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JACKSONVILLE — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense, it has been said, looks awfully good on paper. On Thursday night in Jacksonville, upstart quarterback Jameis Winston showed how it might translate to three dimensions this fall.
With the Buccaneers’ offense playing the entire first half, Winston completed 21 of 29 passes for 196 yards, leading the visitors to a 12-0 halftime lead over the Jaguars. Jacksonville closed the gap during a fourth-quarter battle of deep reserves but the Buccaneers held on for a 12-8 victory, improving to 1-1 on the preseason.
Tampa Bay had 240 yards by halftime, with a fast start by running back Doug Martin opening the field for Winston to pick apart the Jaguars’ defense.
“Coach wanted us to start fast as a team and as an offensive unit, we really wanted to come out here and start off with a good drive,” said Martin. “We’ve been practicing against them for the past few days so we really wanted to get out there and impose our will on them. Momentum in this game is very crucial. You want to come out here and start fast and when you are gaining momentum, especially at the beginning of the game, it definitely gives the team confidence.”
Winston made full use of his array of weapons, completing five passes each to Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and slot man Adam Humphries. Martin, rookie tight end O.J. Howard, third-year tight end Cam Brate, prized free agent receiver DeSean Jackson and third-round pick Chris Godwin all had key receptions as well as the Bucs scored on each of their first three possessions.
Tellingly, the first drive began with four plays to Martin, resulting in two quick first downs. Martin played the first quarter and finished with 41 yards from scrimmage and the Bucs’ offense ended the game with 130 rushing yards on 33 carries. Second-year back Peyton Barber carried the load in the second half and led the team with 42 yards on nine carries.
“We were able to run it and throw it so that’s always the toughest thing to defend,” said Head Coach Dirk Koetter.
Tampa Bay’s first-team defense, which recorded an interception on the only drive it played in the preseason opener in Cincinnati, pitched a first-half shutout, the first one for the Buccaneers since a Week Three game at Buffalo in 2014. Lavonte David racked up four tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a pass defensed to lead a Buccaneer defense that allowed only 59 yards to the Jaguars’ starting offense. It was a heady performance for a group that had spent two emotional days practicing with the Jaguars earlier in the week. The starters exited at halftime and Tampa Bay was able to hold on to a slim lead, as well as a 362-295 edge in total yards.
Jacksonville’s starting quarterback, Blake Bortles, was held to just 65 yards on eight of 13 passing. In addition to David’s sack, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had a key pressure on Bortles in the early going.
“We’ve been able to get pressure on him all week in those practices,” said Koetter. “They used some quick count on us early to try to hold our pressure off, but I thought we did a good job of getting in his face.”
For the second straight week, the special teams proved to be a mixed bag for Tampa Bay. Wide receiver Bernard Reedy contributed a 29-yard kickoff return and a 16-yard punt return and wide receiver Josh Huff added a 27-yard kickoff return. However, the Bucs’ gave up a long punt return late in the first half and Nick Folk had an extra point blocked. Folk did make a 35-yard field goal on the Bucs’ second drive but he also missed wide right from 47 yards out in the second half.
Jacksonville got the ball first but had to punt after gaining one first down. After a Lavonte David tackle for loss set up second-and-11, Gerald McCoy beat his man off the line and dragged down Bortles, who managed to get off a backhand toss to RB T.J. Yeldon before hitting the ground. Bortles’ deep attempt to Allen Robinson on third-and-nine was well-covered by Ryan Smith.
Tampa Bay’s first drive was a thing of beauty, with Winston completing five of six passes for 54 yards and spreading the ball around to four different players. Martin accounted for 21 yards on five touches and Winston found Humphries for 15 yards to convert a third-and-six in Jacksonville territory. On a rollout to the right, Winston threw underneath to Howard for another 15, down to the Jacksonville two, and Martin ran it around left end to put the ball into the end zone. Folk’s extra point attempt was blocked.
A tackle for a loss by rookie LB Kendell Beckwith and an impressive pass break-up by David doomed Jacksonville to a three-and-out on its next drive. After the Jaguars’ punt, the Bucs started out at their own 29 and quickly got nine yards on Martin’s spinning run up the middle. Winston enjoyed great coverage to find Brate over the middle for a first down, then fired a precision seam pass to Evans for 21 yards to the Jacksonville 37. Martin got another 11 on the next play but the Bucs eventually settled for Folk’s 35-yard field goal.
After another three-and-out by the Bucs’ defense, Winston led the offense on a third straight scoring drive. This one covered 50 yards on 12 plays and ended in a 29-yard field Folk field goal. Winston started it with a quick slant to Jackson for 15, then found Evans on completions of 10 and 12 yards, sandwiched around a 22-yard strike to Howard. Once again, the drive stalled short of the end zone, and in this case an ill-advised throw by Winston as he was being dragged down, which ended up in the arms of safety Barry Church, was erased because he was ruled own.
A sack by David on a perfectly-timed second-down blitz helped kill Jacksonville’s ensuing drive near midfield, forcing a punt that Bernard Reedy fair caught at the Bucs 18 with 4:20 left in the first half. The Bucs’ offense failed to pick up a first down for the first time in the game and punted back with three minutes to go before halftime. A short punt by Bryan Anger and a 31-yard return by Keelan Cole gave Jacksonville its best scoring shot of the first half. However, the Jaguars failed to move the ball with Chad Henne in at quarterback and a 40-yard field goal try by Jason Myers was hooked wide to the left to keep the home team off the scoreboard.
Winston had one last shot at a two-minute drill and was able to drive the ball into Jacksonville territory, converting a third-down with a perfect pass over the middle to Jackson. A 12-yarder between three-defenders to Evans got the ball over midfield, after which Winston converted a third-and-eight with a 10-yard completion to Evans. That put the Bucs on the edge of field goal range, but a pair of penalties and a play that was ruled a fumble when Winston was hit as he was throwing killed the drive. Humphries alertly picked up the loose ball on that latter play and even ran it into the end zone, but a fumble at that point in the game can’t be advanced by a teammate.
Both teams went to their reserves in the second half, and the Buccaneers rode Barber across midfield. Barber converted a third-and-two with a 13-yard run, cutting left twice to avoid tackles, then pounded over the middle for four yards on fourth-and-one just over midfield. However, Fitzpatrick’s deep shot to Godwin on the next snap was intercepted at the one-yard line by safety Jarrod Wilson.
Jacksonville’s second-team offense managed to get the ball from the one to midfield but a slashing blitz by linebacker Adarius Glanton forced the Jaguars to punt and the ball went into the end zone for a touchback.
Fitzpatrick moved the Bucs back into Jaguars’ territory and converted a third-and-eight with a scrambling pass to rookie tight end Antony Auclair, who went low to pick the ball off the turf. The Bucs settled for a 47-yard field goal try, which Folk pushed wide to the right to keep the score at 12-0.
Both teams dipped deeper into their reserves on the next possession and Jacksonville finally cracked the scoreboard with a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive led by third-string quarterback Brandon Allen. Allen started the drive with consecutive strikes of 24 and 20 yards to rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook, then finished it with a scrambling four-yard touchdown pass to fullback Marquez Williams. Myers missed the extra point, wide right.
Allen then drove the Jaguars down to the Bucs’ goal line in the last five minutes, scrambling down to the two to set up a second-and-goal. However, a game-saving pass breakup by rookie CB Maurice Fleming and a failed fourth-down fade to Rashad Greene contributed to the drive coming up empty.
The Buccaneers ran three times to drain as much clock as possible, then lined up in punt formation but took an intentional safety in order to get in a better kicking situation. That reduced the Bucs’ lead from six to four points with 36 seconds remaining, and punter Bryan Anger executed a free kick from the Bucs’ 20-yard line.
Jacksonville got one last shot starting at its own 35 with 25 seconds left in regulation. The Jaguars got into position for a Hail Mary attempt but it was batted down by safety Isaiah Johnson to preserve the Bucs’ victory.