Offense struggles yet again in Bucs' preseason loss to Browns

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hands off to Jacquizz Rodgers during the first half against the Browns at Raymond James.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hands off to Jacquizz Rodgers during the first half against the Browns at Raymond James.
Published Aug. 27, 2017

TAMPA — First the disclaimer. If you were a Bucs starter on offense or defense with so much as a bruise or bunion, you weren't pulling on a helmet against the Browns in Saturday's preseason home opening 13-9 loss. Sixteen players, including eight starters, wore ball caps on the sideline.

That said, this is the NFL and, well, injuries happen during the regular season, too.

The Bucs' performance in their preseason home opener was about as gloomy as the skies over Raymond James Stadium.

After three games, quarterback Jameis Winston has moved the football but not the scoreboard.

There have been 14 possessions by Winston and the first-team offense this preseason and it has produced a total of one touchdown and five field goals.

Twenty-one points is not going to cut it.

Not in this league. Not against the Falcons, Panthers and Saints.

The Bucs offense hasn't been good in the red zone. It barely has sniffed the end zone. Maybe it will be better in another time zone.

But Saturday against the Browns, a team that had the worst record in the league at 2-14 last year, the Bucs played about as poorly in the first half as they could.

Winston completed 17 of 27 for 200 yards, which are respectable numbers. But the Bucs' first possession ended when Winston threw a pass wide of tight end Cameron Brate and it was intercepted at the goal line by rookie defensive back Jabrill Peppers.

Frankly, the Bucs were lucky to have that chance to begin with. The Browns extended the drive when they jumped offside as Nick Folk was lining up for a 45-yard field goal.

Winston's protection wasn't stellar Saturday. He was sacked twice and hit several other times. The Bucs were also playing without right tackle Demar Dotson and left guard Kevin Pamphile, so that didn't help.

While we're into damning numbers, the Bucs were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. Winston seemed out of synch with his receivers, especially on the money downs. He fired high to rookie Chris Godwin on the sideline. He led Adam Humphries too far over the middle of the field. Brate couldn't hang on to another pass he probably should've caught at the goal line.

"We've got to be better,'' Brate said. "We've moved the ball at will this preseason. It's just us stopping us. Tonight, it was just some pitch-and-catch things. We definitely have to be better before Sept. 10 in Miami.''

The lone scores came on Folk's 31-yard field goal with 1:17 remaining in the first half, a 42-yarder midway through the third quarter and a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Come to think of it, three made field goals is not a small achievement for the Bucs.

There is no question that the offense potentially is the best it has been in years. Maybe ever.

It's also important to note that neither starting receiver, Mike Evans nor DeSean Jackson, played Saturday. It's also a game of inches, and receiver Donteea Dye came a cleat away from getting both feet down in bounds for what would've been a 24-yard touchdown strike from Winston in the third quarter.

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But the point is the Bucs are going to need points this season. Lots and lots and lots of points on the scoreboard. Scoring one touchdown in six trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line with the starting offense may not inspire confidence.

Five of the NFL's top six scoring offenses from 2016 are on the schedule this season. The Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game, best in the league. The Saints (29.3), Patriots (27.6), Packers (27.0) and Cardinals (26.1) are also on that list.

If not for the fact that the Browns started rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and the Bucs defense forced an interception by Vernon Hargreaves and a fumble recovery by Adarius Glanton, Saturday's game could've felt much worse.

The next time Winston and the offense are competing on a football field it will be the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Dolphins. Of course, there will be a real game plan and all the starters will be ready to go.

You would expect lots of first downs and maybe touchdowns.

But just in case, Folk better bring his A game.