We finally made it. The first Bucs game of 2018.
Although it was just a preseason contest, we still learned plenty in the Bucs’ 26-24 win over the Miami Dolphins.
For one, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is good to go. Fitzpatrick was the starter and worked with the Bucs’ first-team offense to begin the game and went 6-for-8 passing with 55 yard and two very well orchestrated drives. He completed passes to four different Buccaneers, which included Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Peyton Barber. Fitzpatrick looked comfortable and controlled in the first two drives, one of which went for six points.
The man scoring that first touchdown was running back Peyton Barber, who had 21 yards on four carries for the night, one of which was his score from four yards out to give the Bucs the early 6-0 lead. Barber got all but one of the snaps at running back on the first two drives and the team appears comfortable with him in that role.
Quarterback Jameis Winston led the Bucs second team on Thursday night following the first two drives from Fitzpatrick and the first team, and Winston did not appear to be thrown off at all by coming in with the back ups. Winston went 11-for-13 for 103 yards in the first half and seemed confident, as well. Though they did not throw touchdown passes, both Fitzpatrick and Winston led touchdown drives. On one of his drives, Winston connected with tight end Cameron Brate near the sideline at the middle of the field right in between three Dolphins players on what was the throw of the night. Brate led the Bucs in receiving with five catches for 48 yards. On Winston’s touchdown drive, rookie running back Ronald Jones was the one to punch it in to extend the Bucs lead to 13-3, at the time.
Jones’ first snap of his NFL career was with Fitzpatrick and the first team. He went out of the backfield for a pass and the ball went right off his chest. That was a bad sign, but Jones looked decent after that. It wasn’t ideal that Jones’ first play in the game revealed the fear we had of him getting more playing time, but he seemed to calm down after that, especially when getting the ball out of the backfield. He certainly has a ways to go. Jones finished the game with nine yards on eight carries.
As for the first and second-team defenses for Tampa Bay, they were very solid. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy got the first sack of the night coming up the middle, and that was a good sign after a season where the Buccaneers had a league-low 22 sacks in 2017. Defensive end Noah Spence also had what should have been a sack with a great move on the Dolphins left tackle, but he wasn’t able to finish the play — still worth noting the move to get there.
As for the defensive backs, Carlton Davis got the start on the outside on the first team with Brent Grimes out and played very well. He was locking up defenders in press coverage and had a great diving pass break up in the first half. Vernon Hargreaves started as both an outside and nickel cornerback, but left the game early with a groin injury. Cornerback Ryan Smith was getting picked on quite a bit on Thursday night. The Dolphins went after his coverage often and he gave up a couple of the bigger plays in the first half. Rookie M.J. Stewart had a good night. He played on the first, second and third teams as a nickel and outside cornerback with good coverage throughout. Very encouraging night for the young defensive backs.
Along with the Bucs’ two rushing touchdowns, kicker Chandler Catanzaro also had a field goal in the first half, which meant the Bucs went into the half up 16-10. It is worth noting that Catanzaro missed his first kick of the game, an extra point.
Quarterback Ryan Griffin started the entire second half and played well. His first drive ended prematurely thanks to a fumble by Justin Watson, but Griffin orchestrated a good drive after that which ended with a beautiful throw and catch to tight end Alan Cross.
Later in the fourth quarter, after a touchdown drive by Dolphins quarterback Bryce Petty that gave Miami their first lead of the game, Griffin led the Bucs third-team offense with under two minutes down the field with ease that was capped off with a Catanzaro field goal which gave them the 26-24 lead. Griffin ended the game 20-for-26 for 179, a touchdown and the game-winning drive. Catanzaro finished the game with a missed field goal and a missed point after attempt, but two made field goals and two made extra points.
Each team had their moments in the second half, but ultimately it was the Bucs who ended the game victorious by a score of 26-24. A lot of positives moving forward, especially from the quarterbacks.
Next up for the Buccaneers is camp back in Tampa Bay on Saturday.