In a game that saw seven lead changes, the Buccaneers improved to a 2-1 preseason record on Saturday, defeating the previously unbeaten Dolphins in Miami, 31-28, in a back-and-forth thriller that went down to the wire. Third-string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw touchdowns, including a 1-yard score to wide receiver Paris Warren with 4:59 left in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner.
The touchdown catch was Warren’s second of the preseason, and capped off an 11-play, 61-yard touchdown. Warren, who finished with three catches for 29 yards, leaped for the touchdown in the back of the end zone after getting behind linebacker Edmond Miles and defensive back Jason Allen.
The total yardage reflected just how close this preseason contest was, with Tampa Bay rolling up 334 yards on 68 plays to Miami’s 333 yards that came on 69 plays. The Bucs also had a slight edge in time of possession, 30:56 to 29:04.
Tampa Bay’s defense got the Buccaneers on the scoreboard first when new starting strongside linebacker Cato June intercepted a pass and returned it two yards for a touchdown. On Miami’s second offensive play, quarterback Trent Green dropped back into the end zone for a screen pass, but June read the play perfectly and stepped in front of running back Ronnie Brown and took the ball away from him at the Dolphins’ 2-yard line. Two steps later, June and the Buccaneers were celebrating a 7-0 lead with 11:05 left in the first quarter.
Miami answered with a relentless, 18-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that consumed 9:13 in the first quarter. On second-and-goal at the Bucs’ 1-yard line, Green found tight end David Martin alone in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Martin slipped behind safety Kalvin Pearson to get open for the scoring pass. The key play of the drive was a 4-yard reception by rookie Ted Ginn at the Tampa Bay 34 on fourth-and-2 to keep the series alive. With 1:52 left in the first quarter, the score was tied, 7-7.
On the first play of Tampa Bay’s next offensive series, Miami defensive end Matt Roth picked off Garcia at the Bucs’ 23. Donald Penn had replaced Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle and didn’t do a good job of getting Roth’s hands down, allowing the defensive end to pick off a pass intended for Cadillac Williams and returned it to the Bucs’ 12. To Penn’s credit, he did tackle Roth to prevent a touchdown.
However, three plays later, Miami would ultimately take the lead. On third-and-9 at the Tampa Bay 11, Miami ran a “Statue of Liberty” play in which Green faked a quick pass with his right hand and handed the ball off behind his back with his left hand to running back Jesse Chatman, who scampered 11 yards for a Dolphins touchdown. Chatman ran through linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Will Allen and cornerback Ronde Barber to get to the end zone. With 38 seconds left in the first quarter, Miami led 14-7 after its three-play drive.
Garcia made up for his mistake on the next drive, leading Tampa Bay on an eight-play, 76-yard scoring march. On third-and-11 at the Miami 26, Garcia threw a 26-yard touchdown strike to Joey Galloway, who got past safety Travares Tillman and was open in the back of the end zone. Garcia was 2-of-3 for 40 yards on the drive, including the TD pass, and also had a 6-yard scramble. With 11:40 left in the second quarter, the score was tied, 14-14.
Miami was threatening to score on the ensuing possession, but Dolphins running back Patrick Cobbs fumbled after catching a pass at the Tampa Bay 38. Defensive end Julian Jenkins hit Cobbs from behind and caused a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Sammy Davis at the Bucs’ 40-yard line.
Quarterback Luke McCown engineered an 11-play, 52-yard scoring drive after the Miami turnover. The key play on the drive was a 23-yard catch-and-run from receiver Michael Clayton that got the Bucs into scoring territory. After three straight incompletions by McCown from the Dolphins’ 8, Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal. After Matt Bryant’s 26-yarder, the Buccaneers led 17-14 with 48 seconds left before halftime.
A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Greg White extended the first half by a play and allowed Dolphins kicker Jay Feeley to attempt a 54-yard field goal before halftime. But Feeley’s kick hit the left upright and wasn’t good.
Miami reclaimed the lead on its initial possession of the third quarter when third-string quarterback John Beck found receiver P.K. Sam open down the right sidelines for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Bucs cornerback Carlos Hendricks collided with Pearson in coverage, leaving Sam wide open for an easy touchdown catch. With 12:34 left in the third quarter, the Dolphins led 21-17 after their seven-play, 79-yard drive.
Tampa Bay battled back behind Gradkowski, who led the Buccaneers on a 12-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that was capped off with a 6-yard scoring pass to running back Earnest Graham. Gradkowski was 5-of-7 for 54 yards and one touchdown on the drive. Tampa Bay recaptured the lead, 24-21, with 14:11 left in the fourth quarter.
Miami pulled ahead on the next series, marching 76 yards in eight plays. The big play on the drive was a 5-yard run by Ray Perkins on fourth-and-3. Perkins broke tackle attempts from Gaines Adams and Ryan Nece and picked up a key first down. Three plays later on third-and-5, Beck threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Derek Hagan, who got behind rookie cornerback Marcus Hamilton down the right sidelines. Beck was 2-of-4 for 59 yards on the drive. With 10:16 left in the fourth quarter, Miami led 28-24.
But Gradkowski led the Bucs to their go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 left in the game, that was the difference in the contest as Tampa Bay prevailed, 31-28.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski connected with wide receiver Paris Warren for a 1-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone to give Tampa Bay a 31-28 lead over Miami with 4:59 left in regulation. Tampa Bay’s reserve defense, which contained a mix of second- and third-string defenders, denied the Dolphins a first down on their last drive. Bucs defensive end Jeremy Pittman had a big sack and a forced fumble that helped stymie Miami’s last possession.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME On a night when backup quarterback Luke McCown was rather average, third-string signal caller Bruce Gradkowski stated his case for the number two QB job with an impressive showing, earning PewterReport.com Player of the Game honors. Gradkowski was 10-of-16 for 104 yards with two touchdowns against Miami, including a 1-yard score to Paris Warren that proved to be the game-winner with 4:59 left in the fourth quarter. Through three preseason games, Gradkowski leads the Buccaneers quarterbacks statistically, completing 23-of-38 passing (60.5 percent) for 267 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Gradkowski edges out linebacker Cato June, who had a 2-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, for Saturday night’s MVP honors.
STATS THAT COUNT Linebacker Cato June recorded Tampa Bay’s first interception of the preseason, which was returned for a 2-yard touchdown. … Running back Cadillac Williams got his most extensive playing time in the 2007 preseason, rushing for 25 yards on four carries (6.25 avg.), including runs of 12 and 14 yards. … Jeff Garcia threw his second touchdown pass of the preseason, connecting on a 26-yard TD strike with Joey Galloway. He also threw his – and the Bucs’ – first interception of the preseason. … Defensive end Gaines Adams, Tampa Bay’s 2007 first-round draft pick, recorded his second sack of the preseason when he knocked quarterback Cleo Lemon out of bounds for a 3-yard loss in the second quarter. Although Adams forced Lemon out of bounds, the NFL mistakenly credited the play as a “team sack” instead of giving Adams the credit. … Rookie defensive tackle Greg Peterson recorded his first sack in the NFL in the third quarter. … Defensive end Jeremy Pittman got his first NFL sack late in the fourth quarter and forced a fumble. The NFL mistakenly credited Peterson with the sack and fumble, but replays PewterReport.com viewed clearly showed it was Pittman making the play. … Tampa Bay rushed for 133 yards on 28 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry against Miami. … The Bucs completed 10-of-17 (59 percent) third down conversions on Saturday night.
PERSONNEL NOTES Ike Hilliard got the start opposite Joey Galloway in place of David Boston, who had a DUI arrest on Thursday night. … Anthony Davis got the start at left guard in place of rookie Arron Sears, who was injured in practice this week. … Rookie free safety Tanard Jackson missed the game with a sore hamstring. … Nickel cornerback Phillip Buchanon also missed the game with a hand injury. … Greg Spires started at right defensive end while Kevin Carter started at left defensive end. … John Wade got the start at center, while B.J. Askew got the start at fullback against Miami. … Jamie Winborn played some middle linebacker for Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter, while Ryan Nece moved outside after manning the Mike spot in the second and third quarter. … Chris Simms saw his first action of the preseason when he replaced McCown as Tampa Bay’s quarterback at the 9:00 mark in the third quarter. The Bucs were able to pick up a first down with Simms under center, but had to punt shortly thereafter. On Tampa Bay’s next series, Bruce Gradkowski replaced Simms, who was 0-for-1 and was penalized for an illegal forward pass to Earnest Graham. … The following players did not play in Saturday’s contest in Miami: tight ends Matt Herian and C.J. Leak, defensive tackle Tim Jones and guard Jeb Terry, who missed the game due to injury.
BUCS’ REACTION TO DAVID BOSTON’S ARREST Prior to Saturday’s preseason contest against Miami, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen released a statement concerning the DUI arrest of wide receiver David Boston on Thursday night in Pinellas Park, Fla.
“We have investigated the David Boston situation and feel that we have an understanding of the facts. At this time, we have seen no objective evidence to support the charges that were brought against him."
According to the police report, Boston was found asleep at the wheel of his vehicle at 8:30 p.m. He passed a breathalyzer test with a 0.000 reading, but results from a urinalysis have not yet been made public. Boston was arrested based on the results of a field sobriety test by the arresting officer.
Boston played in Saturday’s game in the second quarter, running a reverse for 18 yards.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Dolphins game at Dolphin Stadium was 65,660, but the actual attendance appeared to be about 20,000 short of that mark. The temperature at kickoff was 79 degrees with 85 percent humidity.
INJURIES Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith left the game with a left ankle injury in the second quarter, but it was not deemed to be serious. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood left the game early in the first quarter and did not return. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden alluded to an injury, but did not discuss what type of injury Trueblood may have.
UP NEXT The 2-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers return home to face Houston to play the 2-1 Texans on Thursday, August 30 in the 2007 preseason finale`. Houston defeated Dallas, 28-16, on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. ET.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org