Wide receiver Frank Murphy took a bouncing opening kickoff at his own 5-yard line and headed straight up the middle of the field/ Two good blocks, one by tight end Marco Battaglia to spring Murphy to the outside, and another by running back Aaron Stecker to the clear the last possible Dolphin defender, allowed the former Kansas State University star to sprint 95 yards for a touchdown.
The good news is that it's the fifth kickoff return for a touchdown in franchise history with the feat last being accomplished in the 1999 preseason by former Buccaneer Yo Murphy. The bad news is that this one, along with the four previous touchdowns, was during the preseason and doesn't put a dent into the NFL record for touchdown futility on kickoffs, which currently stands at 1,545 attempts, but Murphy was still excited.
"It feels great," Murphy said. "You know I have been praying for one and it finally came true. It is just hard work. Everything was blocked perfectly and Stecker led me on in."
"We wanted to start out with a bang and finish with a bang," Gruden said. "We have to sustain drives. We have to cash in on all kinds of scoring opportunities."
In what arguably may have been the most anticipated preseason opener in franchise history, the Buccaneers scored all of their points on the first two plays of the first and second quarter then held on to beat the Dolphins in Gruden's first game as head coach for the Pewter Pirates.
With both teams having to play a second game before the weekend, big plays would be an important part of the football game. Gruden wanted to take advantage of every chance that the Bucs had to score points.
The Bucs had a chance to extend their 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. After a 38-yard gain by running back Michael Pittman that took the ball deep into Dolphins territory, the drive stalled on the Miami 16-yard line. Kicker Martin Gramatica was wide left with his 34-yard attempt and the Bucs squandered a golden opportunity for points.
Pittman, who rushed twice for 42 yards, followed outstanding blocks by running back Mike Alstott and left tackle Roman Oben at the point-of-attack, and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson down the field. A lot of it, though, was done by Pittman himself as he ran over two Dolphins defensive backs.
"I was pumped up about it," Pittman said. "The play was called 92 weak easy fake Z around. The way it was written, it worked perfectly. Coach told me to look for the cutback, and the cutback was there. Jason Taylor ran up the field, and I cut underneath him. I saw a free safety in the middle, and it was like, 'I'm going to run this guy over.' And I ran him over.
"It was just a big run, man. My heart was pumping real fast and I was out there having fun. I probably lost my breath during the run because I was so excited. I tried to make things happen -- and things happened."
The Bucs fared better on their next series and extended their lead to 14-0. Quarterback Rob Johnson made his first appearance of the game late in the first period and with the help of the starting offensive line, which played the entire first half, he immediately hit tight end Kent Dilger on a play-action bootleg for 20 yards into Miami territory.
Then, on the first play of the second quarter, Johnson faked to Alstott and bootlegged to his right. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell came from the other side of the field and made a nice running catch in the back of the end zone. McCardell felt that the Buccaneers offense had set the play up well by highlighting Alstott up the middle on three straight rushes that netted 12 yards.
"We set it up very well a couple plays before with Mike going up the middle," McCardell said. "It drew attention to Mike, and then we ran the bootleg and I had a chance to score. I was wide open in the back with everybody jumping Mike, and I snuck into the back of the end zone and made a touchdown."
Miami cut the lead in half midway through the second quarter when quarterback Ray Lucas found wide receiver Dedric Ward on a quick slant from 5 yards out. Cornerback Dwight Smith had decent coverage and tried to knock the ball down on the third down play, but Ward did an excellent job of shielding Smith, who struggled in coverage all night, from the football with his body.
Smith redeemed himself right before halftime by forcing a key fumble at the Bucs' 1-yard line with a jarring hit on Miami running back Travis Minor. Safety John Howell recovered for the Bucs to thwart the Dolphins' scoring opportunity.
The third quarter was scoreless, but both teams missed makeable field goal attempts. A 48-yarder by Tampa Bay backup kicker Rob Hart was wide right, and a 30-yard chip shot by Mare hit the right upright and caromed harmless away. But the Dolphins did add a field goal early in the fourth quarter to cut the Bucs' lead to 14-10.
Mare's 43-yard field goal at 14:22 of the final period put the Dolphins within striking distance but, in their last two possessions of the game, but Miami never seriously threatened to take the lead. The Dolphins offense never crossed midfield with the game on the line.
Rookie safety Jermaine Phillips had a strong showing with eight tackles, and made two nice tackles on successive down to keep the Dolphins short of the first down marker on the first series.
On the final series, Miami was out of timeouts and the Bucs reserve defense did an excellent job of taking away the sidelines. With 10 seconds left at the Miami 33, quarterback Zak Kustok launched a Hail Mary to the middle of the field, which conjured up memories of last year's 17-14 last-second win by the Dolphins over Tampa Bay in the preseason. This year, though, there would be no repeat performance for Miami as the pass was batted down by a trio of Bucs defenders securing a 14-10 Bucs triumph in the preseason opener.
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