For the first time in a long time, we have Bucs football to watch.
After all those weeks of reading articles, hearing of signings, watching the draft, following mini-camp updates and going to training camp, it was finally time for some real football, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened up their preseason campaign up in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
Quarterback Jameis Winston started the game for the Buccaneers and in his first and only drive he gave the front office, this coaching staff and the fans a lot to be happy about and look forward to. Winston went 5-for-6 with 40 yards in a drive that was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin.
The Steelers, who were not starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, couldn’t get anything going on on their first drive. Quarterback Josh Dobbs hit a big throw down the field to wide receiver James Washington with Vernon Hargreaves in coverage, but after that they were forced to punt.
The Bucs pulled Winston after one drive, which made sense after how effective he was in the opening series. The rest of the starting offensive line was switch out, as well. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert came into the game and orchestrated a long 13-play, 75 yards drive that had a lot of looks to tight end Tanner Hudson. The Bucs ended up getting it in the red zone but went for it on fourth down and came up short, so the game remained 7-0.
On the next possession, Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves had a great interception at the sideline, but it was called back for offsetting penalties. Following that, the Steelers went on a long drive of 14 plays for 68 yards that ended in a field goal to make the score 7-3.
The Bucs offense couldn’t respond with much, as it took just three plays for them to punt it back to the Steelers. With Mason Rudolph at quarterback, the Steelers marched down the field. Rudolph and Washington ended the drive by connecting in the end zone for a touchdown and the lead (M.J. Stewart in coverage). The score was then 10-7. On the Bucs side of things, pass rusher Noah Spence looked great off the edge, causing pressure and getting into the backfield.
Two plays into the Bucs next drive, new quarterback Ryan Griffin fumbled the ball and the Steelers took over. They couldn’t move the ball much on their side, and were forced to kick a field goal to take the score to 13-7.
The Bucs responded with a 7-play, 52-yard drive that got them into field goal range. That entire drive was operated out of the 2-minute drill, and it was operated very well. At the end of it, rookie kicker Matt Gay lined up for a 55 yard field goal that he kicked straight through to give the Bucs three more points as time expired in the first half. That kick tied the longest field goal ever made at Heinz Field.
The second half opened up with back-to-back punts, one for each team. When the Steelers took over for their second drive of the second half, they went 65 yards in three plays to punch in another touchdown to make the score 20-10 Pittsburgh.
The Bucs and Steelers once again traded punts after the Pittsburgh touchdown. This time after the dueling punts it was the Buccaneers who took over and scored a touchdown. On an 8-play, 72-yard drive, Griffin led the Buccaneers passing offense thanks to big passes to Justin Watson and Antony Auclair. That got them close to the end zone where running back Dare Ogunbowale punched it in. After a missed 2-point attempt, the score was 20-16.
The Steelers responded well with an 8-play, 76-yard drive of their own that ended in six points. Bucs rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting was in coverage on the touchdown throw. That brought the score to 27-16 in favor of the home team, Pittsburgh.
Following the touchdown the Bucs punted the ball after just four plays. Following the punt, it took the Steelers seven plays to go just 19 yards, but that was enough to get into field goal range to extend their lead to 30-16.
Though it didn’t matter much in terms of the result of the game, the following drive Griffin marched down the field with a handful of throws to wide receiver Spencer Schnell that got them into striking distance. That strike was delivered to tight end Tanner Hudson who reeled in a one-handed catch for a touchdown. Ryan Griffin ended the game 25-for-42 for 317 yards. After another failed 2-point conversion, the score showed 30-22, still in favor of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, having a chance to close out the game, marched to midfield, but a fumble and recovery by the Buccaneers gave them one last chance to potentially tie it down eight points with just over two minutes left to play. After some crazy plays to Schnell and Hudson, Ogunbowale punched in his second touchdown of the game to bring the score to 30-28 with a 2-point conversion coming.
But after a third failed 2-point conversion of the night from the Buccaneers, the score showed 30-28.
And that’s how the score would end.
The Bucs fall to 0-1 in the preseason. The welcome in the Miami Dolphins to town next week for a series of joint practices before their preseason home opener at Raymond James Stadium next week.