Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston looked sharp completing 9-of-13 passes for 99 yards. Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans looked sharp, too, catching four passes for 58 yards.
But there were three missed opportunities where Winston and Evans failed to make plays that would have helped the Bucs’ cause even more in the 2017 preseason opener, which Tampa Bay lost to Cincinnati, 23-12.
On second-and-goal at the Cincinnati 2, Winston lofted a floater to Evans that was too far outside. On the next play, Winston’s pass was off target again as Evans was distracted by some hand-fighting with cornerback Adam Jones. No flag was called, and the Bucs had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images
“We didn’t finish the first drive the way we wanted to, settling for a field goal, but it was a promising start,” said Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, who had two catches for 27 yards.
The Bucs have to have higher expectations for Winston and Evans, and they need to have higher expectations for themselves.
“Me personally, I have to finish,” Winston told the Buccaneers Radio Network. “We can’t drive the ball 90 yards down the field and not score a touchdown. We have to get better from that aspect. Every day we’re get better and better. We’re going to start finishing.”
Evans and Winston did a lot of good things on that opening drive, but it didn’t end in a touchdown, and that’s the focus for head coach Dirk Koetter. Settling for field goals on offense too many times has gotten the Bucs 6-10 and 9-7 in the last two playoff-less years.
And with the Bucs’ shaky situation at kicker where Aguayo missed an extra point and a 47-yard field goal, while Nick Folk connected on a 45-yarder, the Bucs must score more touchdowns and not rely on any kicker for numerous field goal tries this season.
Entering his third year in the league, Winston was in firm command of the offense and completed 69 percent of his passes, a marked improvement over last year when he was connecting on just 62 percent of his throws. But Koetter and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian will pick apart those two end zone throws, which were slightly off target and suggest that Winston needs to make those connect for the Bucs to score touchdowns – and make the postseason.
Good isn’t good enough anymore. It’s time to be great.
Winston’s last pass of the night came on third-and-2 and was thrown slightly behind Evans, who was wide open while running a drag route across the middle. Evans tried to catch the ball one-handed, perhaps a bit lackadaisically, only to drop it, which forced a Bucs’ punt.
Tom Brady puts that pass on the money. Drew Brees hits Evans in stride. Aaron Rodgers helps his receiver move the chains.
Friday night in Cincinnati was an instance where Evans was good, but he too, needs to be great.
Winston’s off-target passes weren’t killers. Evans’ drop wasn’t a dagger.
This is the preseason opener, after all. Let’s keep it in perspective.
But oh, what a teaching opportunity for Koetter, Bajakian and offensive coordinator and receivers coach Todd Monken to get on their offensive stars, and demand better because the Bucs will need Winston and Evans to be better than they were last year for Tampa Bay to live up to lofty expectations and get where it wants to go.
“We’ve been backed up a couple times tonight and got it out of trouble,” Koetter said. “It was a good start. One of our things is we have to finish for touchdowns. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s better than a kick in the butt.”
The kick in the butt came on defense, as Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith can’t be too happy with his units’ run defense. The Bucs gave up 140 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries (3.9 avg.), including 26 yards to Jeremy Hill and 31 yards to rookie Joe Mixon against the first-team defense. Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel ran for 34 yards to lead all rushers, and had an 18-yard touchdown run.
The PewterReport.com staff has lamented the fact that the Bucs have had a very soft training camp without any live tackling periods or full contact periods – and it showed in Tampa Bay’s poor tackling on defense. Rookie safety Justin Evans and rookie middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith had lackluster debuts for the Bucs and missed tackles. Beckwith was blocked out of his gap on more than one occasion, too.
The lone bright spots on defense might have been cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who had a daring interception in the end zone to snuff out a potential Bengals scoring drive in the first quarter, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who had three tackles and actually played well against the run. Punter Bryan Anger was in midseason form, averaging 46.5 yards per punt with two downed inside the 10-yard line.
While Winston looked good in his first preseason action, so did both quarterbacks who are vying to be his backup. Ryan Fitzpatrick shook off a rough start to training camp and looked like a gamer, completing 6-of-13 passes for 45 yards and an interception, while rushing for the Bucs’ lone touchdown. Fitzpatrick rotated with Ryan Griffin, who completed 4-of-9 passes for 57 yards, before taking some hard hits and leaving with a shoulder injury.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said not to sound any alarms over the team’s lackluster preseason debut.
“Preseason game number one, at this point in my career, is just kind of knocking the rust off, getting used to another snap count, really just hitting somebody else,” McCoy said. “We were kind of feeling things out and were a little rusty, I think that showed. It’s not something that can’t be fixed – it’s just rust.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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