Friday, September 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs top Jaguars behind strong first half

JACKSONVILLE

There is a reason why the air in Tampa Bay is filled with playoff talk. If Thursday night's 12-8 Bucs preseason win over the Jaguars is any indication, it's also going to be filled with footballs thrown by quarterback Jameis Winston.

The Bucs are putting more and more of their offense on Winston's right shoulder, and that shoulder seems plenty strong enough to carry this team.

But Winston's head may not be.

One play from Thursday's game serves as a reminder that Winston still hasn't learned when to attack and when not to.

Facing third and goal from the Jaguars' 7-yard line, Winston was being pulled to the ground by tackle Sheldon Day when a bad habit took hold of him.

From the seat of his pants, he threw a pass up for grabs in the end zone, and it was intercepted by safety Barry Church.

Fortunately for the Bucs, referee Clete Blakeman ruled that Winston's "progress was stopped," resulting in a sack.

The play was not reviewable. The Bucs would prefer to never see it again, too.

"Elite quarterbacks don't make that play," coach Dirk Koetter said.

Remember the scene from the first episode of Hard Knocks when Winston asked Koetter "how much is too much?" That play, right there, is too much.

It may seem like we are picking the same nit, because other than that one ugly play, Winston and the Bucs had one pretty dominant half.

Winston completed 21 of 28 passes for 196 yards and led the Bucs to three scores on their first three possessions. He spread the ball to eight receivers. He made good use of new receiver DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard.

The lone touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Doug Martin to cap the opening drive of the game.

However, twice the Bucs were forced to settle for Nick Folk field goals of 35 and 29 yards. (His extra point after Martin's touchdown was blocked by the Jaguars' 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell, and he missed a 47-yard field goal wide right in the fourth quarter).

Still, it was about as dominant of a performance for one half in Week 2 of the preseason as the Bucs could have hoped for.

At one point, the Bucs had a 187-28 advantage in total yards and nine first downs to one for the Jaguars. They finished the first half with 16 first downs to four.

The game was also a much better performance for the starting defense. It bottled up the Jaguars' running game, had three tackles for a loss in the first half and kept the Jaguars off the scoreboard in the first half.

Beleaguered Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was 8-of-13 for 65 yards and was harassed all night by the Bucs' pass rush.

"We've been able to get pressure on (Bortles) all week in those (joint) practices," Koetter said. "They used some quick counts on us early to try and hold the pressure off, but I thought we did a good job of getting in his face."

In two preseason games, Winston is 30-of-41 (73 percent) for 295 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns.

The playmakers he has at his disposal are ridiculous. Though Mike Evans had a perfectly thrown 43-yard pass go through his hands in the end zone, he had five receptions for 57 yards. Adam Humphries caught five passes for 42. In all, Winston spread the ball to eight different pass catchers in the first half.

"We were able to run it and throw it," Koetter said. "So that's always the toughest thing to defend."

The return of center Ali Marpet, who missed the first preseason game last week with an ankle injury, made a difference. Martin found some holes and rushed five times for 30 yards and the score.

"Coach wanted us to start fast as a team and as an offensive unit," Martin said. "We really wanted to come out here and start with a good drive. We've been practicing against (the Jaguars) the past few days, so we wanted to get out there and impose our will on them."

After two preseason games, it's safe to say the Bucs could have the best offense in their history. Without much of a stretch, you can say they already have their best quarterback.

Winston's gunslinger mentality has resulted in 42 turnovers in his first two NFL seasons. If he learns that he can't make every play, he will make enough plays to take the Bucs exactly where they want to go.

 
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