TAMPA – After not committing a turnover in the first two preseason games, the Buccaneers offense was just plain sloppy against the visiting Jaguars with quarterback Jeff Garcia throwing two costly picks and Earnest Graham fumbling in Tampa Bay’s own red zone in the first half. Third-string quarterback Luke McCown also threw an interception in the fourth quarter, which was Tampa Bay’s fourth turnover of the night.
Despite the Jaguars having a decided 4:1 turnover ratio advantage, Tampa Bay out-gained Jacksonville 322-201 in total yardage and fell just short of a furious fourth quarter comeback only to lose its first preseason game, 23-17 at Raymond James Stadium.
“We gave them great opportunities to win the game today with turnovers – things that we’ve talked about, bragged about and been excited about the first two weeks of preseason,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. “That’s usually what happens. The football gods strike you when you start bragging about not turning the ball over. You get careless and you start doing things that are disrespectful to the game.”
Yet despite all of the miscues, the Bucs were still in position to win the game until the final play of the game when McCown hit wide receiver Chad Lucas for just a 2-yard gain down to the Jacksonville 9-yard line on fourth-and-6 with five seconds left in regulation.
The fact that Tampa Bay was still in the game despite three first half turnovers was a testament to the defense, which held the Jaguars to 37 yards rushing on 26 carries (1.4 avg.) and just a 31 percent third down conversion rate.
“It was a horrific way to start the football game,” Gruden said. “We did some good things except for about seven or eight plays that were terrible tonight.”
Garcia, who was seeing his first action in the 2008 preseason, was terribly rusty, and well, just plain terrible. He finished 11-of-18 (61 percent) for 79 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. A couple of Garcia’s passes were behind his receivers, but they were still able to come up with the receptions. Garcia’s passing troubles were certainly attributed to the lack of reps he has received in training camp and the preseason due to a calf strain. Gruden said that Garcia was simply trying to do too much too soon.
Meanwhile, Garcia’s backup, Brian Griese, continued to look sharp in the preseason, completing 7-of-11 passes for 71 yards and leading the Bucs on a field goal drive in the second quarter.
Speaking of field goals, Matt Bryant’s field goal kicking woes in the preseason continued against Jacksonville. Bryant entered the game 3-of-5 in field goals and missed a 23-yarder to end the half before drilling a 27-yarder in the third quarter. He is now 4-of-7 in the preseason, which is just 51 percent.
Tampa Bay’s special teams’ troubles didn’t end there as the Bucs averaged just 17 yards on kick returns, but did average on 12 yards on punt returns. Tampa Bay’s coverage units excelled, holding Jacksonville to only 16 yards on kick returns and seven yards on punt returns.
The Buccaneers had an ominous start to the game, starting at their own 14-yard line due to a 14-yard kick return by rookie Dexter Jackson. After two plays picked up nine yards, Graham was stripped of the ball by defensive end Reggie Hayward and recovered by fellow end Paul Spicer at the Tampa Bay 23.
After Fred Taylor picked up 15 yards on three carries, Maurice Jones-Drew lost four yards back to the 12-yard line on his first carry, setting up third-and-goal from the 12. A 7-yard pass from David Garrard to Reggie Williams brought out on Josh Scobee to kick a 23-yard field goal on fourth down. After moving 18 yards in six plays, Jacksonville opened up a 3-0 lead with 10:02 left in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay committed another turnover on the first play of its next possession. Garcia threw a horrible pass with way too much air under it intended for Maurice Stovall, but Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson stepped in front of it and returned the interception 20 yards deep into Tampa Bay’s red zone. However, a 15-yard personal foul on linebacker Justin Durant pushed the ball back to the Tampa Bay 27. Matt Jones caught two passes totaling 17 yards to drive the Jaguars into the red zone. On third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Garrard found receiver Dennis Northcutt for an 8-yard touchdown. Free safety Tanard Jackson whiffed at Northcutt’s legs at the 2-yard line, allowing the Jacksonville receiver to waltz in for an easy score. With 6:41 remaining in the first quarter, Jacksonville’s lead increased to 10-0.
Tampa Bay’s defense rose up to force a three-and-out after Jimmy Wilkerson sacked Garrard from the under tackle position to force a punt. Garcia drove the Bucs 35 yards down the field to the 11-yard line, but on second-and-10, Nelson picked off the Bucs’ starting quarterback for the second time. Garcia’s pass was intended for Michael Clayton in the back of the end zone, but he didn’t put enough velocity on the throw and Nelson made a leaping pick in the middle of the end zone.
The Bucs defense was stout against on the next Jaguars possession as cornerback Ronde Barber stepped in front of receiver Mike Walker to pick off Garrard at the Jacksonville 43. That interception keyed a nine-play, 43-yard touchdown drive that consumed 3:54 off the clock. Clayton came up with two clutch catches, the first for 11 yards on a throw that was behind him to convert a third down. The second big Clayton reception was a 10-yard touchdown on third-and-6. Clayton fought off cornerback Drayton Florence and caught the scoring strike from Garcia in front of Nelson in the end zone. With 4:42 left in the first half, Jacksonville’s lead was cut to 10-7.
Tampa Bay’s defense was dominant once again on the ensuing Jacksonville possession, forcing a three-and-out. The drive was doomed from the start when rookie cornerback Aqib Talib flew down the field to tackle Troy Williamson at the Jacksonville 12-yard line after a 13-yard kickoff return. Nose tackle Chris Hovan stuffed running back Greg Jones for a two-yard loss on first down, then sacked Garrard on third-and-2 to force a punt.
Griese took over at quarterback with the starting offensive line and second-string skill players, including Michael Bennett, who ripped off a 12-yard gain on first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 49. Griese threw three straight passes intended for Stovall, who caught the second one for a 17-yard gain down to the Jacksonville 10-yard line. On third-and-10 from the 10, Griese found Brian Clark down to the 5-yard line, forcing a 22-yard field goal attempt by Bryant. Bryant’s kick was wide left and Jacksonville went into halftime with a 10-7 lead.
The Jaguars extended their lead on their first possession of the third quarter. A 21-yard pass to Northcutt drove the Jaguars into Tampa Bay territory. A roughing the passer penalty on cornerback Eugene Wilson added 15 yards onto the play. Two plays later, 28-yard pass to Matt Jones down to the Tampa Bay 4 set up a touchdown catch by tight end Marcedes Lewis on third down. With 12:00 left in the third quarter, the Jaguars led the Buccaneers, 17-7.
To make matters worse for Tampa Bay, defensive end Greg White drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty by jawing with the officials. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, which played a role in pinning the Bucs back to their 15-yard line. Tampa Bay’s first possession of the second half was not helped by a 5-yard penalty on Griese for a head bob. After three plays, the Bucs had to punt.
Cleo Lemon checked in at quarterback for Jacksonville in the middle of the third quarter as the Bucs defense forced a stop of Greg Jones at mid-field on fourth-and-1. The Bucs took over on their 49-yard line and Griese found Brian Clark for a 19-yard gain down to the Jacksonville 32-yard line. Griese and Clark hooked up again on the next play for an 11-yard pass play. Defensive end Mkristo Bruce jumped offsides, setting up a first-and-5 at the Jacksonville 16. Bennett ripped off a 9-yard gain to drive the ball down to the 7-yard line, but fumbled on the next play. However, the Bucs challenged the call and it was overturned by instant replay.
On second-and-goal, Griese threw a pass into the end zone intended for receiver Cortez Hankton, but it should have been picked off by safety Jamaal Fudge if not for Cortez defending the play. On third down, Griese took a coverage sack, which brought out Bryant for a 27-yard field goal to cut into Jacksonville’s lead, which was then 17-10 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
A 15-yard penalty on Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Pashos on first down pushed Jacksonville back to its 13-yard line. But a pass interference call on Elbert Mack negated an interception by safety Sabby Piscitelli on a tipped pass inside Jacksonville’s 30-yard line and gave the Jaguars a first down at the 26-yard line.
Two plays later, running back Chauncey Washington hauled in a 15-yard pass down to the Jacksonville 44. An 11-yard pass to D’Juan Woods picked up 11 yards on third-and-9 at the 45-yard line. Jacksonville’s drive continued after Lemon and Woods hooked up for a 4-yard pass play on fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 37. Three plays later, Scobee drilled a 45-yard field goal to push Jacksonville’s lead to 20-10 with 12:41 left in the game.
Luke McCown entered the game early into the fourth quarter with Tampa Bay’s second-string offensive line and was sacked on third down. On his next series, McCown threw a late pass across the middle that was intended for Micheal Spurlock. The ball fell into the arms of rookie cornerback Trae Williams, who returned it to the Tampa Bay 9-yard line. Two plays later, Williamson ran around left end for a 4-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 3.
While attempting to make the tackle, Bucs linebacker Antoine Cash jammed his neck into cornerback Marcus Hamilton’s hip. The collision injured both players with Cash getting the worst of it and having to be carted off the field on a stretcher. In a scene reminiscent of last year’s preseason finale when Paris Warren dislocated his ankle against Houston and the team gathered around him, the entire Bucs team came out to rally around Cash.
The Jaguars couldn’t punch it in on third down and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Scobee. With 6:58 left in regulation, the Jaguars led 23-10.
McCown led the Bucs downfield on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. After a 29-yard scramble down the right sidelines, McCown hit Clifton Smith with a 16-yard gain down to the Jacksonville 5-yard line. Three plays later on third down, McCown hit receiver Chad Lucas with a 3-yard scoring strike. With 3:43 left in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville’s lead was cut to 23-17.
With 2:32 left in the game, Tampa Bay’s defense forced a needed three-and-out and a punt. On first-and-10 at the Bucs’ 35, McCown hit Spurlock for a 15-yard gain out to the 50-yard line at the two-minute warning. On third-and-10, McCown hit tight end Jerramy Stevens for a 17-yard gain, followed by a 6-yard gain to Lucas. A 16-yard pass play to Smith was negated by a holding penalty on left tackle Anthony Davis, which set up a second-and-14 situation at the 37-yard line.
On third-and-14, Smith took a McCown pass and scampered 21 yards down to the 15-yard line. After a McCown spike to stop the clock, McCown hit Smith for four yards on a crossing route down to the 11-yard line, but had to spike the ball with just 14 seconds left on the clock. On fourth-and-6, McCown’s 2-yard pass to Lucas didn’t convert the first down and the Jaguars came away with their second win of the preseason while the Bucs suffered their first defeat of the exhibition season.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME When Buccaneers coaches grade a player, they look at two things. What was the player’s assignment grade? What was the player’s factor grade? In other words, how many splash plays did a player make for the amount of plays they were in the game for? After Saturday night’s game against Jacksonville, nose tackle Chris Hovan’s factor grade must be pretty high. Hovan was third on the team with three tackles, a team-leading three tackles for loss and had two quarterback pressures, including one on Ronde Barber’s interception, and one sack on third down that forced a punt. Without question, Hovan is the PewterReport.com Player of the Game against Jacksonville.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Tampa Bay should have been put away early after three first half turnovers that led to 10 points by Jacksonville and cost the Bucs at least three points. But quarterback Luke McCown led a fourth quarter rally that saw the Bucs score a touchdown with 3:43 left in regulation and drive down to the Jacksonville 11-yard line before his 2-yard pass to Chad Lucas failed to pick up a necessary first down on fourth-and-6 with five seconds left. Tampa Bay lost 23-17.
STATS THAT COUNT Quarterback Luke McCown finished the game 11-of-19 for 104 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked once, but had a game-high 29-yard run. That 29-yard scramble made McCown the game’s leading rusher. … Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks averaged a 62.3 QB rating, while Jacksonville’s signal callers averaged a 93.5 QB rating. … Wide receiver Maurice Stovall led the Bucs with four catches for 38 yards. … Rookie running back Clifton Smith had three catches for 41 yards and one carry for no gain. … Starting running back Earnest Graham had five carries for seven yards (1.4 avg.) and a fumble, while fellow starter Warrick Dunn mustered only 12 yards on five carries (2.4 avg.) against Jacksonville. … The Bucs quarterbacks completed passes to 14 different receivers on Saturday night. … Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded an interception and also had two pass breakups against the Jaguars. … Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson recorded a sack against Jacksonville, which was his second sack of the preseason. … Linebacker Adam Hayward led the Bucs with five tackles.
SATURDAY'S STARTING LINEUPS With Tampa Bay missing some of its starters, the announced starting lineup for the Jacksonville game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton TE John Gilmore LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C Jeff Faine RG Jeremy Zuttah RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith WR Michael Clayton RB Warrick Dunn QB Jeff Garcia
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Kevin Carter NT Chris Hovan UT Ryan Sims RE Gaines Adams SLB Cato June MLB Barrett Ruud WLB Derrick Brooks LCB Phillip Buchanon RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Jermaine Phillips
MISSING IN ACTION Tampa Bay was missing several of its starters on Saturday night. Under tackle Jovan Haye (groin strain), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle surgery), running back Cadillac Williams (knee), right guard Davin Joseph (broken foot) and wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin strain) did not play. Galloway did not dress for Saturday’s game. Quarterbacks Chris Simms and Josh Johnson didn’t get any playing time due to a coach’s decision.
BUCS INJURIES Tampa Bay suffered a significant injury when reserve middle linebacker Antoine Cash had to be carted off the field with a neck injury in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Marcus Hamilton was also injured on that play when Cash collided with Hamilton’s right hip. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant didn’t play due to swelling on the knee. Safety Donte Nicholson also didn’t play due to an undisclosed injury.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Patriots game at Raymond James Stadium was 62,696 but the stadium appeared to be about three-quarters full. The temperature was 79 degrees at kickoff with 94 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers will take their 2-1 record on the road to Reliant Stadium next Thursday night to face the Houston Texans (2-1). The kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m.
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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