarter, though Miami kept its first-team offense on the field. RB Travis Minor picked up four yards on a first-down carry from the Dolphins' 21, then Miami got 15 yards and its second first down of the game on a sideline pass to WR Chris Chambers.

Rookie DE Dewayne White made consecutive nice plays to force a third-and-19. On first down, White trapped minor for no gain and forced a fumble which Minor recovered. On second down, White sacked Griese from behind for a loss of 10. The third-down pass to WR Sam Simmons picked up six yards before a hard tackle by CB Corey Ivy, and the Dolphins had to punt again.

The Bucs' next drive started at their own 29 after a fine, 16-yard punt return by CB Tim Wansley. On second-and-10, RB Aaron Stecker used a nice spin move in the middle of traffic to find a seam for a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, King nearly hit a streaking Reggie Barlow deep down the middle of the field, but LB Corey Jenkins made a nice, leaping breakup of the pass at the last moment.

King appeared to scramble for the first down once again on third down, but a holding penalty erased the gain and led to third-and-18, which became a third-and-23 after a false start. Stecker's 10-yard gain on a third-down reception wasn't enough and the Bucs had to punt.

Miami started out at its own 34, where Tom Tupa's 26-yard punt rolled out of bounds. Minor picked his way through the Bucs' defense for a gain of 15, which was doubled by Dwight Smith's facemask penalty. Minor got seven more yards on a misdirection run to the right, and QB Brian Griese hit a sliding Derrius Thompson for 12 more.

Minor ran twice more for eight yards, but Griese's pass to WR Chris Chambers on a third-down rollout was dropped. Olindo Mare came on to kick a 27-yard field goal.

The Bucs' ensuing drive began at the 20 after a touchback, but veteran RB Terry Kirby got a quick five yards with a tough run straight up the middle. WR Charles Lee's second-down catch resulted in 12 more yards and a first down at the 37.

Three plays later, King was sacked for a loss of seven yards by DE Jay Williams and the Bucs had to punt with just under three minutes left in the half. The Dolphins got the ball back at their own 27 with two minutes remaining.

An eight-yard run by Robert Edwards set up third-and-two, and the Dolphins converted with a quick pass to WR Sam Simmons. Simmons was forced to fumble by Torrie Cox' hard hit, but the loose ball rolled out of bounds. Two plays later, QB Sage Rosenfels hit WR J.R. Tolver with a perfect lob down the left sideline and Tolver held on for a 27-yard gain despite Dwight Smith's big hit. Tolver made another big play on the next, taking a short pass and juking past two Buc defenders to get 11 more yards down to the Bucs' 28.

Three plays later, on another third-and-two, Rosenfels tried to hit Tolver on another pass down the opposite sideline, but Wansley stayed with the receiver and made a diving breakup near the goal line. Mare hit another field goal, this one from 37 yards, to cut the Bucs' lead to 13-6 with 25 seconds left in the half.

Third Quarter Update

The Bucs regained their first-quarter dominance in the third period, earning the quarter's only score to increase their lead to 20-6. Tampa Bay gained 81 yards of offense in the quarter to Miami's 16.

Miami got the ball first in the second half and started at their own 27. The Dolphins were forced into a three-and-out, however, as QB Sage Rosenfels threw two incompletions and Robert Edwards ran once for two yards. On third-and-eight, CB Torrie Cox' tight sideline coverage of Margin Hooks nearly resulted in an interception.

A rolling, 54-yard punt by Kevin Stemke pushed Tampa Bay back to its own 17 for its first drive of the half. QB Chris Simms took over under center and, on first down, pitched to RB Thomas Jones who shot around right end for a gain of eight. Jones got just one yard on his next run, but a good play-action fake by Simms set up a three-yard completion to rookie TE Will Heller on third-and-one.

Two plays later, Simms made a heady move, scrambling and pump-faking for a gain of 11 on a play in which he nearly fell down after his drop-back. His next three passes, however, were incomplete, though the third one was challenged by the Bucs and upheld.

Starting at their own 20, the Dolphins nearly turned the ball over on Rosenfels rushed pass on second down, but a defensive holding penalty gave the home team a first down at the 29. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, blitzing LB Ryan Nece crashed in on the quarterback unblocked and recorded a 10-yard sack.

The Bucs took over at their own 44 after a 43-yard Stemke punt and Tim Wansley's eight-yard return. Another pitch to Jones worked well, as the runner made it around the right end for a gain of six. On third-and-three, Simms escaped pressure and made a brilliant read just before going out of bounds, tossing a short pass to Heller for a gain of four.

With a first down at the Dolphins' 45, Simms gave it to WR Jacquez Green on an end-around and he weaved down the left side for a gain of 25. A fumbled snap helped lead to a third-and-nine, but Simms was able to find WR Reggie Barlow at the four for a 15-yard completion.

Jones got it down to the one on a run up the middle, then danced into the end zone on second down, sidestepping several near tackles to walk in around the right end. After the extra point, the Bucs' lead was increased to 20-6.

Kendall Newson's 28-yard kickoff return gave the Dolphins excellent field position at their own 40. A second-down completion to TE Donald Lee on the left sideline gained eight yards and a quick toss over the middle to WR Chris Jackson moved the chains down to the Bucs' 47.

The Bucs blitzed on the next play and LB Nate Webster got to Rosenfels for a seven-yard sack. Two plays later, on third-and-six, Torrie Cox broke up a sideline pass intended for J.R. Tolver. After Stemke's punt was fair caught by Barlow at the Bucs' 14, the third quarter came to an end.

Fourth Quarter Update

Miami dominated the fourth quarter against the Bucs' third-string defense, scoring two touchdowns to make the game an unexpected nail-biter. In the end, the Bucs denied a final-minute two-point conversion try to hold on to a 20-19 victory, their first in Miami in the preseason since 1994.

The Bucs started the final period with a first down at their own 14. Two Thomas Jones runs made it third-and-two, but the Bucs turned it over on the next play. QB Chris Simms completed a pass to WR Reggie Barlow on the left side, but LB Bam Hardmon forced Barlow to fumble and the Dolphins recovered at their own 40.

Leonard Henry's seven-yard run and Sedrick Irvin's three-yard catch moved the sticks. A third-and-two pass to TE Donald Lee gained eight yards down to the Bucs' 14, and another third-down toss to Henry put Miami into a fourth-and-one at the Bucs' five. The Dolphins got the first down without running a play, as DE Corey Smith jumped offside. On the next play, from the two, Rosenfels rolled right and hit WR Ronald Bellamy in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

Fabian Davis' 34-yard kickoff return got the Bucs out to their 31 for the next drive, but rookie Earnest Graham's first carry of the game gained nothing. A pitch right to Graham worked better, picking up six yards. RB Travis Stephens ran hard around left end on third-and-four, breaking several tackles to get just enough for a first down.

Another nice Stephens run was erased by an illegal formation penalty. Two plays later, on third-and-12, Simms tried to throw deep to Davis but S Terrance Leftwich made a diving interception at the Dolphins' 15. The result of the play was similar to what the Bucs would have gotten from a punt.

The Buccaneers' third-string defense was determined not to allow a game-tying drive. On first down, DE Dewayne White got to Rosenfels quickly and nearly sacked the quarterback, forcing an incompletion. On second down, Rosenfels' hurried throw was caught by Henry, but the back was quickly swarmed over and LB Ryan Nece forced a fumble. Ronyell Whitaker recovered the ball and pitched it to S John Howell, who got the ball down to the nine. When the Bucs couldn't advance it past the six, Ralf Kleinmann came on to try a 25-yard field goal. However, a high snap and a low kick led to a miss.

Miami took over at its own 20 and got a quick 20 yards on Henry's run around right end. A tripping penalty and an 11-yard Henry run brought it down to the 39. Tolver ran a quick slant and caught an eight-yard pass but Rosenfels' next throw was incomplete. On third-and-two, S Jermaine Phillips filled the hole quickly and upended Henry for no gain. After a timeout, the Dolphins went for it on fourth down and got it on a fourth-down rollout pass by Rosenfels to Bellamy, with Phillips nearly breaking it up.

Rosenfels' first-down pass from the 26 was batted in the air at the line by DT Buck Gurley, and Rosenfels was dropped on a scramble by Gurley on the next play. The Bucs took the holding penalty instead, making it second-and-20 with 1:12 to play.

Rosenfels threaded a pass through traffic to WR Jimmy Fryzel on the next play, picking up 16 yards and leading to Miami's second timeout.

Rosenfels third-down pass was rushed by DT DeVone Claybrooks and incomplete, but the passer found Charlie Rogers for 10 yards down to the 10. Rosenfels spiked the ball to stop the clock with 36 seconds left. Another pass over the middle to Rogers got the ball down to the two, with Nece barely keeping the Dolphin out of the end zone. Miami used its final timeout with 28 seconds left.

After the break, Rosenfels rolled right and hit FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo for a two-yard touchdown completion. The Dolphins chose to go for two and the victory, and Nece saved the Bucs' victory with a diving deflection of a pass intended for Rogers. The Dolphins tried an onside kick, but FB Jameel Cook recovered for the Bucs.

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