RB Thomas Jones scored his first touchdown as a Buccaneer and keyed a powerful Tampa Bay rushing attack
In the preseason, particularly in early August, you take from a game what you wish. The score is not unimportant – witness Jon Gruden's grim-faced conversation with the officials after a first-quarter touchdown was overruled…you could say he was in mid-season form – but there were a multitude of victories in the details.
If you're the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who routed the New York Jets on Saturday, 30-14, here are the good things besides a 1-0 record that you take back to Tampa: a strong running attack, a trio of fine quarterback performances, a swarming run defense and a few obvious standouts – Charles Lee, Fabian Davis, Tim Wansley, Chris Simms - among the young roster hopefuls. Oh, and maybe a few souvenirs from the Asakusa shopping district.
The Buccaneers, playing in the American Bowl, the 12th NFL preseason game in Japan and the first international effort for Tampa Bay, did not punt in the first half, as both Shaun King and Brad Johnson threw hard, accurate passes throughout the first two quarters. Johnson, directing just one drive, completed four of eight passes for 51 yards, and King finished the first half with 11 of 13 passing for 121 yards. Neither passer was sacked.
Johnson led a long field goal drive on the Bucs' first possession, his only action of the game, and King followed with two scoring drives for 10 points and a 13-7 Tampa Bay halftime lead.
"Our opening drive, after coming all the way over here to Japan, was a nice drive," said Johnson. "I thought we had a touchdown and maybe we would have got it if we had instant replay. We converted on two of our three third-down attempts and we made some plays. It was a good start for us in the first preseason game. The offensive line did a great job of making adjustments and I had great protection tonight."
Tampa Bay did not punt once. The only three drives that ended without points were stopped by a missed field goal, a fumble and a trio of zeroes on the game clock.
On the negative side of the ledger, the first two of those three drives failed to reach the end zone. Each march ended on third-down passes into the end zone to training camp standout Charles Lee, but neither were caught. On the first, Lee stumbled as he cut and nearly made a falling catch, but was ruled to have bobbled the ball as he went out of bounds. On the second, Lee couldn't quite pull in a touch pass from King.
"We had good drives and we scored every time we had the ball in the first half," said Gruden. "We had a chance to complete two easy balls for touchdowns; we've got to make those plays. But all in all it was a pretty good start. We were very pleased with what Brad Johnson and Shaun King did."
And that underscores the true meaning of the early preseason games, roster evaluation. Lee didn't come up with those two grabs, but he was all over the field, easily gaining separation from Jet defensive backs and finishing with three receptions for 36 yards. The long-limbed Lee looked like a difference maker loping through New York's secondary, and he made a critical catch in traffic at the Jets' four-yard line on third-and-four, setting up the game's first touchdown.
The Bucs took the lead with Thomas Jones' touchdown on that march, an impressive 80-yarder on which King completed seven of seven passes for 66 yards. King consistently looked off his intended target until the last second, then rifled some very hard bullets to open men, several to rookie tight end Will Heller.
Jones was another standout for the Bucs, rushing for 33 yards on five carries. In fact, Tampa Bay's running game was very effective all night, picking up 152 yards on 32 carries (4.8-yd. average). Each of the four most likely candidates for extensive tailback playing time – Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott, Jones and Aaron Stecker, made a strong first impression.
Pittman, who gained 38 yards on his first preseason carry last year, broke off a nine-yarder to open 2003. Alstott blasted up the middle for a five-yard gain on third-and-one, his only carry. Jones ripped off a 21-yarder on the Bucs' second field goal drive and Stecker pushed up the middle for a four-yard run during the second-quarter touchdown march. Rookie FB Earnest Graham led the Bucs in rushing with 44 yards on eight carries, one more than Jones got on 11 totes.
Simms, the rookie currently standing third on the Bucs' quarterback depth chart, played the entire second half and fared well, also. He completed seven of 10 passes for 70 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, though he did take the Jets' only two sacks. The first drive he engineered ended in a missed field goal, but he got the Bucs back on the board on his second possession, a 66-yarder that ended in a four-yard, third-down touchdown pass to WR Reggie Barlow. The scoring toss appeared to be the exact same play on which Keenan McCardell scored his first of two touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXVII last January, a quick hitter in which the receiver stops and catches a timing pass at the front of the end zone before the defensive back can adjust.
The Bucs' first live action since that Super Bowl victory over Oakland actually resembled their 2002 finale in several ways. After the Jets scored on their opening possession, Tampa Bay ripped off 30 unanswered points and was virtually impenetrable on defense, mirroring a 34-point run against Oakland. And while they couldn't match the three interception returns of that glorious January evening, they did score on defense. Wansley's 47-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter pushed the Bucs' lead to 27-7.
It was a brilliant play by Wansley, who blitzed, sacked QB Brooks Bollinger from behind, forcing a fumble, then leapt immediately to his feet to recover the loose ball and return it 47 yards, faking out one Jet tackler in the process. Wansley tied for the team lead with three tackles. The Bucs' other two sacks came from DT Cleveland Pinkney and LB Jack Golden, both on third-down plays.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ralf Kleinmann's low kick bounced off a Jet player and into the hands of LB Idris Price. The Bucs capitalized with a 37-yard field goal by German kicker Ralf Kleinmann. All three of Tampa Bay's field goals were from 37 yards out, two by Kleinmann and one by veteran Martin Gramatica.
Though Brad Johnson and the starting offense played the entire first quarter (on just one Tampa Bay drive), the defensive starters were yanked after three plays. Two plays later, Jets starter Chad Pennington threw a deep ball to WR Curtis Conway, who accelerated past S John Howell for a 42-yard reception. The Jets scored six plays later on RB LaMont Jordan's one-yard run on third down, following a huge lead block by G Dave Szott.
Before the Buc starters came off the field, DT Warren Sapp tackled Jordan for a loss of two yards, setting off a crowd that had responded well to Sapp in pregame introductions. Though Pennington moved the Jets all the way down the field on that march, completing all four of his passes, New York never could get its running game going. Tampa Bay held eight different Jet runners to a total of 50 yards and 2.5 yards per carry.
The Bucs dominated in several other statistical categories, finishing with a 386-180 edge in total yardage and a time-of-possession advantage of 40:39 to 19:21. Tampa Bay's 25 first downs more than doubled the Jets' 12, and the Bucs converted an incredible 11 of 13 third-down tries.
As usual, both teams used dozens of players. Thirteen different men caught at least one pass for the Buccaneers, led by Lee and Heller (three for 30). Rookie Fabian Davis, who has had a strong training camp, pitched in with two catches for 32 yards.
Even before the wholesale substitutions began, however, Tampa Bay showed impressive variety in its attack. Johnson threw to six different targets on his one drive, with the most notable pass going to starting TE Ken Dilger for a gain of 18 on third-and-three. The Bucs were also as active as ever before the snap, shifting formations on almost every play.
The game ended in a brisk three hours, at 9:00 p.m. in Tokyo and 8:00 a.m. in Tampa. The Bucs were set to bridge those two cities a few hours after the final gun, on a direct flight expected to last 14 hours. The team will arrive in Tampa some time after midnight on Sunday; players will be given that day off and will not have to practice again in training camp until Monday afternoon.
Notes: LB Shinzo Yamada, a former Japanese football star who was signed by the Buccaneers just before training camp, stole the show during pregame introductions. The Bucs introduced Yamada along with their starting 11 on defense, with the Japanese player following Sapp as the last two on the field. Though Sapp got the loudest applause of any player on either team, Yamada earned points for the style of his run onto the field. Just before running through the gauntlet of Buccaneer players, Yamada stopped and performed a quick bow, to the delight of his teammates. Sapp, learning quickly, bowed to the crowd after his tackle-for-a-loss of RB LaMont Jordan on the game's second play. … DE Corey Smith was part of the Bucs' first kickoff coverage squad, an unusual spot for a defensive linemen. Smith could enhance his roster chances with special teams versatility, much as DE John McLaughlin did for the Bucs in 1999 and 2000. … The Buccaneers' offense opened in a four-wide formation, with receivers Joe Jurevicius and Karl Williams replacing FB Mike Alstott and TE Ken Dilger. Surprisingly, the Jets did not counter with extra defensive backs but stayed in their base defense. Though they didn't start, Dilger and Alstott were responsible for the Bucs' first two third-down conversions of the game.
Injury Updates: The Bucs reported only two injuries during the game. S Dwayne Stukes was briefly out of the game with a knee injury, but was able to return. T Cornell Green sustained a right ankle sprain in the second half and did not go back into the game. The Bucs will have no further reports on injured players until their return to Tampa.
Quarter Reports: During Saturday's game, Buccaneers.com 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
The first quarter went surprisingly quickly for a preseason game, mostly due to a pair of effective offenses. With the Bucs' starters on the field for only three plays, the Jets moved straight down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession. The Bucs answered with a fine drive of their own, though it ended in a field goal after an overturned touchdown catch. The score at the end of the period was thus 7-3, Jets.
New York won the toss and elected to receive. Their Jets' first drive began at their own 27 after Ralf Kleinmann's kickoff and FB Darian Barnes' tackle of RB LaMont Jordan.
A quick slant by Curtis Conway got the Jets a quick 10 yards and the game's first down, but DT Warren Sapp met Jordan at the line of scrimmage on the next play and tackled him for a loss, drawing a big response from the crowd. The next play, which resulted in a pass interference penalty on CB Corey Ivy, was the final one played by most of the starting defense.
Two plays later, Pennington's went deep and hit Conway on the left sideline for a 42-yard gain. S John Howell seemed to have position, but Pennington's throw hung long enough for Conway to get around Howell and make the catch. Two running plays led to a third-and-three, and Pennington moved the sticks by faking a handoff, rolling right and hitting TE Anthony Becht at the Bucs' five.
Three plays later, on third-and-goal from the one, Jordan scored on a run right up the middle, with G Dave Szott providing the key block.
Tampa Bay's drive started at its own 26 and went straight to the air. However, Brad Johnson's first-down pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson was incomplete, and his second-down throw to WR Joe Jurevicius left the team three yards short of the first down. On third down, TE Ken Dilger caught a pass over the middle and broke a tackle, heading upfield for a 16-yard gain to the 49.
RB Michael Pittman's first carry of the season was a good one, as he darted up the middle and then right for a gain of nine. After an incompletion, FB Mike Alstott also made good on his first carry of the year, busting straight up the middle for a five yards and a first down.
Brad Johnson got the Bucs down to the Jets' 24 with a fine, scrambling completion to WR Charles Lee, who held on to the ball and barely kept his feet inbounds. Three plays later, on third-and-five from the 19, Johnson hit Lee again, this time as the receiver cut to the left sideline. The officials initially signaled touchdown, but then reversed their decision and ruled it incomplete. Lee was judged to be bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds.
Martin Gramatica followed with a perfect, 37-yard field goal.
The Jets got the game's third possession at their own 31 and advanced to midfield when QB Brooks Bollinger hit WR Santana Moss for an 11-yard gain on third-and-one. CB Tim Wansley's tight coverage on another deep ball helped set up third-and-six, and the first quarter came to an end.
Second Quarter Update
The Buccaneers did all the scoring in the second quarter, tacking on a field goal and a late touchdown to take a 13-7 lead into halftime. Second-string QB Shaun King was extremely sharp, and the Bucs did not have to punt in the first half.
The Jets faced a third-and-six just past midfield when the second quarter began, and their drive came to an immediate end when QB Brooks Bollinger was forced to scramble and was caught behind the line of scrimmage.
After a touchback, the Bucs opened at their own 20, with second-stringer Shaun King at the helm. King was sharp immediately, completing his first three passes for a total of 29 yards, two to TE Rickey Dudley. His next pass was also on target, a slant to WR Charles Lee, but a hard hit separated Lee from the ball.
After a 14-yard pass to WR Karl Williams made it third-and-one, RB Thomas Jones cut off right tackle, found a seam and scrambled down to the 19 for a 21-yard gain. A late-hit penalty put the ball at the nine, but a holding penalty eventually forced the Bucs into a third-and-goal from the 18. King put one in the corner to Lee on a play identical to the one that nearly resulted in a first-quarter touchdown, but the receiver couldn't haul it in. Ralf Kleinmann hit another 37-yard field goal (Martin Gramatica had the first) to make it 7-6.
The Jets next drive began at their own 35. After two Ian Smart runs made it third-and-five, Bollinger hit WR Jonathan Carter on a quick slant that picked up 15 yards to the Bucs' 45. Ron Warner's quick penetration on first down upended Smart for a two-yard loss, and swarming defense on two successive pass attempts led to a fourth-and-11 and another Jets punt.
Another touchback put the Bucs at the 20 again. RB Aaron Stecker's first carry netted four yards and rookie TE Will Heller's first catch was good for three more. On third-and-three, King snuck a pass through traffic to WR Reggie Barlow for nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 36.
The active Lee was the target again, cutting across the middle into a wide-open zone on the left and catching King's perfect pass for a gain of 19 into Jet territory. King fired another bullet to Heller on the next play, getting 15 more yards down to the 30. Two passes to the left sideline, one to FB Jameel Cook and one to TE Daniel Wilcox, put the ball at the Jets' 15. Thomas Jones got four yards off left guard and another two on a toss-sweep left. The Bucs called a timeout with 24 seconds left in the half.
After the break, King went to Lee again, finding the 6-3 receiver in a crowd at the four and hitting him with a zinger for a first-and-goal. Another timeout stopped the clock with 17 seconds left. RB Thomas Jones got the handoff on first down, slipped a tackle in the backfield and bounced off two more Jets to squeeze into the end zone on his feet. The Bucs took a 13-7 lead on Jones' first touchdown as a Buccaneer.
Third Quarter Update
The Bucs' offense continued its impressive play in the third quarter under the direction of rookie QB Chris Simms, embarking on two long drives to take up most of the period. The first drive ended in a missed field goal, but the second was near the end zone when the quarter came to an end. The Bucs still led, 13-7.
Simms started the second half under center for the Bucs and threw passes on the first two snaps, one incomplete and one over the middle to WR Reggie Barlow for a gain of six. On third-and-four, Simms threw an impressive out to the right sideline to WR Jacquez Green, a pass that covered a lot of air but was just enough for a first down. A personal foul tacked on 15 yards and put the Bucs into Jet territory.
Two plays later, on second-and-14, Simms showed his mobility with a scramble to the left sideline that picked up five yards. After an eight-yard pass over the middle to TE Will Heller, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-one and converted on RB Thomas Jones run off left guard.
The rookie passer audibled on first down at the 33, but his quick slant was tipped away at the line of scrimmage. On second down, he was sacked from behind by blitzing LB Victor Hobson. A pass to Jones came up seven yards short, and the Bucs elected to let German kicker Ralf Kleinmann try a 48-yard field goal. Kleinmann pushed it wide right, giving the ball to New York at the Bucs' 38.
Despite a five-yard penalty in their favor, the Jets soon found themselves in a third-and-three, thanks to another fine tackle by DE Ron Warner. LB Jack Golden chased QB Brooks Bollinger on a scramble to the right sideline but couldn't get Bollinger before he fell almost directly on the first-down marker. Three plays later, on third-and-11, Bollinger couldn't get away from Golden on a blitz as the linebacker bowled over Bollinger for a 12-yard sack.
After a punt, the Bucs started anew at their own 34, and on second down Simms picked up 25 yard son a well-timed pass to rookie WR Fabian Davis near the right sideline. After his second-and-eight pass was dropped, Simms took matters into his own hands, noticing a seam up the middle and scrambling up it for a gain of 11 yards and a first down at the Jets' 26. Three Thomas Jones carries got the ball down to the nine, and on second-and-six Simms rolled to his left and threw a pass to WR Reggie Barlow, who slid down to catch the ball at the two. Simms was caught for a two-yard loss to make it second-and-goal from the four as the third quarter expired.
Fourth Quarter Update
After a turnover-free three quarters, there were three takeaways in the final period, all of which ended in points. Since the Bucs did the taking on two of those three turnovers, their 10 points outweighed the Jets single touchdown and the final result was a dominant, 30-14 Tampa Bay victory.
On second-and-goal from the four to start the fourth quarter, rookie FB Earnest Graham tried the middle but was denied. On third down, rookie QB Chris Simms threw a quick pass to WR Reggie Barlow just inside the end zone near the right sideline and Barlow caught it for a touchdown and a 20-7 Bucs lead.
A fine kickoff return by RB Ian Smart put the Jets at their own 37 to start their next drive. The drive appeared to flame out quickly when QB Brooks Bollinger's last two passes were well off target, but rookie CB Ronyell Whitaker was flagged for pass interference on the third down play and the Jets got a new set of downs at their own 47.
The Bucs blitzed both corners on the next play and Bollinger tried to counter by going deep, but S Jermaine Phillips was in the area and the pass sailed well out of bounds. On the next snap, CB Tim Wansley made the play of the game. Blitzing from Bollinger's blind side, Wansley hit the quarterback just as he raised his arm, forcing a fumble. Wansley then hopped up immediately, recovered the loose ball and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
That was the game's first turnover. The second came just moments later. Ralf Kleinmann's kick was a low bouncer down the middle and it struck a Jet upman, bouncing back towards the Bucs' cover men. In the ensuing scrum, LB Idris Price came up with the ball, giving it back to the offense at the Jets' 36.
Graham's second carry was more productive, picking up 11 yards up the middle for a first down at the 25. Content to run down the clock, the Bucs gave it to Graham two more times and he picked up a total of five yards. On third-and-five, Simms appeared to have Daniel Wilcox open near the end zone, but CB Jamie Henderson arrived just in time to knock it away. Tampa Bay settled for Ralf Kleinmann's 37-yard field goal.
The Jets' next drive was very brief. After a bruising tackle by rookie LB Altroy Bodrick at the 21, the Bucs' defense forced a quick three-and-out. On third-and-seven, DT Cleveland Pinkney broke quickly through the line and sacked Bollinger for a loss of five.
Tampa Bay's next drive began at midfield with just under eight minutes to play. It got well into Jet territory on Tony Taylor's 11-yard run on second down. A seven-yard run by Graham on a pitch two plays later made it third-and-one at the 30. Graham converted that situation and got a bunch more, busting through the line and rumbling for 16 yards to the 13. However, the rookie fumbled on the next play and the Jets recovered it, returning it to their own 30 with 3:48 left in the game.
The Jets followed with their first effective offense since the first quarter, and it was an enormous crowd-pleaser. On second-and-five from the 35, Bollinger hit Japanese WR Yoshinobu Imoto for a gain of 44 yards down the left sideline. Imoto was run out of bounds by S Greg Brown at the Bucs' 20. RB Raymonn Adams followed with a nine-yard run around right end, and on second down from the 11, Bollinger rolled left and fired a strike to TE Gabe Reid for a touchdown. The Bucs' lead was cut to 30-14 with two minutes remaining.
The Bucs again took to the ground, and were able to run out the clock thanks to two fine runs by second-year man Travis Stephens.