Bolstered by a big-time defensive performance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got into the win column Saturday with a 27-14 victory at Buffalo.
The Bucs scored the game’s first 24 points, thanks in large part to a defense that forced three first-half turnovers and gave the Josh McCown-led offense a number of short fields to work with.
FS Dashon Goldson registered the team’s first interception of the preseason six plays into the game, LB Mason Foster recovered a fumble forced by LB Lavonte David two drives later and DT Clinton McDonald capped the thievery by taking a second-quarter fumble in for a 17-yard touchdown. That final turnover was caused when another first-year Buccaneer lineman, DE Michael Johnson, teamed with DE Adrian Clayborn to sack and strip Bills QB EJ Manuel.
The Bucs nearly added another late turnover with 34 seconds remaining in the game, but CB Quinton Pointer’s interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty charged against DE T.J. Fatinikun.
Even after Goldson’s quick pick, Saturday began much like most of Tampa Bay’s first two preseason games – with solid play on defense but a disappointing offensive effort. The Bucs took over near midfield and responded with a three-and-out that culminated in a McCown sack. Buffalo DE Corbin Bryant beat Bucs LT Anthony Collins for the sack; however McCown had at least one open receiver downfield in RB Doug Martin.
McCown failed to inspire much confidence with his next opportunity, throwing his second interception of the preseason, but the offense finally hit a confident stride midway through the first quarter.
Tampa Bay made sure to take advantage of Foster’s fumble recovery and subsequent field possession at Buffalo’s 39. Martin led a five-play drive with 13 yards rushing and 21 receiving that ended in his 1-yard run up the middle. The score represented Tampa Bay’s first points in the opening quarter and the second time the Bucs have owned a lead of any kind.
Martin provided the spark that charged up Tampa Bay’s offense. The third-year back carried the ball 12 times for 38 yards and hauled in two passes for another 27 yards.
Both the offensive line and McCown followed suit, as the Bucs scored on three of its final four first-half possessions. Those other two scoring drives concluded with a 43-yard Connor Barth field goal and rookie WR Mike Evans streaking down the right sideline to pull down a 24-yard touchdown reception.
McCown finished his best evening as a Buccaneer by going 13-for-16 with 112 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also picked up 21 yards on two runs, and his starting offensive line of LT Anthony Collins, LG Oniel Cousins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh and RT Demar Dotson surrendered the one sack for 13 yards.
Other than the offensive line, Bucs first-team units were limited to the first half. The starting O-Line played into the first drive of the third quarter. The first 30 minutes saw Tampa Bay outgain Buffalo 151-82. The Bucs totaled 12 first downs in that time frame and converted 4 of 7 third downs.
Tampa Bay kept Manuel and the Bills offense in check throughout the first half. The only time Buffalo crossed midfield was when it started at the Bucs 42 following Da’Norris Searcy’s first-quarter interception of McCown. Leading the Bucs in overall tackles Saturday were Foster, CB Johnthan Banks and CB Anthony Gaitor, with six each.
Foster turned in a monster first half, adding the fumble recovery, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed. Bucs defenders were disrupting Buffalo drives all night, totaling five sacks, seven tackles for loss and four passes defensed to go along with the three turnovers.
DE Larry English, a new addition to the Tampa Bay defense this preseason, recorded two sacks and three total tackles.
The Bills left its starting offense in for the first three quarters and got on the board during their initial drive of the second half, when Manuel hit former Bucs receiver Mike Williams for a 14-yard score. Williams led all pass catchers on the evening with three catches for 46 yards.
Buffalo RB Fred Jackson cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 24-14 on its next drive of the third quarter by capping a six-play, 60-yard drive with an 8-yard run around the right end.
Tampa Bay’s backup offense produced its lone scoring drive of the night early in the final period. Running backs Jeff Demps and Bobby Rainey combined for 26 rushing yards and QB Mike Glennon hit WR Chris Owusu for another 13 during the 13-play, 51-yard sequence capped by Patrick Murray’s 27-yard field goal.
Glennon played the entire second half under center and finished 5 of 7 for 44 yards.
The Buccaneers head back to Tampa Bay with a 1-2 record as they prepare for the final preseason tune-up at home against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at 7:30.
Saturday’s announced paid attendance at Ralph Wilson Stadium was 66,764. Skies were partly cloudy and the temperature at kickoff was 78 degrees.
Buccaneers defensive starters: LE Adrian Clayborn, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Clinton McDonald, RE Michael Johnson, SLB Danny Lansanah, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Lavonte David, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Dashon Goldson and SS Bradley McDougald.
Buccaneers offensive starters: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Anthony Collins, LG Oniel Cousins, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Demar Dotson, TE Brandon Myers, WR Mike Evans, QB Josh McCown, RB Doug Martin and WR Robert Herron.
Buccaneers who did not see action were QB Mike Kafka, QB Alex Tanney, WR Skye Dawson, S Major Wright, LB Brandon Magee, LB Jonathan Casillas and T Matt Patchan.
Tampa Bay’s inactives were CB Mike Jenkins, RB Mike James, RB Charles Sims, CB Danny Gorrer, DE Da’Quan Bowers and DE William Gholston.