In what most people would call the Bucs “dress rehearsal” preseason game — meaning this would be the one time the projected starters for Week 1 would play most of the game — Tampa hosted the visiting Cleveland Browns in a rematch of their mid-season contest last year, where the Bucs were victorious in overtime.
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and the first-team offense took the field first, and, well, it wasn’t pretty. After a quick first down, the Bucs offensive line gave up back-to-back sacks to force a punt. This would be the first drive of many where Tampa’s offensive line struggled to stay in front of the Browns’ stout pass rush.
With a short field to work with, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield drove the ball 18 yards in seven plays. Though that wasn’t much, it was enough to get within range of a 54-yard Austin Seibert field goal, which opened the scoring at 3-0 for the visiting team.
On the Bucs next drive, Winston and company got settled in. On a drive that was much better for the offensive line, the run game came alive and running back Ronald Jones looked efficient. A pair of Chris Godwin catches got the Bucs into field goal range, but rookie kicker Matt Gay missed his first field of the preseason by knocking a 37-yarder off the upright.
Over the next two drives, the Bucs defense would bend but not totally break. They would yield two more field goals, but that was it, keeping the game a two-score contest at 9-0.
After the Browns’ third field goal, the first half really started to slow down in terms of offensive output. Winston and the Buccaneers offense could not get anything going, and much of that could be blamed on the poor cohesiveness with the offensive line once again. Right guard Alex Cappa especially looked like he was not ready for the Browns’ first-team defensive line, giving up multiple sacks and pressures.
Right before the half, Mayfield attempted a deep pass down the field, but was intercepted by Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead. The game went to the half 9-0.
Bucs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert came into the game in relief of Winston to start the second half. Winston exited the game 9-for-19 for 88 yards in one half of play.
As Gabbert was driving the Buccaneers second-team offense down into Cleveland territory, he injured his shoulder on a scrambling play and did not return. It appeared the injury might be serious.
Third string quarterback Ryan Griffin came into the game for the Buccaneers and picked up right where he left off the previous week; playing well and moving the ball down the field. In his first drive, he finished the Bucs 63-yard, 13-play stretch, which ended in a Cairo Santos field goal to bring the score to 9-3. On Griffin’s next series, with tight end Tanner Hudson as his go-to target, he orchestrated a 9-play, 69-yard drive which ended in a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett. That gave the Bucs their first lead of the game at 10-9.
After back-to-back punts, the Cleveland offense finally got something going in the second half. Browns quarterback David Blough led a 10-play drive that went 31 yards in distance, but that was enough to get them in field goal range to give the Browns the lead once again 12-10.
With time for one more drive, Griffin and the reserves took the field with a long way to go. In a well-control, well orchestrated drive, Griffin hooked up with wide receivers Justin Watson, Bobo Wilson and Scotty Miller to travel 72 yards in 15 plays. This set up Gay’s second field goal of the night, and a shot at redemption. This one was right through the uprights.
That gave the Bucs the 13-12 lead, and that’s how the contest would end. For the second week in a row, Griffin led a long drive in 2-minute fashion and Gay finished the job with a clutch field goal to seal a Buccaneers victory.