Starters struggle, back ups provide interesting plays in 27-20 loss to the Titans

No one will remember the this game 10 years from now, either from the significance of the moment, or the gameplay.  But that's not to say Saturday night's game wasn't a momumental step for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.  In place of Chucky on the sideline, we had 32 year old Raheem Morris.  The elder statesmen Monte Kiffin rocky topped his way out of town with Jim Bates from Rocky mountain high taking his place.  Jags and his offensive arsenal were on the sidelines, first time the Bucs have had an OC in years. 

The field also saw some changes.  No #55 was the biggest change as Derrick Brooks still seeks gainful employment.  The youth movement was on with both sides of the ball featuring young players.  After all, that's what the preseason is for.  But even with Morris and company losing the debut, we saw Stroughter catch his first pass, Freeman throw his first completion (and interception), and the new faces of Ward and Winslow step onto the field in pewter and red. 

As the game opened up, the Bucs would receive the ball first, and allow us to see McCown and the new offense in action.  The first series was a quick three and out, with the offense going nowhere.  2 yards on 3 plays and the offense seemed to revert back to 1999.  A quick punt would follow and now it was time to see the new defense.  The Titans were able to move the ball a little, but after a nice tackle by Ronder Barber, Collins would try to go deep and get picked by Sabby Piscitelli.  Good coverage by the young safety, and even behind him, Talib was in good position to make a play on the ball.

The Bucs next possession was flat out awful.  The O line couldn't block anyone, McCown took off scrambling a few times, and the drive ended after a 3 yard pass on 3rd and 13 ended on a Earnest Grahamfumble recovered by Tennessee.  Luckily, the defense held up and only allowed a field goal to make it 3-0 Titans.

Derrick Ward took the field for the Bucs on their next possession, and though he did look a bit better than Graham, the line still couldnt move anyone.  McCown and the first string struggled mightily against the Titans' first string and again punted back to the Titans.  On this drive, Collins would be picked off again, this time by Stylez White, who finished with a nice game (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT). 

Out trotted the slow moving Byron Leftwich and some of the second team for both sides.  On the second snap for Leftwich, he wound up and fired a pass to Bryan Clark, who made a nice adjustment on the ball for a 24 yard touchdown.  Pushing the score to 7-3.  Leftwich has shown when he has time he can be a weapon, but there were times in the game when he got hurried and it was just painful to see him try to move around.

Both offenses would stall on their next drives with Tennessee going three and out, and the Bucs stalling, though Clifton Smith provided some much needed relief on the ground.  On Tennessee's short drive, the Bucs managed to score a safety as the Titans held Bryan Clark on the punt block attempt in the end zone.  Leftwich did take a killer sack, losing 17 yards, and before too long the ball was back to the Titans.  Vince Young looked better than last week, connecting with rookie Kenny Britt on a long pass and putting the Titans in field goal range to make the score 9-6. 

The Tampa offense would again do nothing, and after a punt to the Titans, the Keystone cops came out for a play with Young flipping an ill advised lateral over Lendale White's head, and White running and booting the ball out of bounds.  Quite comical.  The Bucs had one more chance in the first half, with Leftwich moving the offense into position for Mike Nugent to nail a 51 yard field goal as time expired, putting the Bucs ahead 12-6 at halftime.

The first drive of the second half saw all backups for both teams, but also saw the Titans exploit a big time blown coverage to the tune of a 37 yard TD pass from Vince Young to Kenny Britt.  No Bucs player was within 20 yards of the streaking Britt, and after the PAT, the score was 13-12 Titans.  This would be the last time the Bucs sniffed the lead.

The moment that most of us were waiting for came with 10:12 left in the 3rd quarter; the arrival of Josh Freeman.  He and Kareem Huggins moved the offense with Huggins picking up good chunks of yardage on the ground and Freeman sticking to the short passes, between 6 and 8 yards.  Though he did take a sack on a play where his rookie mentality was evident, he still looked strong.  The drive would end with Nugent pulling a 50 yard field goal wide.

The Titans ground game would strike again, with Javon RInger shaking a missed tackle from Adam Heyward and rumbling into the end zone.  20-12 Titans.  Then, Freeman took the field again in what I can only hope is a learning experience.  Focusing mainly on the short passes, he telegraphed a pass to the right side, that was picked off and returned for a touchdown.  Welcome to the league Rook.  He would stay in the game for one more series and rebound nicely, though a 4th and 2 attempt fell to the turf.  Overall, not a bad night for his first game action.

The Titans "C" squad struggled, and as the Bucs took the field, so did young project Josh Johnson.  Though the level of competition wasn't there, he displayed good decision making and a good arm, completing several passes.  The "Oh wow" moment happened on 3rd and 5 as Johnson broke contain to the left and scrambled 43 yards for the touchdown. Nice run, great speed and I'd like to see how he does against better competition.  A completed pass on the 2 point conversion made it 27-20 Titans, where the game would end as Tennessee just ran clock on their last drive.

It was good to get the first game action under their belts, and give the coaches some tape to evaluate, and the players some idea as to what needs to be fixed (the entire first string offense). 

The Bucs face off against Jacksonville on Saturday, August 22nd, with Leftwich getting the start against his old team.  Stay tuned to Buc 'Em for your Bucs updates.

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