TAMPA — The turf at Raymond James Stadium is as good as any in the NFL, but the Bucs are playing on a lopsided field.
The defense has shown the ability to dominate. The offense — well, it has a much longer way to go.
So in Saturday's 20-14 preseason loss to the Dolphins, Gerald McCoy moved the end zone a little closer for them.
McCoy, the Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle, sacked Ryan Tannehill early in the second quarter, stripping him of the football, which was recovered on a bounce by defensive end Michael Johnson and returned to the Miami 25-yard line.
Four plays later, McCown threw a strike to receiver Vincent Jackson under the goalpost for a 7-yard touchdown.
Jackson's touchdown is the only score of the preseason by the offense under McCown, who went 5-for-7 passing for 46 yards. His protection was a little better, but McCown still had one pass batted down, was flushed from the pocket, hit three times and was sacked once.
"The positive is we got better as a football team," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's kind of simple as that. I thought we did a better job blocking up front. We talk a lot about taking the ball away. Takeaway. Touchdown. That's the way you want it to happen."
Last week, after suffering through a miserable preseason opener at Jacksonville in which he was sacked twice, lost a fumble and was intercepted, McCown spoke to Smith about the need to play Buc ball.
"Takeaways and touchdowns, that's what we have to do," McCown said. "We're glad the defense got (the ball) for us, gave us some field position and we were able to punch it in."
Utilizing the no-huddle, they picked up three first downs (one on a roughing-the-passer penalty) and showed some promise. Running back Doug Martin (six carries for 24 yards) ran hard and found some room inside behind guards Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh.
Rookie receiver Mike Evans had a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon reversed by instant replay review. Referee Brad Allen ruled Evans lost possession of the ball before he crossed the goal line and the ball was fumbled through the end zone for a touchback. Glennon also lost a fumble, which led to a Dolphins field goal.
For the second straight game, McCoy looked like the best player on the field. He had three tackles, one for a 5-yard loss, a quarterback hit and the sack of Tannehill.
McCoy's play ignited the offense. Martin rushed for 5 yards on first down before McCown hit tight end Brandon Myers in the left flat for 10 yards and a first down.
On second and goal from the 7-yard line, Jackson ran a post route and McCown delivered a perfect pass in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 13:03 remaining in the second quarter. Connor Barth connected on the 33-yard point-after attempt and the Bucs led 7-3.
"Josh did a great job of sitting in the pocket, holding on to the ball as long as he could and letting me work in the back of the end zone and he delivered a great ball," Jackson said.
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Glennon did not play as well, completing 6 of 12 for 77 yards and was sacked twice.
"We're getting there and I have to be patient," McCown said. "I just want everything to happen right now."
Aside from the defeat, the Bucs suffered more serious losses. Defensive end William Gholston (shoulder), running back Mike James (shoulder), safety Major Wright (back) and cornerback Rashaad Melvin (ankle) were forced to leave the game.
But the takeaway from Saturday is takeaways and touchdowns are what have to drive the Bucs.
"Our version of Buc ball is that. Great defense, great special teams but a productive offense," Smith said. "And Josh as a quarterback, you want your quarterback thinking that way, knowing that No. 1 he's got to protect the football and that's what Josh is talking about as much as anything. And when you get an opportunity, Josh McCown knew when we got that takeaway, we couldn't settle for a field goal there. We needed to get a touchdown. You've got to capitalize on those types of things."
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.