The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off the 2008 preseason in Miami with a 17-6 win over the Dolphins. Although the execution wasn’t perfect in all three phases of the game for the Bucs, three out of the four quarterbacks that Tampa Bay played led scoring drives and the offense was turnover free, while the defense recorded four sacks and didn’t allow Miami inside the Bucs’ 20. Kicker Matt Bryant missed his first two field goal attempts, but connected on his third and the Bucs’ punt return game averaged 18.8 yards on four attempts.

The Bucs played penalty-free football on both sides of the ball while out-gaining the Dolphins in total yardage, 295-198. Tampa Bay held a 36:11 to 23:49 time of possession advantage over Miami and the game was never in doubt once the Bucs increased their lead to 14-6 in the third quarter due to the quality of depth on Tampa Bay’s roster.

After his first two drives went three-and-out, quarterback Luke McCown drove the Buccaneers 62 yards in 18 plays, converting four third downs on the drive before he overthrew a wide open Michael Clayton in the end zone. That led to a 36-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant with 11:03 left in the second quarter. Bryant missed the kick wide right and the score remained tied at 0-0. McCown finished the game 9-of-15 for 70 yards.

On the next possession, the Dolphins picked up yardage in chunks against a Tampa Bay defense that featured half of the starters and half of the second-stringers. Ricky Williams ripped off a 12-yard run on the first play of the drive, followed by a 14-yard catch by receiver David Kircus. Three plays later, quarterback Chad Henne found Kircus for 20 yards to convert a third-and-12 situation. But Miami’s drive stalled inside Tampa Bay’s 30-yard line and the Dolphins had to settle for Dan Carpenter’s 41-yard field goal, which gave Miami a 3-0 lead with 6:46 left in the second quarter.

The Bucs used the final 6:46 to take a 7-3 lead at halftime when Brian Griese found receiver Brian Clark with a quick throw in the end zone to cap off a 19-play, 78-yard drive. Tampa Bay converted a couple of fourth-and-short situations on the drive thanks to 3-yard run by Bennett on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 48 and an 8-yard dash by Kenneth Darby on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 36. The key play on the drive came at the 26-second mark when Griese hit wide receiver Maurice Stovall with a 14-yard gain across the middle down to the Miami 3-yard line. Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, Griese faked the spike and threw a fade to Stovall that was out of bounds. With six seconds left in the half, head coach Jon Gruden opted to go for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal and Griese found Clark for a 3-yard score to give Tampa Bay the lead with no time left in the first half. Griese finished the drive and the game 10-of-14 for 59 yards.

Chris Simms took over at quarterback at the start of the third quarter and after a three-and-out series, he led the Bucs on a 10-play drive down to the Dolphins 25-yard line, finding Chad Lucas twice for a total of 13 yards. But on third-and-5 from the Miami 25, Simms was sacked for a 9-yard loss by defensive lineman Rodrique Wright. That forced Bryant to attempt a 52-yard field goal, which was wide right.

Henne led the Dolphins on a nine-play, 51-yard scoring drive in the third quarter. Running back Jalen Parmele had 15 yards on three carries for Miami, but the big play was a 21-yard catch by receiver Anthony Armstrong down to the Tampa Bay 34-yard line on third-and-18 situation. But the Bucs’ reserve defense stiffened and forced another field goal attempt on fourth-and-7 at the 31-yard line. Carpenter’s 41-yard field goal with 2:28 in the third quarter cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 7-6.

Simms was much sharper on his third drive of the game, which covered 76 yards in 17 plays. Simms was 4-of-4 for 40 yards on the drive with an 11-yard strike to rookie Dexter Jackson and a nice 15-yard gain to Micheal Spurlock to convert a third-and-13. The key play of the drive was a 31-yard jaunt by Bennett down the right sidelines down to the Miami 2. After two Bennett runs produced just one yard, his third carry near the goal line produced a 1-yard touchdown off right tackle. That play gave Tampa Bay a 14-6 lead over Miami with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter. Simms finished the game 8-of-10 for 60 yards, but was sacked twice.

With 2:57, Tampa Bay padded its lead to 17-6 behind rookie quarterback Josh Johnson and rookie running back Clifton Smith, who kicked off the drive with a 30-yard punt return down to the Miami 43. Johnson converted a third-and-5 situation with a beautiful 15-yard pass to receiver Cortez Hankton. Smith had five carries for 15 yards on the drive, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Bryant with 3:02 left in the game.

PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
Tampa Bay running back Michael Bennett led all rushers with 74 yards on 19 carries (3.9 avg.) and one touchdown. Bennett had a 31-yard jaunt down the right sidelines in the fourth quarter to set up his 1-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Bennett was also the leading receiver in the game with four catches for 16 yards to push his yardage total to 90 on Saturday night.

IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Once Michael Bennett scored a 1-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter, the game was essentially over. The Bucs had increased their lead to 14-6 in the fourth quarter, but Miami’s backup players were overmatched by Tampa Bay’s reserves and had little chance of coming back.

STATS THAT COUNT
The Bucs had three dropped passes in Saturday night’s contest. Wide receiver Michael Clayton, running back Michael Bennett and tight end Alex Smith were the culprits. … Tampa Bay had four sacks against the Dolphins with cornerback Ronde Barber, defensive tackle Chris Bradwell and defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson and Charles Bennett doing the honors. … The Bucs had 14 different players catch passes against Miami … Tight end John Gilmore had the most receiving yards for Tampa Bay with 25 on three receptions. … Rookie punt returner Clifton Smith had a 30-yard return. … Cornerback Ronde Barber, free safety Will Allen and linebacker Cato June all led the Bucs in tackles with three. … The Bucs rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries (3.5 avg.). … Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks were a combined 28-of-40 (70 percent) for 204 yards with one touchdown and three sacks. … The Bucs converted 55 percent (11-of-20) of their third downs on offense and held the Dolphins to just 33 percent (4-of-12) on third downs.

SATURDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
With Tampa Bay resting some of its starters, the announced starting lineup for the Miami game was as follows:

BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Maurice Stovall
LT Donald Penn
LG Arron Sears
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Alex Smith
WR Michael Clayton
RB Earnest Graham
RB Warrick Dunn
QB Luke McCown

BUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Kevin Carter
NT Chris Hovan
UT Ryan Sims
RE Gaines Adams
SLB Cato June
MLB Barrett Ruud
WLB Derrick Brooks
LCB Phillip Buchanon
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Jermaine Phillips

MISSING IN ACTION
Tampa Bay rested several of its starters on Saturday night. The Buccaneers that didn’t play include: QB Jeff Garcia (calf), WR Ike Hilliard (rest), WR Joey Galloway (groin), FB B.J. Askew (ankle), TE Ben Troupe (head), DT Jovan Haye (groin) and CB Sammy Davis (hip). Askew, Garcia, Galloway, Haye and Davis didn’t make the trip to Miami.

BUCS INJURIES
Tampa Bay came out of Saturday night’s game with no injuries.

KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Dolphins game at Dolphin Stadium was 64,087, but it seemed like a crowd of about 20,000 decided to show up for the game.

UP NEXT
The Bucs started the 2008 preseason 1-0 thanks to a 17-6 victory in Miami on Saturday, and host the 0-1 New England Patriots next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The game starts at 8:00 p.m. and will be carried on NFL Network.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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