Thursday nights haven’t treated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers particularly well in recent years and it looked like another weekday disaster early in Philadelphia. Receiver Kenny Bell fumbled away the game’s opening kickoff – and maybe some future reps – and the Eagles took advantage. Philadelphia needed just 51 seconds of game time to go up 7-0 and pushed that lead to 14-0 less than five minutes into both team’s preseason opener, thanks to a Jameis Winston strip-sack fumble. But rather than snowballing into another miserable Thursday night disaster, Tampa Bay steadied itself and kept the game competitive before falling 17-9. The Bucs had themselves in position to potentially tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion, but third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin was intercepted in the end zone with less than a minute to play. Winston made up for his early gaffe by playing into the second quarter and going 7 of 9 for 97 yards with a 26-yard touchdown hookup to receiver Russell Shepard. Souring the catch-and-run score, however, was the missed extra point by second-round draft pick Roberto Aguayo that clanked off the left upright. “It’s an opportunity to make a play,” Shepard said from the locker room at halftime before finishing as with team-highs in receptions (3) and receiving yards (62). “With this amazing team that we’ve got, they ask us to do more than one thing, so you have to take pride if they ask you to do [special] teams, if they ask you play receiver. Whatever they ask you to do, take pride in it and do it to the best of your ability. And that’s all I’m doing.” There were still about seven minutes remaining in the first quarter after Tampa Bay cut Philly’s lead to 14-6 but neither team managed to crack the scoreboard again until the final period. The team’s traded fourth-quarter field goals, as Aguayo saved a little face by drilling a 38-yarder with 8:07 left on the clock. While getting the game back under control pleased first-year head coach Dirk Koetter, he expressed his dissatisfaction at halftime with the team’s sloppiness turning over the football and racking up too many penalties. The Bucs committed three of their five turnovers in the first half and six of their 10 penalties. Tampa Bay received some quality defensive efforts up front all night, notably from defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, free agent acquisition Robert Ayers Jr., rookie defensive end Noah Spence and defensive end Jacquies Smith. McDonald and Smith recorded two of the Bucs’ four sacks. “If he can’t get comfortable, then it makes it easier on the guys on the back end,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “That’s really what we want to do. It’s not always about sacks, but you do want to get a guy uncomfortable and make him to where he gets frustrated, which makes it easier on the whole defense. McCoy also spoke about what Ayers showed he can bring to this Buccaneers front four. “Well, we brought in a veteran that can rush and that has played a lot of football in this league,” McCoy said. “He can help out the young guys and, not only that, he brings a nastiness to the D-line that we’ve been missing for a long time. He’s just a naturally angry dude. Everybody can’t be that, but he is, and it helps us out big time.” The lone turnover Tampa Bay forced was a third-quarter interception by undrafted free agent safety Isaiah Johnson. The South Carolina product picked off Carson Wentz, this year’s second overall draft pick, at the goal line. Tampa Bay outgained Philadelphia 329-188 overall and 298-95 through the air, while the Eagles held a 93-31 edge on the ground. Running back Doug Martin finished as the team’s leading rushing, picking up 13 yards on five carries. The Bucs will get more than a week off until traveling to Jacksonville next week for their second preseason contest.
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