It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. The Bucs had a come-from-behind victory to beat the visiting Miami Dolphins, 16-14, and move to 1-1 on the preseason. Tampa Bay scored 10 points in the final 3:35 to pull off the comeback win versus Miami with rookie kicker Matt Gay kicking the game-winning 48-yarder with just seconds left.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Young Bucs Step Up In Win
With the Buccaneers starters essentially playing one series and not doing much on offense or defense, Friday night’s game against the Dolphins was yet another chance for the team’s rookies and young players to shine. There was a handful that rose to the occasion, especially on offense.
Second-year tight end Tanner Hudson proved to be the most reliable receiver on the field for a second straight week, catching six passes for 93 yards and a key fourth quarter touchdown against Miami following a seven-catch, 84-yard, one-touchdown performance versus Pittsburgh last week. But don’t pencil Hudson in for a 53-man roster spot just yet.
The Bucs have three tight ends they really like in O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and Antony Auclair – all three of whom can block, which is not Hudson’s strength at all. After getting blown up and allowing penetration on a fourth-and-1 run last week, Hudson got run over on a third-and-1 run against the Dolphins, which doesn’t help his cause. Hudson needs to find the want-to to block and be a factor on special teams or he won’t make the team regardless of how many catches he makes.
Tanner did have two big catches in the final minute of the game that set up rookie kicker Matt Gay’s 48-yard field goal, which was the game-winner. Gay, a fifth-round draft pick, connected on a 32-yard field goal earlier in the game and nailed a 55-yarder last week at Pittsburgh. Gay is now 3-of-3 on field goals in the preseason and is the early favorite to beat out Cairo Santos for the field goal kicking duties.
Running back Dare Ogunbowale is in his second year in Tampa Bay and continues to impress. He was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher for the second week in a row with 34 yards on 13 carries (2.6 avg.) running behind a second-string offensive line that struggled to open up holes in the running game.
Ogunbowale exceled as a receiver on Friday night where he caught three passes for 54 yards, including a game-long 41-yard screen pass that showed his open-field running ability. Ogunbowale, who is in the lead for the third-down back role ahead of veteran Andre Ellington, also had another catch-and-run that traveled more than 30 yards called back due to a penalty. Ogunbowale is in the lead for the third-down back role ahead of Ellington.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to see rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting step up this week after a poor NFL debut in Pittsburgh. Instead, it was Tampa Bay’s other rookie cornerback, Jamel Dean, who had a standout performance. Dean missed last week’s game due to injury, but came up with a big interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter and finished with two tackles and two pass breakups.
Dean, who had a really good week of practice against the Dolphins in the joint practice sessions, redeemed himself with that end zone pick because he dropped an easy interception in the first half that hit him right in the hands. Because Dean has sub-4.3 speed, he might have had a pick-six if he had caught the ball and might have finished his first NFL game with two big interceptions had he hung on to his dropped interception.
STATEMENT 2: Barrett Leads Tampa Bay’s Sack Attack
Last week it was outside linebacker Noah Spence showing off his pass rush moves in Pittsburgh. This week against Miami, it was outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who brought the heat from the edge. Barrett recorded the Bucs’ first sack of the night coming off the right side of the defensive line on second down late in the second quarter.
On the next play, Barrett lined up on the left side and used an inside spin move to pressure Rosen who stepped up to avoid him, but Bucs interior defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor was there to take the quarterback down. Tampa Bay didn’t apply enough pressure on Rosen to please either defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or head coach Bruce Arians, but those back-to-back sacks on second and third down were nice to see.
The Bucs finished with five sacks against the Dolphins, including quarterback captures by outside linebackers Damone Harris, Devante Bond and Farrington Huguenin.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did Gabbert Lose Some Ground As QB2?
Maybe. Blaine Gabbert came into training camp entrenched as the backup quarterback behind Jameis Winston, mainly due to his experience in Bruce Arians’ offense. But is third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin gaining ground on Gabbert? Gabbert was under pressure for a good amount of the time he was in the Dolphins game, but really lacked poise in the pocket and made several unforced errors on his own.
Several of Gabbert’s passes – even his check-downs and short dump-offs – were underthrown and off target. Gabbert was sacked twice, but ran into his own lineman for one of those sacks on third down, which pushed Matt Gay’s second quarter field goal attempt on the next play back a little further to 32 yards. Gabbert’s dismal night ended with him completing 5-of-12 passes for 42 yards.
For the second week in a row, Griffin shined in the second half. Griffin completed 14-of-21 passes for 201 yards with a fourth-quarter touchdown and a QB rating of 113.4. He threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Hudson with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter and then engineered a field goal drive, hitting Hudson with a couple of big gains to set up Gay’s 48-yard game-winner. Griffin doesn’t have Gabbert’s size or physical tools, but he’s a smart, efficient signal caller that is showing some real moxie. Griffin is stating his case for the Bucs to keep three quarterbacks.
QUESTION 2: Who Is The Bucs’ Fourth Receiver?
I have no idea, and neither do the Buccaneers. The top three receivers are set with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and newcomer Breshad Perriman, but after that it’s wide open, unfortunately. Heading in to training camp the Bucs believed that Justin Evans could be the fourth receiver with perhaps Scotty Miller, the team’s sixth-round pick, holding down the fifth receiver role on the team.
But after two preseason games Watson has shown he has unreliable hands, dropping a touchdown last week at Pittsburgh and failing to come down with a pass at the Miami 2-yard line on Friday night. Both passes would have been difficult to catch, but not impossible. NFL receivers make those catches. Watson needs to make some spectacular catches to help his slipping stock at One Buccaneer Place. He’s also not blocking well, either, and he’s not a lock to make the team.
Miller, a speed merchant, has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and needs to get back soon so he can show what he can do and make the 53-man roster. Last week he watched Spencer Schnell catch seven passes for 119 yards at Pittsburgh, but he was held without a catch on Friday versus Miami, Schnell is not big or fast, and doesn’t appear to be in strong contention for the 53-man roster.
As of right now, Bobo Wilson probably has a hold on the fourth receiver spot. Wilson had three catches for 36 yards against the Steelers and added two catches for 48 yards, including a 30-yarder, versus the Dolphins. He also returns punts, which helps increase his value. Ideally, Wilson is a No. 5 receiver, but the problem is that the Bucs don’t have a serious candidate for the No. 4 receiver right now.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bond Is Making The Team
In case you didn’t notice, the Bucs moved fourth-year defender Devante Bond from inside linebacker to outside linebacker two weeks ago when rookie Anthony Nelson went down with an MCL injury that will sideline him for the entire preseason. Bond, who was selected as an outside linebacker out of Oklahoma in the sixth round in the 2016 NFL Draft, originally started off as an inside linebacker in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme.
Bond got a sack in the second quarter off the edge, his first of the preseason, and has the versatility to play all over the linebacking corps. The reason why Bond has stuck around the Bucs for the past three years is because of his special teams play, which is still strong. Because of his added value as an outside rusher, in addition to playing inside linebacker, look for Bond to make the Bucs’ 53-man roster.
PREDICTION 2: Stewart Won’t Make The Team
The Bucs signed former Broncos Pro Bowl defensive back Darian Stewart this week due to injuries at the strong safety position. Stewart signed a one-year deal worth $930,000, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll make the 53-man roster. The reason is two-fold. First, Stewart didn’t play well on Friday night against the Dolphins. He completely missed his gap on Kenneth Marrow’s 34-yard run in the second half. Stewart also got trucked pretty bad by backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a scramble in the fourth quarter.
The 31-year old Stewart looks like he’s lost a step from what we saw in his first game in Tampa Bay. The Bucs will want to keep some younger safeties and really like starters Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead, in addition to top reserves Kentrell Brice and Isaiah Johnson, who excels on special teams. John Battle is also in the mix ahead of Stewart I have to believe. The last time the Bucs got an aging safety from the Broncos it was T.J. Ward in 2016, and it didn’t turn out so well.