View photos of the Buccaneers' preseason Week 2 game against the Tennessee Titans.
Jameis Winston played just one quarter of football on Saturday night in Nashville, but he was still very busy man. Busy and productive.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Tennessee Titans in Week Two of the preseason, 30-14, and most of the damage was done during the second quarter, with Winston at the helm of the offense. The Buccaneers improved to 2-0 in the preseason for the first time since 2008, having opened their August slate with a 26-24 win at Miami in Week One.
Ryan Fitzpatrick started the game under center for the Buccaneers, the same role he will occupy for the first three games of the season while Winston serves an NFL suspension. Fitzpatrick wasn't as sharp as he was against Miami nine days earlier, completing five of 13 passes for 46 yards, but he did lead the Bucs on a 14-play, 68-yard field goal drive on one of his three possessions.
It was when Winston took over to start the second quarter that the Buccaneers' talented corps of pass-catchers began to show their big-play potential. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, Justin Watson and Bernard Reedy all had receptions of 19 or more yards and Chris Godwin had a 20-yard touchdown catch nullified by a penalty. (Godwin would later grab another TD pass that counted.) Tampa Bay's offense averaged 12.6 yards per pass attempt and 17.3 yards per reception during Winston's time at the helm.
The fourth-year quarterback recognizes that the team has assembled an elite group of skill-position players around him.
"That comes from up top," said Winston. "Our player personnel guys and Jason Licht got us good players and we're out there executing to the best of our abilities."
Winston finished the night with a sparkling line: 13 of 19 passing for 226 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 143.8. He repeatedly extended plays with high-wire scrambles, sometimes eluding multiple near-sacks in the same sequence. Jackson led the passing attack with 73 yards on two grabs, and his big play down the middle on a perfect play-action sequence was what the Buccaneers had hoped but failed to get out of their big free agency acquisition in 2017. Jackson has had an outstanding training camp in his second year with the team and it was encouraging to see that translate into a game night.
"Hard work pays off, but we have many more to come," said Winston of his connection with Jackson.
The Buccaneers played much of their starting defense for the entire first half, and most of its first-string offensive line, as well. However, Winston took over at quarterback in the second period and had an extremely productive quarter of play, marked by a succession of big plays as he led the Bucs from 7-3 down to a 20-7 halftime lead. He got started right away with a 38-yard completion to Evans on his first pass of the game. That drive nearly ended in a 20-yard TD pass to Godwin on another heady scramble by Winston, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty.
That first drive ended in three points on the second of Catanzaro's three field goals, but Winston's next two drives covered a total of 148 yards and ended in touchdown passes to Godwin and rookie WR Justin Watson. The first of those drives began with another deep ball, this one a perfect play-action bomb to DeSean Jackson for 54 yards that kick-started a 91-yard march.
"That was a heck of a drive," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "Ninety-one yarders are tough to come by. It was great to see him throw the deep one to DeSean down the middle and … the long one to Mike."
Winston's touchdown pass to Godwin was a risky throw – though perhaps mitigated by the likelihood of a nullifying penalty on the Titans – fired off as he was being shoved back following a lengthy scramble. Godwin jumped to make the catch with four Titans defenders around him. Winston's strike to Watson was extremely impressive, over the head of a Tennessee linebacker Jayon Brown where only the Bucs rookie could get to it with a big leap.
"Yeah, it's definitely very helpful that we have the quarterbacks that we have that are able to extend the play, move out of the pocket and when they're doing it, they are looking to throw the ball down the field," said Godwin. "So, we know as receivers, we are going to have a shot at making a play down the field."
At halftime, the Buccaneers had a total-yardage edge of 302 yards to 139 for the Titans, though it is fair to note that Tennessee played backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert for the second quarter and overall went to more reserves earlier than the visiting team. The Buccaneers were outstanding on third downs in the first half for the second week in a row, with the offense converting six of 10 attempts and the defense holding Tennessee to one success in five tries.
Tampa Bay's defense also produced the only turnover of the first half, with rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart forcing a fumble by WR Devin Ross that was recovered by football magnet Lavonte David. Stewart made his presence felt, playing with the first-team defense at nickel to start the half before moving out to the outside to replace Brent Grimes. That forced fumble was Stewart's second of the game and he was also credited with two solo tackles before leaving the game with a foot injury.
After a fairly average debut in Miami in which he missed an extra point and a 53-yard field goal but also made the game-winner at the end of regulation, new Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro had a very strong second game in pewter and red. Catanzaro made all three of his field goal tries from 30, 44 and 48 yards and also nailed a trio of extra points. In addition, he blasted six of his seven kickoffs into the end zone, collecting five touchbacks.
Rookie RB Shaun Wilson made his Buccaneer debut after missing the opener with a minor injury and handled most of the team's kick return duties. Wilson had a 26-yard runback on a kickoff and one two-yard punt return along with four fair catches. The former Duke standout also played on offense in the fourth quarter, carrying five times for 17 yards and catching one two-yard pass. First-year RB Dare Ogunbowale made an impact for the second straight week, too, catching a 38-yard pass to set up a touchdown and playing on a variety of special teams units in the first half.
Tennessee briefly made it a close game by taking their first possession of the second quarter 75 yards for a touchdown, but QB Ryan Griffin countered with a pair of scoring drives, one ending in Catanzaro's longest field goal of the night and the other on a 21-yard touchdown pass to rookie WR Sergio Bailey. Griffin was six for 11 for 88 yards and one touchdown on the night before giving way to rookie Austin Allen with five minutes left. Allen saw his first NFL game action and completed both of his passes for 18 yards.
In the end, the Buccaneers finished with a total-yardage edge of 429 to 340, and their quarterbacks combined for 378 passing yards and a passer rating of 109.8.
The Bucs got the ball first to start the game but, unlike last week, did nothing with their first possession. Fitzpatrick threw in Evans' direction twice but neither connected. The Titans also punted on their first possession after gaining one first down on two runs and one catch by Derrick Henry. The Buccaneers blitzed on the ensuing third-and-nine and Mariota's toss downfield was incomplete.
The drive got going on a well-schemed handoff to Barber out of the shotgun, as Barber followed a block by Caleb Benenoch to spring into the open for 18 yards. Fitzpatrick's deep pass over the middle to Jackson was broken up but hard strikes over the middle to Evans and Adam Humphries got the ball to Tennessee's 34. TE Cam Brate converted a third-and-nine with a great leaping catch over LB Jayon Brown at the 13, but the drive stalled there and the Bucs settled for Catanzaro's 30-yard field goal.
The Titans trumped that score with a quick touchdown drive, ending in a perfectly-executed screen pass to WR Taywan Taylor. Taylor shot through a seam and outran the rest of the Bucs' defense for a 47-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the first quarter. The drive got into Tampa Bay territory on a nifty screen pass to RB Dion Lewis, with Lewis making several sharp cuts to get 16 yards to the 48.
The Bucs got one first down on their next possession thanks to a heady Fitzpatrick scramble, but a subsequent third-and-four failed when S Kendrick Lewis broke up a quick square-in intended for TE O.J. Howard. Bryan Anger's punt went 56 yards into the end zone for a touchback.
The Titans brought in Blaine Gabbert to replace Mariota on the next possession. A holding call and a two-yard tackle-for-loss by Kwon Alexander led to a third-and-21 and a quick punt. The Buccaneers then brought Winston in to play quarterback with most of the first-team lineup.
Winston's first pass was a beauty, with an incredible assist from Evans, who made a spinning catch on the left sideline with his arms fully extended. S Kenny Vaccaro, recently signed by the Titans, was flagged for lowering his helmet to initiate contact against Evans at the end of the play, resulting in a 15-yard penalty to the Titans' 22. Winston subsequently hit Jackson over the middle for 19 yards, but two holding penalties and a false start – one of which erased a touchdown pass to Godwin – forced the Bucs to settle for a 39-yard field goal attempt. Catanzaro nailed it but an illegal formation penalty erased that kick and the Bucs' new kicker had to do it again from 44. He made it to trim the Titans' lead to one point with 10 minutes left in the half.
A pair of penalties on Alexander and Will Gholston helped the Titans get to midfield but the drive stalled on a third-down incompletion by Gabbert. Rookie RB Shaun Wilson fair caught the ensuing punt at the Bucs' nine. Winston started the next drive with a play-action deep ball to Jackson, who got behind the defense and hauled in a beautiful arcing spiral for a 54-yard gain to the Tennessee 37. Three plays later, Winston scrambled to extend the play on third-and-six and eventually found Howard wide open over the middle for 20 yards to the 13. On third-and-five from the eight-yard line, Winston escaped several near-sacks, reversed direction multiple times and somehow got off a strike to Godwin in the middle of four defenders in the end zone. Godwin went up to haul it in for a 13-7 Bucs lead.
The Bucs had to kick off twice after going offside on the first one, and even though Catanzaro still hit the second one into the end zone, the Titans were able to spring Cameron Batson for a long return to the Bucs' 43. Catanzaro actually made the tackle to prevent a longer gain. Tennessee got to midfield again but coughed it up on the game's first turnover. Another well-designed screen sprung WR Devin Ross into the clear but Stewart caught him from behind and swiped the ball loose. David recovered the bouncer at the Bucs' 28.
Winston quickly hit Brate for 11 yards and Howard for 26, sandwiched around an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Titans. The Bucs faced a third-and-10 at the Tennessee 35 and Winston moved the sticks with a precise 19-yard pass to Bernard Reedy. Reedy fumbled on the play but Freddie Martino alertly fell on the ball to retain possession for the Bucs with 30 seconds left. On the next snap, Jayon Brown blitzed untouched around right tackle and Winston couldn't get away, absorbing a sack back at the 29. Two plays later, Winston put the Bucs in the end zone again with a precise pass to Watson in the end zone along the right sideline. Watson put it high over the defender and Evans leaped to make the catch on a play that looked very much like a Mike Evans end zone grab.
The Bucs went fully to reserves on defense to start the second half and Gabbert quickly led the Titans down the field on a 75-yard touchdown drive. The big play was a 29-yard catch and run by Taywan Taylor, who also finished the march with a three-yard touchdown grab. The Buccaneers also brought in a full set of reserves on offense, with Griffin in at quarterback. Tampa Bay's first possession of the half was a three-and-out.
The Bucs and Titans exchanged two punts each before Griffin got the Bucs into Titans territory for the first time in the half as the third quarter was coming to an end. It was actually a taunting penalty on LB Daren Bates that pushed the ball across midfield, and the drive stalled at the 30, but that was close enough for Catanzaro to hit from 48 yards out and extend the Bucs' lead to 23-14.
A 45-yard pass interference flag on rookie CB Marko Myers got Tennessee into scoring territory almost immediately after Catanzaro's kick. However, a personal foul on a chop-block cost the Titans 15 yards and the drive ended when Tennessee went for it on fourth-and-12 and CB Javien Elliott tackled TE Anthony Firkser four yards shy of the sticks.
Taking over at their own 24 after the turnover on downs, the Bucs got one first down on two runs by Wilson and then moved into scoring range on Griffin's 38-yard sideline toss to first-year RB Dare Ogunbowale. On the next play, Griffin threw a perfect go into the end zone to Bailey for a 21-yard touchdown. That extended the Bucs' lead to 30-14 with nine minutes to play.