Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Slow starts nothing new to Bucs

JACKSONVILLE — There is slow, like the line at the DMV. There is slower, like beach erosion. Then there is slowest, like the way the Buccaneers start football games.

Aug. 11 in the preseason opener at Philadelphia, the Bucs fumbled the kickoff, fumbled on the first offensive possession and trailed 14-0 after five minutes.

Saturday night against the Jaguars, quarterback Jameis Winston missed his first six passes and had an interception.

Rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo, who is making the Bucs front office, owners and fans squirm with each missed kick, pushed 32-yard and 49-yard field goals wide right. In Philly he clanked an extra point off the upright the first time he teed it up in the pros.

The Bucs won 27-21 Saturday as rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves ended the first half and began the second with interceptions.

Of course, slow starts hardly rate as news for Bucs followers.

A year ago, Tampa Bay had a total of 58 points in the first quarter, which ranked 23rd in the NFL.

Whatever urgency new coach Dirk Koetter has tried to impart on his football team, it has been met with a collective yawn.

"I wouldn't make any judgments based on two preseason games," Koetter said. "Would we like to start better? Absolutely. It's going to beat the start we had last week, but let's not confuse that with tonight."

When the Bucs arrived in Jacksonville for two days of joint practices last week against the Jaguars, they slogged through the first two hours Wednesday, especially on offense.

Winning in the NFL is tough if you don't start fast. Winning on the road if you don't start fast is nearly impossible.

On Saturday, thanks to seven first downs by penalties courtesy of the Jaguars, the Bucs had chances to score early.

But Winston fired low to Mike Evans. Then sailed one high. He threw slightly behind Cameron Brate and the deflected pass was picked off. A few plays later, Jags quarterback Blake Bortles hit running back T.J. Yeldon in the left flat and he beat linebacker Lavonte David to the end zone for a 7-0 lead after one quarter.

Sure, the game see-sawed after that. Winston capped a penalty-aided, 74-yard drive with a nice fade pass for a touchdown to Evans to tie it in the second quarter.

"We got the coverage we wanted, man-to-man. We've been working on the fade all offseason, and he threw a great ball — I didn't even have to jump for it," Evans said. "He threw it out of the DB's reach, and I made the play."

But Winston finished his night 3-of-10 for 28 yards and a score.

"That helps any offense if you start fast and put points on the board," Evans said. "That gives us confidence. We've got to work on that these next two preseason games."

Bortles hit a deep ball to Allen Hurns to make it 14-7. Quarterback Mike Glennon came off the bench against Jacksonville's second-team defense to tie the score on a strike to Mike James. A leaping interception by Har­greaves set up Aguayo's field goal and the Bucs led 17-14 at halftime.

Those are good things. But this is Year 2 in Koetter's scheme for Winston and the offense. Playing with passion is great. But playing with precision is better.

Winston is a rhythm passer. Once he gets warmed up, he typically stays hot. It was clear the Bucs planned to run more Saturday than they did at Philly, when they rushed for only 31 yards.

Maybe this should've been expected. Really, the Bucs started the game Saturday trailing the Jaguars by a year. This is the Jags' fourth year under coach Gus Bradley, the former Bucs linebackers coach. The ownership has stuck with him despite records of 4-12, 3-13 and 5-11.

Bortles is a year ahead of Winston, too. The third overall pick in 2014 out of UCF, Bortles passed for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns with 18 interceptions and eight lost fumbles last season. The Jags have built their offensive line with draft picks such as tackle Luke Joekel (1st round in 2013), center Brandon Linder and guard AJ. Cann. They drafted and are developing two outstanding receivers in Allen Robinson and Hurns. Defensively, they got younger and more athletic with cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack, their first- and second-round picks this year, respectively. They spent wisely in free agency on Broncos free agent defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

It's not like the Bucs can't compete with the Jaguars. They might not be as deep, but are just as talented. Bucs running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Daryl Smith were all held out for minor injuries as a precaution.

But games have momentum. Seasons have momentum. This is just the start of things, but the Bucs might want to start faster.

   
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