The Buccaneers opened up the preseason on Thursday night, rallying to defeat the Dolphins 26-24 on a late 26-yard Chris Catanzaro field goal. Here are a few observations:
Victories in the preseason don’t usually mean much but I believe the situation is a bit different for this year’s Bucs. After missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season last year and recording their seventh losing season in the last nine, this team desperately needs to develop a culture of winning, and this was a step in the right direction. After controlling the game throughout, the Bucs gave up the lead late, but third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin led them downfield to set up the game-winning field goal.
What a nice start for the Bucs defense. They didn’t generate much of a pass rush, especially during their initial series against quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but Gerald McCoy had a sack of David Fales during the second; they recorded three stops in their first three series (two in the red zone) and allowed just three points. It’s all about results and early on in this one, the Bucs defense delivered.
What a disappointing finish for the Bucs defense. The Bucs D did a lot of good things in this one, stopping the Dolphins on each of their first 10 third downs and holding them to field goals or field-goal attempts on several trips inside the red zone. It was a shame to see the unit give up the lead late and was far too reminiscent of what often happened to this team a year ago.
As expected, Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first quarter, which amounted to two full series. Looking extremely sharp throughout, he moved the ball and the team well. He completed six of eight passes for 55 yards, scrambled twice for 11 yards and made quick, smart decisions across the board. Had a couple more of his very catchable passes (especially on a third down toss to rookie RB Ronald Jones) been caught, his outing would have been even better.
As good as Fitzpatrick was, Jameis Winston was even better. Taking over and playing the entire second quarter, Winston completed 11 of 13 passes for 102 yards, and despite taking a sack when his line broke down, finished with a 99.4 passer rating. Winston was playing with and against backups, but he looked a lot like he did late last year when he completed 123 of 183 passes for 1,584 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and had a passer rating of 99.1 across his last five games.
RB Peyton Barber has been one of the most impressive players in training camp this year and he carried that over to the game-day field on Thursday, running four times for 21 yards and a touchdown while catching a pair of passes, albeit for minus-1 yard. The Bucs have long thought that Barber has the ability to be a feature back and he did nothing to dispel that theory during his first official game as the new leader of the Bucs backfield.
Here we go again. K Chandler Catanzaro, whom the Bucs signed to a three-year, $9.75 million contract during the offseason, missed his first PAT in a Bucs uniform and later missed a 53-yard field goal attempt that would have all but sealed a Bucs victory. Sure, he bounced back and redeemed himself by kicking the game-winning field goal, but you really have to wonder if Matt Bryant put a curse on this team all those years ago when the Bucs let him leave and join the Falcons. It’s early of course, but you also have to wonder if it’s going to be another agonizing season for the Bucs kickers.
Rookie running back Ronald Jones had a pretty rough debut. He dropped a pass and while he did score a touchdown on a 2-yard run, he only gained 9 yards on eight carries. Jones has had a lackluster training camp so far and he failed to break out of his funk against the Dolphins. There’s still plenty of time for Jones to find his groove but if this trend continues, the Bucs will eventually bag their original idea of using a committee of backs and give the bulk of the ground work to Barber.
Opponents are still picking on CB Ryan Smith in the passing game and rightfully so. Smith was awful last year; one of the weakest members of what was easily the worst defenses in the league. He didn’t look any better on Thursday. He picked off the final Hail Mary pass of the game but before that he surrendered a number of catches in coverage and was flagged for a DPI on a series that resulted in a Dolphins score. If Smith keeps playing like this, he won’t just lose a backup job, he’ll lose a roster spot.
Vernon Hargreaves left the game early with a groin strain. He didn’t seem too upset about it so it may not be that bad. He better hope that’s the case because he’s fighting for his starter’s job this preseason and rookies Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart were among the Bucs best players on Thursday. Davis had five tackles and Stewart played tight coverage all throughout.