Thanks to a failed two-point conversion, the Buccaneers edged out the Jaguars, 24-23, and quarterback Luke McCown might have edged out Byron Leftwich for Tampa Bay's starting job in Jacksonville.
After leading Jacksonville on a 12-play, 54-yard touchdown drive in 1:39, capped off by a 20-yard touchdown catch by tight end Tyler Lorenzen with 40 seconds left, backup quarterback Todd Bouman's two-point conversion pass to rookie receiver Tiquan Underwood was incomplete due to excellent coverage by Bucs cornerback Kyle Arrington.
"Jacksonville came out and they wanted to win that thing, and our guys had to hold up at the end and they did. They stopped them on that two-point play," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. "I was pleased with the progress, I was pleased with the win."
When wide receiver Brian Clark corralled Jacksonville's onside kick attempt, Morris earned his first win as a head coach as the Buccaneers move to 1-1 on the preseason.
Two years ago, Jacksonville chose David Garrard to be its quarterback over Leftwich, and he showed why on Saturday night in two quarters, completing 10-of-16 passes for 216 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown to Troy Williamson on the first offensive play of the game.
By comparison, Leftwich, who outperformed McCown in last week's 27-20 loss at Tennessee, got the start and completed 6-of-12 passes 63 yards and led Tampa Bay on a field goal drive. With a mediocre performance, Leftwich might have lost his grip on the starting job.
That's because it was McCown who starred for the Buccaneers Saturday night, completing 6-of-9 passes (66.6 percent) for 51 yards in the second quarter and throwing touchdown passes of 17 yards to tight end Jerramy Stevens and nine yards to rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter right before halftime to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead.
Stroughter also had a big night with a 75-yard kickoff return to set up McCown's first touchdown pass, in addition to two special teams tackles.
Morris, who was pleased that his offense did not turn over the football and that Tampa Bay improved on third down, has said that he will choose the team's starting quarterback after the Jacksonville game and won't waver from that. He indicated that Saturday night's outcome makes his decision more complicated.
"It was going to be tough regardless," Morris said. "They both went out tonight and they both had pretty good drives. Two of the drives that Byron had put us in position to get a good punt off. On the other one, he went down there and got a field goal.
"Luke came out and got a good special teams play by Stroughter and he capitalized on it and went into the [end] zone. Then he came back out and got us in the [zone] again. They both played well. We'll have to go back and evaluate and sit down as a coaching staff and sit down as an organization and we have to make our decision. We'll make it this week and we'll go into the Miami game with our starter."
For the second straight preseason game, the Buccaneers rushed for over 135 yards thanks to a long touchdown run by a quarterback. Last week against the Titans, Josh Johnson scrambled for a 43-yard touchdown to pad Tampa Bay's rushing stats. Against Jacksonville, rookie Josh Freeman scampered 28 yards on an identical looking run for a touchdown down the left sidelines in the third quarter.
"The rumbling, stumbling, giant going down the sidelines - it was nice to see," Morris said of Freeman. "It was good for him to have success. It was a bad celebration. We'll have to work on that this week."
The Bucs outrushed the Jaguars 159-61 yards with fullback B.J. Askew leading the way with 52 yards on 14 carries (3.7 avg.) after Kareem Huggins, who had 31 yards on 10 carries, left with a knee injury in the third quarter. Derrick Ward got the start in place of Earnest Graham, who is nursing an ankle injury, and had his best showing of the preseason with 40 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 27-yard dash in the first quarter.
The reason for the Bucs' 98-yard rushing advantage over Jacksonville was another stellar outing by Tampa Bay's run defense, which helped put the clamps down on third down, allowing Jacksonville to have only 2-of-14 third downs converted (14 percent). By comparison, the Buccaneers improved their third down conversion rate from 33 percent last week to 44 percent on Saturday night (7-of-16).
But while the run defense remained stout, Garrard picked apart the Bucs secondary, which was missing safety Will Allen (shoulder) and wound up losing cornerback Elbert Mack due to an ankle injury in the second half. Garrard's favorite weapon was Williamson, who hauled in three passes for 147 yards, including the game-opening touchdown.
The Bucs did play both free safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended for the first four regular season games earlier this week for an NFL substance abuse violation, and cornerback Aqib Talib, who was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges on Thursday. Tampa Bay is referring any potential discipline decisions to the NFL Commissioner's office.
While Tampa Bay's pass rush wasn't dominant, it was steady as both Garrard and Bouman were sacked twice.
One downer for the Bucs was penalties. Tampa Bay was flagged 11 times for 68 yards and had a few other penalties declined. That will be something else for the Bucs to work on against the 2-0 Miami Dolphins, who visit Raymond James Stadium on Thursday for a nationally televised preseason contest on Fox. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. ET.
Jacksonville started the game with a bang on play-action with Garrard hitting Williamson down the middle of the field for a 74-yard touchdown. Williamson had a step on Sabby Piscitelli downfield as Tampa Bay's strong safety misjudged Williamson's speed. With 14:46, the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead against the Buccaneers.
Leftwich's first series featured a couple nice throws downfield, including a 17-yard bullet to Maurice Stovall on third-and-17. Leftwich followed that up with a 19-yard throw to Michael Clayton. But his pass to Stevens on third-and-8 from the Jacksonville 45 fell incomplete as the tight end fell down on the play.
On Leftwich's next series, he led the Buccaneers to its first scoring drive. On first-and-10 from the 41, Clayton hauled in an 11-yard catch to move the chains. Stevens hauled in a 7-yard Leftwich pass, followed by a 10-yard run by Ward. But the drive stalled when Leftwich's pass on third-and-6 to Clayton fell incomplete. That brought on Mike Nugent, who drilled a 46-yard field goal. With 6:35 remaining in the first quarter, Jacksonville's lead was cut to 7-3.
On second-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 23, Ward busted off a 27-yard gain out to midfield. But the drive was stymied on third-and-6 from the Jaguars' 46 as Leftwich's pass fell incomplete.
McCown's first drive resulted as a three-and-out when his pass on third-and-5 was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
On Jacksonville's next possession, Garrard and Williamson hooked up again in the second quarter. On first-and-10 from the Jacksonville 11, Williamson hauled in a 12-yard slant to move the chains. On the next play, Williamson got the best of Piscitelli again, hauling in a 61-yard catch on a skinny post play. Piscitelli took a poor angle and Mack to make a touchdown-saving tackle at the Tampa Bay 11. On second-and-goal from the 1-yard, line Greg Jones dashed in off right tackle to score a touchdown and cap off a six-play, 89-yard drive. With 7:48 left in the second quarter, Jacksonville led 14-3.
Stroughter took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards down to the Jacksonville 20. Two plays later, McCown rifled a pass down the middle of the field for Stevens for a 17-yard touchdown. With 6:50 left in the second quarter, Jacksonville's lead was trimmed to 14-10.
McCown engineered another scoring drive before halftime with Tampa Bay starting at Jacksonville's 45-yard line. McCown hit Stovall for a 7-yard gain on second down, and Huggins picked up a first down with an 8-yard run on third-and-3 from the 38. On third-and-6 from the 26-yard, McCown came through with a 7-yard strike to Stovall down to the 19. Another pass to Stovall, this time for nine yards, set up a second-and-1 at the 10-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, McCown drilled a slant pass to Stroughter for a touchdown. With 1:00 left before halftime, Tampa Bay took a 17-14 lead over Jacksonvile. McCown was 4-of-5 for 32 yards on the drive and greatly helped his chances of winning Tampa Bay's starting job with that 11-play, 45-yard scoring drive.
Freeman entered the game after halftime and led the Bucs downfield on the first possession of the third quarter. Freeman zipped a 9-yard pass to Mario Urrutia to pick up a first down. A few plays later on third-and-8 from the Tampa Bay 45, Freeman hit rookie tight end Ryan Purvis with a 25-yard gain down to the Jacksonville 30.
After a holding penalty on Purvis, the Bucs faced second-and-21 from the 41, but Freeman picked up 13 yards on a pass to Urrutia. On third-and-8 from the Jacksonville 28, Freeman scrambled off left end for a touchdown. Freeman was flushed from the pocket and followed the lead block by Askew, who took out two Jacksonville defenders. Clark also had a great block near the goal line to allow Freeman to cap off an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. With 8:32 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay's lead swelled to 24-14.
Bouman had a short field to work with on Jacksonville's next drive, which started at the Tampa Bay 45. After a 21-yard strike to rookie receiver Jarrett Dillard down to the Tampa Bay 8, rookie Kyle Moore tackled former Bucs running back Josh Vaughan for a 9-yard loss. On third-and-19 from the 17, Bouman's pass to Greg Estandia was incomplete, which brought on Josh Scobee for a 29-yard field goal on fourth down. With 2:00 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay's lead was sliced to 24-17.
In the fourth quarter, Josh Johnson led the Bucs on a drive that covered 42 yards, but Nugent missed a 46-yard field goal as his kick hit the right upright. That allowed Bouman to have a chance to tie the game on Jacksonville's final drive. Bouman converted a fourth-and-10 and picked up another first down when defensive tackle Chris Bradwell was flagged 15 yards for a blow to the head. That set up the Jaguars for a first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 33 with just over one minute left.
On third-and-10, tight end Todd Peterson hauled in an 11-yard pass down to the Tampa Bay 22 to give Jacksonville a new set of downs. Four plays later on fourth-and-8 from the 20, Lorenzen hauled in Bouman's touchdown pass to give the Jaguars a chance to tie or win the game with 40 seconds left.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
Rookie Sammie Stroughter continues to impress in the preseason and had two dynamic plays that helped put 14 points on the scoreboard for Tampa Bay in the second quarter and build a 17-14 halftime lead. After Jacksonville's lead grew to 14-3 in the second quarter, Stroughter took the ensuing kickoff and raced up-field, getting two great blocks from rookie defensive linemen Rashaad Duncan and Kyle Moore.
Then Stroughter bounced it outside and down the left sidelines after breaking a tackle attempt by safety Gerald Alexander. Stroughter raced past kicker Josh Scobee and received a great block by receiver Brian Clark on wide receiver Tiquan Underwood to pick up another 20 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Jacksonville 20. The kick return totaled 75 yards and set up Luke McCown's first touchdown pass.
Stroughter's only catch of the night was a 9-yard slant from McCown in the end zone in between defensive back Brian Williams and linebacker Clint Ingram, which allowed the Bucs to take over the lead at halftime.
IT WAS OVER WHEN...
With 40 seconds left, Jacksonville quarterback Todd Bouman threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Lorenzen, but Bouman's two-point conversion pass to wide receiver Tiquan Underwood was well defended by cornerback Kyle Arrington, who had saved a touchdown earlier in the drive. After Brian Clark recovered the onsides kick, Tampa Bay ran out the clock and prevailed, 24-23.
STATS THAT COUNT
Defensive tackle Ryan Sims recorded his first sack of the preseason when he dropped David Garrard in the first quarter. ... Rookie Kyle Moore got his first sack from the defensive tackle position in the second quarter, dropping Garrard for a 3-yard loss. Moore also had two tackles for loss. ... Quarterback Josh Freeman's first NFL touchdown came on a running play as he dashed 28 yards off left end to score in the third quarter. ... Due to injuries to Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips, Tanard Jackson started and played most of the game at free safety. ... Third-string defensive linemen Chris Bradwell and Louis Holmes recorded their first sacks of the preseason. Holmes forced a fumble on his sack, but the ball was recovered by Jacksonville. Holmes should have had another sack and a forced fumble, but the officials ruled that Todd Bouman was guilty of intentional grounding. ... Quarterback Josh Freeman was 3-of-5 for 47 yards. ... Quarterback Josh Johnson was 2-of-4 for 21 yards. ... Wide receiver Maurice Stovall led the Bucs with five catches for 42 yards. ... Michael Clayton saw his first action in preseason, catching two passes for 30 yards. ... Mike Nugent was 1-of-2 field goals on the night, hitting and missing from 46 yards. ... Safety DeAngelo Willingham led the Bucs with four tackles. ... Punter Dirk Johnson averaged 46.1 yards on seven punts.
SATURDAY'S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Saturday's game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Brian Clark
TE Kellen Winslow
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Sean Mahan
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
WR Michael Clayton
RB Derrick Ward
FB B.J. Askew
QB Byron Leftwich
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
RE Gaines Adams
WLB Jermaine Phillips
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players sitting out the Bucs' preseason opener:
RB Cadillac Williams (coach's decision)
RB Earnest Graham (ankle)
WR Antonio Bryant (knee surgery)
WR Dexter Jackson (ankle)
WR Kelly Campbell (quad)
TE John Gilmore (undisclosed)
FS Will Allen (shoulder)
SS Donte Nicholson (undisclosed)
C Jeff Faine (groin)
K Matt Bryant (hamstring)
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Linebacker Jermaine Phillips suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter, and did not return. He was scheduled to play some safety in the second quarter. Cornerback Elbert Mack limped off the field with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter while covering a punt. Linebacker Angelo Crowell left the game with an injury in the third quarter that Raheem Morris said was "season-ending" after the game. Running back Kareem Huggins suffered a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return, but is expected to be fine. Huggins was replaced at running back by B.J. Askew. Right tackle Anthony Alabi suffered an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter and was replaced by rookie Demar Dotson.
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Jaguars game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium was 42,177 The kickoff temperature was 79 degrees under cloudy skies.
The Buccaneers (1-1) return to Tampa Bay to face the Miami Dolphins (2-0) at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, August 27. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. ET