Monday, May 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' slow start in Jacksonville gives meaning to preseason game

JACKSONVILLE — Take a deep breath and just keep repeating to yourself:

"It's only the preseason. It's only the preseason."

That's right. It's only the preseason. Exhibition games. As in, these games don't count.

Good thing, too. The Bucs still look like a team that isn't quite ready for real Sunday football yet.

The fellas went up to Jacksonville on Saturday night and watched their first team get knocked around by the Jaguars.

So, if you're keeping score at home (and you know you are, even if these games don't count), that would now be two weeks in a row that Tampa Bay's top units, particularly the offense, looked like they needed a few screws tightened.

First, Philadelphia. Then Jacksonville. Not exactly the Broncos and Panthers.

Through two preseason games, the Bucs first-teamers haven't been awful. I mean, we're not talking Lovie or Schiano football here. No need to overreact.

But it would be nice to see the starters put together just a little more success.

Even if it is the preseason. Even if the games don't count. Even if the preseason has a greater purpose than winning.

That purpose, of course, is to get ready for the regular season. What happens on and after the Sept. 11 season opener will make what has happened the past two weeks pretty much meaningless.

Or will it? Do these games actually have some meaning?

You bet they do.

"We keep score in these games, so that makes it important," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, "but it's not the most important thing. We have a lot bigger fish to fry before this thing is over."

Frying fish? How about just cooking up some offense and defense that looks regular-season ready?

As much as these games don't officially count, and as much as preseason records are about as useful as screen doors on a submarine, there is something to be said for showing progress.

"I think there could be something to that," Koetter said.

Especially when you can't remember the last winning season. Especially when you have a new coach, a new program and a new attitude.

In other words, especially when you're the Bucs. They need some good things to happen, whether it's August or November. They need good things in August to set up November.

Success now means tangible proof that their new coach's way is on the right track. It means showing signs of life for a franchise that has been pretty lifeless the past decade.

The Bucs didn't suffer a complete meltdown to start the game Saturday like they did the previous week in Philadelphia, but the first quarter was pretty ragged.

They were missing a couple of stars in running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, but the rest of the gang was suited up. And their effort was more sloppy than bad, more choppy than disorganized.

It was just … meh.

Look, it's the preseason. As you would expect, neither team unveiled all its offensive bells and defensive whistles. Playing straight-forward football, the Bucs actually won the game 27-21, but when the top units were out there, the Jags had the edge to the tune of 14-7.

That included some disturbing stuff from a Bucs perspective.

Jameis Winston was a touch off all night. He was 0-for-6 with in an interception in the first quarter, not completing his first pass until going up against Jacksonville's second team on the first play in the second quarter. It's never a good thing when you're early in the second quarter and have as many completions to the other team as you have to your own. Winston's overall numbers — 3-for-10 for 28 yards — looked as ugly as most of his throws.

More bad stuff. Tight end Cameron Brate had a ball slide through his hands that led to Winston's interception. Roberto Aguayo missed another easy field goal — a 32-yarder — which almost certainly caused most of Tampa Bay (and perhaps GM Jason Licht) to reach for a stiff drink. He also missed a 49-yarder. (Gulp.)

Good stuff?

First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves intercepted two passes and that was encouraging, even if they did come against backup Chad Henne. Running back Charles Sims ran hard, picking up 20 yards on five carries. The second teams looked pretty good. And there were no major injures.

That's about it.

The Bucs still have lots of work to do. Friday's preseason game No. 3, generally regarded as the preseason game that means the most, will have meaning for Tampa Bay.

Now even more so after the past two weeks, not to mention the past several years.

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