The offense scored two touchdowns and moved the ball extremely well through the air. The defense was stifling while pitching its first shutout of the preseason. The special teams were truly special with kicker Martin Gramatica hitting both of his field goal attempts and the Bucs' field goal block team getting a hand on two three-point attempts from Jacksonville kicker Hayden Epstein.
Tampa Bay was also the beneficiary of some helpful calls by the officials. The Jaguars were flagged a dozen times for a whopping 104 yards, with most coming at crucial points of the game. Head coach Jon Gruden also won both of his instant replay challenges leaving Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin fit to be tied while watching the Jaguars offense struggling to find the end zone.
The first quarter was scoreless and dominated by both defenses. Jacksonville starting quarterback Mark Brunell was perfect on all six of his pass attempts against the Bucs' first-team defense, but that is a very deceiving statistic because he was forced to hit mostly check down routes to his running backs by the stout Tampa Bay defense.
The Pewter Pirates began their final series of the opening quarter from their own 28-yard line and put together the first scoring drive of the football game. Two back-to-back 20-yard completions from quarterback Brad Johnson to receivers Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson to end the first quarter moved the football deep into Jaguar territory. On the first completion to McCardell, Bucs fullback Jameel Cook made the throw possible with a great blitz pickup to allow Johnson time to find the former Jaguar pass catcher on a dig route.
The next completion was a perfect example of why Tampa Bay when out and paid McCardell the big bucks. With Keyshawn Johnson split to the left on the numbers, the newest Buccaneer receiver went in motion from right to left across the formation ending up in the slot between No. 19 and left tackle Roman Oben. On the snap of the ball, McCardell ran a streak route that cleared out the cover 2 safety to his side allowing his Johnson to get open on a deep in behind the linebackers.
Last year, the Buccaneers didn't have a complementary wide out who could get used up (effectively running a clear out a zone or eat up a double team) to allow Johnson to take advantage of single coverage. That's not the case this year with McCardell and he showed his worth against the Jaguars, a team he played with for the past six years.
"It was a little strange, but it was great," McCardell said about his return to Jacksonville. "I have a great fan base here. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game, but as I got into it, I settled down. It was great to come back."
But as their scoring march lingered into the second quarter, the Bucs were forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Martin Gramatica to go up 3-0. It would have been worse for the Jaguars except for a great touchdown-saving play by Jacksonville linebacker Danny Clark. On third-and-goal, the Bucs ran a crossing route between their two tight ends. Second-team tight end Marco Battaglia ran a shallow cross pattern to try and drag Clark out of the zone that starting tight end Ken Dilger was entering. At the last moment, Clark came off Battaglia and stepped back to knock the ball down that was ticketed for an open Dilger just over the goal line between the hash marks.
Brad Johnson solidified his hold on the starting signal caller spot with a 6-of-10 performance for 97 yards. Johnson, who played all of the first half, again showed great pocket presence and did an excellent job of reading coverage. More important, though, was that he moved the offense, especially on their first series when they were backed up to the shadow of their own end zone.
"That was real good to put together a 10-play drive from bad field position," Gruden said. "Anytime you can move the ball out from negative field position it great. I thought Brad Johnson was sharp and Rob Johnson followed it up with some good football. I think both Rob and Brad got a lot of work in the first half. I think we got 42 snaps of offense. We just have to catch the ball in some critical situations. We have to do a better job of that."
The Buccaneers had a chance to add to the lead, but let a golden opportunity -- literally -- slip through their fingers. Slippery-handed cornerback Brian Kelly dropped a sure-fire interception when Jacksonville backup quarterback David Garrard hit him right in the chest when his intended receiver fell on his cut. Kelly would have had nothing but 40 yards of open field ahead of him until he reached the end zone had he made the catch.
Linebacker Al Singleton also dropped an interception, but his wasn't the slam-dunk pick that Kelly dropped.
But Tampa Bay's defense did come up with an interception midway through the second quarter. Nickel cornerback Terrell Buckley jumped a quick curl route by Jaguars wide receiver Patrick Johnson and returned it to the Jacksonville 39-yard line.
Second team quarterback Rob Johnson took it the Bucs the rest of the way to increase the team's lead to 10-0. Johnson, who finished 8-of-11 for 74 yards and a touchdown, hit a wide open Battaglia off play-action to take the ball to just inside the 10. Then Johnson hit Frank Murphy on a quick V route. Murphy, who led the Bucs with five catches for 40 yards, faked a quick slant then made a hard cut toward the corner of the end zone and was all alone for his second touchdown in as many weeks. In the preseason opener, Murphy returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay closed out the first half scoring when Gramatica blasted a 50-yarder again from the right hash mark. The kick had plenty of leg and split the uprights to increase the Bucs lead to 13-0 with only four ticks left before halftime.
"He sure hit that," Gruden said. "Is he good or what? We had a chance to do a lot of real good things offensively. That's something we're struggling with right now, but Gramatica is the 'Iceman.'"
The Bucs offense sputtered during a scoreless third quarter. Reserve signal caller Shaun King turned the ball over on two successive plays early in the third period. He was intercepted by Jaguars cornerback Ike Charlton and then fumbled a bad exchange from second team center Zack Quaccia on the first play of the next series, but Jacksonville was unable to capitalize on the miscues by the Bucs offense.
The Jags had a three-and-out on the first turnover and had a field goal deflected by defensive end Ellis Wyms. Another blocked field goal, this time by defensive end Greg Spires, led to the only points of the second half. King hit rookie receiver Marquise Walker with a 31-yard scoring strike to push the lead to 20-0. King did a superb job of looking off the coverage and then coming back to Walker on a skinny post between the two deep safeties.
The Bucs head back to Orlando 2-0 in the preseason and will start to prepare for Washington and Steve Spurrier's prolific offense next Saturday at Raymond James. This game has been eagerly anticipated and will give some idea of how good this Bucs team really is because the starters are expected to play into the third quarter.
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