TAMPA – After an offseason of personnel changes in Tampa Bay, it looked as if little had changed from a year ago when the Buccaneers went 4-12, largely due to a sputtering offense that couldn’t produce yards and points, and a defense that couldn’t sack the quarterback or get off the field on third down.
The Buccaneers starting offense failed to pick up a first down in the first quarter, with new starting quarterback Jeff Garcia going 1-for-4 for four yards before giving way to Luke McCown in the second quarter after two series of three-and-outs. McCown was able to engineer two scoring drives to give Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead at halftime before the Bucs won their preseason opener against New England, 13-10, on a 32-yard, game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant as time expired.
New England got on the scoreboard first after a 14-play, 65-yard scoring drive, led by quarterback Matt Cassel in the second quarter. Running back Sammy Morris blasted through Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks for a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead with 12:56 left in the second quarter. New England possessed the football for 7:51 on the drive.
Tampa Bay threatened to tie the game on McCown’s first possession, but back-to-back sacks surrendered by right tackle Jeremy Trueblood stymied the team’s drive, which lasted 7:30, and forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Bryant’s 36-yard field goal capped a 13-play, 62-yard scoring drive and cut New England’s lead to 7-3 with 5:26 left in the second quarter.
McCown continued to play well in the second quarter, leading the Bucs on another scoring drive on his next series. Receiver Paris Warren caught three passes for 34 yards on the drive, including an 11-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left to give Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead at halftime. The Bucs’ drive covered 69 yards in 10 plays and spanned 3:38.
Bruce Gradkowski came in at quarterback at the 8:56 mark of the third quarter and moved the ball well until running back Lionel Gates fumbled on the Patriots’ 37-yard line.
New England was able to tie the game at 10-10 with 11:18 remaining due to a 23-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski following a 12-play, 56-yard drive. The key play was a pass interference call on Bucs safety Kalvin Pearson, who was defending fullback Heath Evans on third-and-6. That 12-yard penalty gave New England a first-and-goal on the Tampa Bay 6-yard line.
After trading possessions in the fourth quarter, the Bucs made the most of their final possession, scoring the game-winning field goal as time expired.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Friday’s game against New England went down to the wire for Tampa Bay with kicker Matt Bryant nailing a 32-yard field goal as time expired to push the Bucs past the Patriots, 13-10. Rookie running back Kenneth Darby rushed for 84 yards on 15 carries, including 31 yards on the final drive that positioned the Bucs for the game-winning field goal. Darby’s 21-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest play of the game.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME Despite being sacked three times, quarterback Luke McCown finished the game 7-of-7 for 68 yards and one touchdown and led the Bucs to two scoring drives to give Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead before departing at the 8:56 mark in the third quarter. McCown also scrambled three times for 19 yards (6.3 avg.). He finished the game with a QB rating of 146.7.
STATS THAT COUNT Bucs running back Cadillac Williams had two carries for eight yards, and had a catch for four yards in limited reps. … Bucs defensive tackle Ellis Wyms recorded the Bucs’ first sack of the preseason with 14 seconds left before halftime. It would be the only sack of the game for the Buccaneers. … Starting under tackle Jovan Haye led the Bucs with four tackles – all of which occurred in the first quarter. … Paris Warren led all receivers with four catches for 46 yards and one touchdown. … Tampa Bay out-gained New England 279-213 yards in the game. … The Bucs converted 40 percent of their third downs (4-of-10), while the Patriots converted 33 percent of their third downs (3-of-9). … Tampa Bay rushed for 169 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. … The Bucs led the time of possession, 31:09 to 28:51. … Tampa Bay’s third-string quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, finished the game 6-of-11 for 50 yards.
LINEUP CHANGES Wide receiver David Boston started in place of Maurice Stovall for the Buccaneers. Anthony Davis started in place of the injured Luke Petitgout. Halfback Michael Pittman started at fullback in place of the injured Mike Alstott, who was placed on injured reserve on Thursday. On defense, Ryan Nece replaced Barrett Ruud as the starting middle linebacker.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Patriots game was 65,130, but the actual crowd appeared to be closer to 50,000 in attendance. The kickoff temperature was 90 degrees with a “feels like temperature” of 108 degrees and a sweltering humidity of 75 percent.
A-TRAIN CONTINUES TO ROLL The Buccaneers announced the starting offense prior to the game, including fullback Mike Alstott, who donned his 40 jersey, jeans and a baseball cap. Alstott was the 12th Buccaneer who was introduced and the crowd at Raymond James Stadium roared with applause. As he raced out on to the field, Alstott was mobbed by his teammates as the A-Train whistle blared over the loudspeaker.
BUC SHOTS The Buccaneers used the shotgun formation for the first time under head coach Jon Gruden on the first third down situation of the game. … In the Bucs’ first nickel defense tonight, cornerback Phillip Buchanon replaced linebacker Cato June. Ryan Nece and Derrick Brooks were Tampa Bay’s nickel linebackers in the starting defense. … Tampa Bay’s starting defense played into the second quarter while the starting offense only got in six plays on two series.
UP NEXT The 1-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars on Saturday, August 18. Kickoff is set for 7:30 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: email@example.com