Fans were hungry to see better play and more continuity from the new-look Bucs, specifically the offensive line which disappointed in Week 1 of the preseason, struggling to protect the quarterback and failing to open lanes.
With the Bucs’ starters playing into the second quarter Saturday night, the offensive line, behind starting guards Patrick Omameh and Oniel Cousins, showed marked improvement, allowing Josh McCown more time to locate his receivers and move the ball down field.
The Bucs’ defense continued to build on last week’s strong outing. Gerald McCoy was nearly unstoppable. Flying off each snap, McCoy recorded three tackles, two for losses, sacked Ryan Tannehill and forced a fumble that was recovered by Michael Johnson on the 25-yard line.
“My teammates are going to give me some grief about it because I didn’t score, but I’m just glad I was able to secure the ball for our team,” said Johnson. “That’s the main goal. We want to get the ball back and score.”
Following the fumble recovery, McCown, working with a short field, promptly connected with Vincent Jackson for a touchdown in the back of the end zone, setting off the cannons and giving the Bucs their first lead of the preseason with 13:03 remaining in the second quarter.
“The defense did a great job getting us the ball in scoring position,” said Jackson. “We had a couple big plays running the ball, softening the defense up a little bit, and then we got some one-on-one matchups out there, and when we get out there, we have some guys who can go out and win those matchups.
"Josh did a great job sitting in the pocket, holding on to the ball as long as he could and letting me work in the back of the end zone, and he delivered me a great ball,” Jackson added.
McCown didn’t have the best of outings against the Jaguars a week earlier, but the veteran signal-caller looked sharp leading the offense against the Fins.
“It was better,” McCown said. “It was more of what we need to start looking like. We’re still not there yet, obviously. We’ll take a look at the tape and clean some things up for sure, but it’s a good feeling to finish with a touchdown. It was Buc football. That’s what we want it to be. Coach (Lovie) Smith and I were talking about that. Takeaways and touchdowns, that’s what we have to do. We were glad that the defense go (the ball) for us, gave us some field position and we were able to punch it in.”
While the first-team offense and defense appeared to move forward, the second-team defense was pushed around the field by the Dolphins.
In a battle of the backups, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore got the best of Mike Glennon in the points department, engineering two touchdown drives. With eight seconds left in the first half, Moore found Rishard Matthews for a touchdown which gave the Dolphins a 10-7 lead. Moore put the game away for good with a nine-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to open the second half.
Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans gave Bucs fans a hint of what to expect this season, catching his first two passes of the preseason.
Among Tampa Bay’s highlights from the first half was a leaping catch from Evans on a short pass from Glennon on third and 15. Evans bounced off safety Louis Delmas and sprinted down the left sideline in what originally was declared a touchdown on the field.
Upon closer review, it was evident that veteran Brent Grimes punched the ball from Evans’ grip around the one yard line. The ball bounced out of the end zone and was ruled a touchback, negating a 42-yard touchdown that would have given the Bucs a 14-3 lead and momentum.
The only other offensive highlight for the Bucs came late in the game. Trailing 20-7 with just 14 seconds remaining, quarterback Mike Kafka hit Lavelle Hawkins for a 13-yard touchdown pass, capping a 75-yard, 11-play drive.
The Bucs led the Dolphins 7-3 when the starters left the game…Solomon Patton, an undrafted rookie from Florida, made his presence felt on kickoff returns in the second half…A host of Bucs were forced to leave the game due to injury: Defensive end William Gholston (shoulder), running back Mike James (shoulder), Major Wright (back) and Rashaad Melvin (ankle) all left the game and didn't return. The extent of their injuries was not known at press time.
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