1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Bucs

Bucs’ sloppy win far from Bruce Arians’ desired outcome

Tampa Bay gets the win, but not the improved discipline coach sought
Bucs kicker Matt Gay (9) kicks the game winning 48 yard field goal during the fourth quarter of the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on August 16, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 16 to 14. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Aug. 17
Updated Aug. 17

TAMPA — The Bucs say they are reloading. The Dolphins have announced they are rebuilding.

A performance like Friday’s 16-14 preseason win against Miami may have everyone reconsidering whether there really is much difference between two of the NFL’s low rung teams.

Rookie Matt Gay, who all but sealed his spot as the Bucs’ new starting kicker, proved to be one of the lone bright spots. Gay’s game-winning 48-yard field with six seconds remaining provided Tampa Bay with the winning points.

Third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin engineered a five-play, 45-yard drive in 28 seconds to set the stage for Gay's heroics.

The fifth-round draft pick already had the edge on returning kicker Cairo Santos thanks to his success in training camp. Friday night’s game revealed, for a night, that he also can kick under game-ending pressure.

"You can’t even put a price on it,'' Gay said of the game-winner. "It’s priceless to get that situation and feel comfortable before you go into the regular season and feel comfortable in that situation.''

But Gay’s success wasn’t quite enough to mask what otherwise was an uninspiring effort by both teams.

The Bucs almost lost when Jake Rudock threw a 8-yard pass to Patrick Laird with less than a minute to pull Miami to within 1. A successful two-point conversion — Rudock to Trenton Irwin — gave the Dolphins the lead.

"When you win, you feel happy, it brings energy,'' quarterback Jameis Winston said. "It doesn’t matter when. A win is tough to get in this league.''

Here’s the thing about the Bucs. Every year, they’re the ones knocking on the door. But too often that pounding is just coming from inside the cellar of the NFC South, where they’ve dwelled for eight of the past 10 seasons.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians, the two-time NFL Coach of the Year, has arrived to change all that.

He’s said Tampa Bay has all the ingredients of a playoff team: A franchise quarterback in Winston to save. A young defense that needed just a few more pieces and a scheme change under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to savor.

In the Bucs’ 30-28 preseason opener at Pittsburgh last Friday, there was reason to celebrate. Winston engineered a near-flawless 81-yard drive for a touchdown. Arians was hoping for another sharp start by his first-team offense while cleaning up the penalties.

It’s hard to find a looser head coach than Arians, but he preaches discipline.

"The continuation of the dumbest penalties I’ve seen by our second and third group,'' Arians said. “And they’re lucky we don’t cut tomorrow.”

MORE BUCS: Columnist John Romano asks, ‘Is that a good Tampa Bay defense looks like?’

The Bucs first-team offense wasn’t nearly as sharp as it was against the Steelers. Winston went 2-for-4 passing for 24 yards, was sacked once and pressured another time when running back Ronald Jones appeared to miss a blitz pickup. This time, the Bucs first-team offense failed to put any points on the board.

Running back Andre Ellington, who is battling to win the job as the Bucs’ third down back, lost a fumble.

There were dropped passes by Justin Watson and Bobo Wilson, a dropped interception by cornerback Jamel Dean and another by linebacker Kevin Minter.

And there were more costly penalties. Oh, those flags. The Bucs had eight penalties, six resulting in first downs.

Deone Bucannon was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct to keep one Dolphins drive alive on third down. A defensive holding penalty on Patrick O’Connor negated a big loss on a blitz by linebacker Kevin Minter.

The quarterbacks have a head for a reason, so you don’t hit them in the head,'' Arians aaid. "We slapped them in the head three times. They got a big first down when we had them backed up and it killed our field position.''

Tampa Bay had 12 men on the field when the Dolphins were preparing to punt. Demone Harris was called for roughing former Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on third down, resulting in a new set of downs. All told the Bucs had three roughing penalties and Harris had two of them.

MORE BUCS: Ill-timed penalties plagued Tampa Bay

Even when the Bucs did have a big play on offense, like when running back Dare Ogunbowale turned a short pass from Griffin and turned it into a 40-yard gain, it was called back by a questionable holding penalty on guard Zach Bailey.

Last season, the Bucs had the sixth-most penalties in the NFL with 117. It’s something they can’t afford to repeat.

Okay, time for the big disclaimer.

Preseason games don’t count, and for the most part, they may not matter. There wasn’t a Bucs starter on the field on either side of the ball after only a few minutes.

The Bucs got plenty of work against the Dolphins during the week, and to the untrained eye, they seemed to win more of the battles than they lost.

But around here, where Bucs fans look for any signs of life from the team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years, it helps to do more than play a sloppy game on a sloppy field after a day of sloppy weather.

If you’re looking for any morsels of hope, nobody got hurt Friday.

Ogunbowale took a screen pass 42 yards from Griffin in the fourth quarter, the longest play of the game, to set up Cairo Santos’ game-tying 23-yard field goal. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett had one sack and flushed Josh Rosen into the arms of O’Connor for another one. Dean intercepted a pass from Rudock in the end zone with the scored tied and 6:23 remaining.

Griffin threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tanner Hudson with 3:35 to play, his second in as many weeks.

Look, Mike Evans has yet to catch a pass, so yes, preseason games are the cubic zirconia of the NFL.

But as a team, whether it’s during joint practices or preseason games, the Bucs have to learn how not to play down to the level of their opponent.

That’s what the Bucs have done too often and there are no easy outs in the NFC South.

What the Bucs put on the field Friday wasn’t a great product. Arians warned before the game he was prepared to cut from 90 to 60 players. After Friday, you have to wonder if he has 53 he wants to keep.


  1. The NFC South quarterbacks -- the Panthers' Cam Newton, the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Saints' Drew Brees are in various states of duress. It could add up to an advantage for the Bucs, but Coach Bruce Arians says pay no attention. Associated Press
    Saints’ Drew Brees, Panthers’ Cam Newton battling injuries, but Tampa Bay coach wants an inward focus
  2. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackle Caleb Benenoch participates in drills during training camp at the team's practice facility, One Buc Place, in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, July 29, 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Former fifth-round pick reportedly received a lot of interest after being cut by Tampa Bay.
  3. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and coach Doug Marrone got into heated exchange on the sidelines Sunday during the Jaguars' game against the Texans. The next day, reports surfaced that Ramsey had requested to be traded. STEPHEN B. MORTON  |  Associated Press
    The answer depends on the Bucs’ answers to other questions. Are they Super Bowl contenders? Are they willing to give up on their recent draft picks? How committed are they to Jameis Winston?
  4. The Giants will start Daniel Jones (8) against the Bucs on Sunday. MICHAEL AINSWORTH  |  AP
    New York will start Daniel Jones against a Tampa Bay team that hasn’t fared well against first-year signal callers in recent years.
  5. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hopes to have his team dressed for success as the season moves forward, but to do so he'll need to generate more offense. Tampa Bay plays host to the Giants on Sunday. BRIAN BLANCO  |  AP
    In 2018, Tampa Bay fielded one of the league’s best passing units. Now it’s struggling.
  6. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees watches from the sidelines after getting hurt during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. Brees has been diagnosed with a torn ligament near the thumb of his throwing hand that is expected to sideline him at least six weeks, said a person familiar with the situation. Brees has elected to have surgery, but it is not yet clear when the operation will take place or who will perform it, the person said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What Drew Brees’ injury and Cam Newton’s lingering problems mean for the Bucs. Plus: A first look at the Lightning.
  7. Bucs coach Bruce Arians has helped the team to a 1-1 record. The won-loss mark isn't surprising, but how they've done it has turned some heads. BRIAN BLANCO  |  AP
    For some Times staff writers, the outlook appears a little brighter. Others? Not so much
  8. Colin Kaepernick was the 49ers starting quarterback at one point, then his kneeling for the national anthem created controversy. AP
    As QBs are lost to injuries, the national anthem protester draws no interest.
  9. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after their loss against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. Brees left the game after being hurt in the first half. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    The Saints quarterback could miss six games with a thumb injury, which means the NFC South may be up for grabs after all.
  10. FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2014, file photo, Tim Tebow answers a question during a interview on the set of ESPN's new SEC Network in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File) NY161
    The former Florida Gators quarterback was passionate in his reasoning for why student-athletes shouldn’t make money. It didn’t sit well with many in the media, including other ESPN employees.