Apparently planning for an opponent’s schemes translates to better football come game day.
Tampa Bay came out and posted a 17-13 comeback win against visiting Miami in front of 44,732 who made their way out to Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night.
The Buccaneers' game-winning drive came with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter and culminated with tight end Nathan Overbay’s 7-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
The victory in Tampa Bay’s regular season dress-rehearsal game comes nine days after being dismantled at home by New England, 31-14.
Conditions for the game were reported as 90 degrees with a 14-mile-per-hour westerly wind.
Tampa Bay’s listed starters on offense were: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Ted Larsen, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Freeman.
The defensive starters were: LE Michael Bennett, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Frank Okam, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Mason Foster, SLB Quincy Black, LCB E.J. Biggers, RCB Ronde Barber, FS Cody Grimm and SS Sean Jones.
Three Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were CB Aqib Talib (groin), S Ahmed Black (ankle) and DT Roy Miller (knee).
After watching four quarters of Patriots domination last Thursday, Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris stated that the team did not specifically prepare for the Patriots’ offensive or defensive looks. The idea was to see how his young team would react after being thrown in the fire.
While making a serious argument that Miami is in the same zip code of New England in terms of overall ability is likely a lost cause, Tampa Bay did manage to come out Saturday night and play competitive football. That element was absent on Thursday.
Tampa Bay wanted to use this third preseason contest as a prep for the regular season and treated that way throughout the week.
“It was a completely different week,” Morris said. “It was a game plan week. We got those guys ready to go. We fit up their runs, fit up what they were going to do and got some situational stuff for all those guys. That was great. It was a completely different week. I told you that guys last week and you all panicked.”
Although the execution on the field – especially offensively – was far from perfect, the results on the scoreboard and stat sheet looked much better for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs outgained Miami 366-247 and limited the Dolphins to 22 yards rushing. Tampa Bay’s defensive line sacked quarterbacks Chad Henne and Matt Moore a combined five times and the Bucs offensive front did not allow a single sack. Linebacker Dekoda Watson was lined up at defensive end when he recorded his quarterback takedown in the first quarter that forced a Henne fumble.
The four other Bucs to record sacks were: DE Michael Bennett, DE Tim Crowder, DE George Johnson and DE Da’Quan Bowers.
Bennett put together a night, making three of the Bucs’ eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and LB Geno Hayes led in total tackles with five.
The coaching staff was also able to get their first preseason looks at WR Arrelious Benn, TE Kellen Winslow, DT Brian Price and CB Myron Lewis.
Benn was targeted by quarterback Josh Freeman on the second play of the game. Freeman connected with Winslow for a 12-yard gain on the next snap. Benn's first contribution with the ball in his hands came onan 11-yard end around to start the team's third drive.
"Knee felt great," Benn said succinctly when asked about how he felt. "We can in and did some things. It was a game where we came into it with a game plan. We made some mistakes, but we had some explosive plays, also. We played well. [We're] ready for the season opener."
A couple things the Bucs failed to do well, though, are ones that have become familiar preseason occurances. A combined 15 penalties cost Tampa Bay 135 yards and the Bucs’ running attack again failed to gain traction, totaling only 99 yards on 27 carries.
Freeman needed just one rush for 17 yards to become the team’s leading rusher. Running back LeGarrette Blount did pick up his longest rush of the preseason – a 5-yard gain in the first quarter – but again did not produce. Blount finished with 10 yards on five attempts.
It was the third straight week a quarterback led the Bucs in that stat column. Backup Josh Johnson claimed that spot in Kansas City and against New England.
Freeman looked shaky at best while completing less than 50-percent of his passes [12-of-23 for 149 yards] and was badly off target at times. Backup Josh Johnson did not perform much sharper when given the opportunity in the second half, finishing 4-of-11 for 59 yards.
“Yeah, he missed a couple guys today,” Morris said of his starting signal caller. “I was pretty happy with how he ended up 12-of-24 [or] 12-of-23, whatever it is. Close to fifty percent. He is at about a 70-something-percent quarterback rating if he hit those couple receivers.
“I am pretty proud of where he is this year in pre-season because he didn’t play a snap last year, but we are right on track. He is further ahead than he was last year.”
"It's really just not getting into rhythm," Freeman said while assessing his errant passes. "A couple of throws were a little high, but you miss throws all of the time. It's just finding a way to be more accurate. It's nothing we're worried about."
The third-year pro out of Kansas State added that, in his estimation, the offense is "right where we need to be."
"Obviously, a lot of it right now is just getting everybody out; getting back into the swing of things as far as being out there."
Freeman and the Bucs were playing from behind early after their own initial drive stalled out after gaining 32 yards in nine plays. After Bennett greeted the Dolphins to Ray Jay by sacking Henne on the first play, Miami needed only two quick passing strikes to light the scoreboard. On the scoring play, cornerback E.J. Biggers fell down while trying to stay with receiver Brandon Marshall on the right sideline.
Biggers was starting in place of the injured Aqib Talib. Minutes prior to Saturday night’s opening kick, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik addressed the media and announced that Talib will not be punished by the NFL for his most recent legal troubles.
After beating Biggers on the reception, Marshall then juked free safety Cody Grimm while cutting back toward the middle of the field and eventually ended up stiff arming Quincy Black to the turf in stride before entering the end zone.
Tampa Bay narrowed the deficit to 7-3 on a Conner Barth 28-yard field goal with 12:35 left in the second quarter. Setting up the opportunity was Blount’s 52-yard catch-and-run. The play was the Bucs’ longest of the game and represented one of 12 receptions by running backs Saturday night. All told, those catches added up to 116 of Tampa Bay’s 267 passing yards.
Miami increased its lead back to seven on its next drive, marching 77 yards in 13 plays. The drive was aided by two Bucs pass interference flags thrown on third-down passes intended for Marshall. Biggers committed the first, costing 21 yards, and Lewis was whistled for an 11-yarder eight plays later.
The Bucs interior defense up front did help atone for the secondary’s errors, though, before Miami kicker Dan Carpenter’s 21-yard field goal. Lewis’s flag gave the Dolphins first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 2, but the Bucs shut the drive down. Strong penetration from Frank Okam and Da'Quan Bowers highlighted the stand.
Tampa Bay tied the game on Earnest Graham’s 2-yard run up the middle out of the shotgun formation with 30 seconds remaining in the first half. The drive allowed Morris and the offensive staff to see the first team execute its 2-minute offense, starting from their own 46 with 2:09 on the clock. Freeman led off with an incompletion but completed three of his four throws and added a 17-yard scramble down to the Miami 2.
Following a scoreless third, Carpenter hit another field goal – this time of the 47-yard variety – with 11:44 left in the fourth to give Miami the lead for a third time.
After trading punts, Tampa Bay’s Rudy Carpenter drove the Bucs 71 yards in 10 plays. Running back Mossis Madu ran twice for five yards and caught two passes for 21 yards during the winning sequence. Overbay was open over the middle on the final play of the drive and the Tampa Bay defense stopped Miami twice before the final whistle.
"It's great," Carpenter said of engineering the game-winning drive, "especially for us guys who don't get a chance to play as much. We are only given limited opportunities so when you get in there you want to make the most out of it."
The Buccaneers wrap up the preseason with its fourth game next Thursday on the road, traveling to face the Washington Redskins. Games will start to count in the standings come Sept. 11 when Tampa Bay hosts the Detroit Lions to open the regular season.