Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With Winston taking control, Bucs' offense hits higher level

TAMPA — Quarterback Jameis Winston made sure the electricity wasn't coming just from the new giant video boards that lit up Raymond James Stadium like Times Square on Friday night.

Needing to start fast in the final preseason game for the Bucs' starters, Winston took control at the line of scrimmage with a no-huddle, all-befuddle offense against the Browns, and calm returned amid the chaos.

Orchestrating an up-tempo attack, changing plays and directing traffic at times on the run, Winston completed 16 of 25 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns to build a 27-3 first-half lead, and the Bucs cruised to a 30-13 preseason victory.

Make no mistake, Winston needed a game like this, and he knew it. The Bucs needed it, too.

Though only an appetizer, it was plenty tasty enough to last until coach Dirk Koetter's team opens the regular season Sept. 11 in Atlanta.

Remember when Winston was sacked and lost a fumble on the first series in Philadelphia in the preseason opener two weeks ago? When he missed his first six passes — including throwing an interception that bounced off the hands of tight end Cameron Brate — to start the game at Jacksonville last week? Fuggetaboutit.

"We're blessed to have these amazing scoreboards," Winston said. "What was done to the stadium for this year is tremendous, and the players took notice. We came out in pregame and were like, 'Wow, this is amazing.' And we did not want to disappoint the people here."

Friday night could not have gone much better for the Bucs unless the game had counted.

Speaking of taking a gorilla off your back, rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo, under siege for missing an extra point and two field goals in the first two preseason games, made all his kicks. It began with a 48-yard field goal to end the first drive, his second-longest attempt of the preseason. Fans stood and cheered as Aguayo ran onto the field. He also added a 21-yarder, a 27-yarder and three extra points.

As big as Winston played, his receivers played bigger. Mike Evans, who caught a touchdown pass last week, was dominant in the first half with five receptions for 115 yards and a score. Most of his yardage came on one series in the second quarter.

First Evans got behind the Browns defense for a 47-yard gain before inexplicably stepping out of bounds. He followed that up with a 34-yard touchdown catch, dragging cornerback Jamar Taylor into the end zone.

Winston didn't just spread the ball around, he drove almost every throw downfield. He hit Vincent Jackson for 31 yards. He connected with Adam Humphries for 23.

"We went a little up-tempo there, so it was good to kind of get the tempo going," Humphries said. "It was good to see Jameis complete some balls down the field and get into that good rhythm."

Humphries proved he is dangerous any time the ball is in his hands, returning a punt 73 yards for a touchdown.

Perhaps even more impressive is that the Bucs weren't at full strength. Guard Kevin Pamphile was excused for family reasons. Center Joe Hawley had to leave the game in the first quarter.

If there was a downer, it was watching cornerback Brent Grimes let some receivers get behind him, though it was unclear if he was supposed to have safety help. A 43-yard yard touchdown pass from Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III to receiver Josh Gordon was the worst play of the first half for the Bucs defense; it cut Tampa Bay's lead to 27-10. Grimes left the game early in the third quarter with an injury.

This was as complete a performance as the Bucs have had in many months, perhaps going back to November.

The defense totaled eight sacks, including two by defensive end Jacquies Smith. Granted, the Browns are one of the worst teams in the NFL. You don't roll up 361 yards on offense against a top-rung team, even in the preseason. But if you're into reading tea leaves, consider that in Week 3 of the preseason a year ago, the Bucs lost 31-7 to the Browns and quarterback Josh McCown.

You have to wonder, given the way Winston has thrived when Koetter has let the offense go fast, if that won't be the norm this season. For one night, at least, the Browns couldn't muddle the no-huddle.

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