We all know it doesn't count in the standings, but it certainly helps alleviate some of the pressure head coach Jon Gruden must be feeling entering his sixth season in the Bay. A solid W also helps reassure the multitude of new Bucs that things are truly headed in the right direction.
But don't get too caught up in congratulating anyone just yet. Sure, there were a few solid performances the coaching staff can build on, but Tampa Bays' performance was less impressive than most would have you believe.
Yes, Luke McCown all but wrapped up the backup quarterback job with his 7-for-7, 68-yard, one-TD performance.
And seventh-rounder Kenneth Darby certainly looked like the early frontrunner for steal of the draft with his 84 yards on 15 carries.
Take off the rose-colored glasses, however, and you'll see the game for what it really was: An excellent effort against the Pats B team.
Given that, the Bucs' defense should have held New England to just 213 total yards of offense (89 rushing), if not less. New England simply lacked any big-play threat and rarely even attempted throwing down field.
Tom Brady was nevertheless affective in the 13 snaps he took — completing 5 of 7 passes for just 13 yards and three first downs. It might have been four first downs if not for Adams, who on just his second play of the game showed the field awareness of a savvy veteran, knocking down a Brady pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-7 at the Tampa Bay 39 yard line.
Adams also finished with a pair of solo tackles while seeing plenty of extra attention in the Pats' blocking schemes. It wasn't so much the number of tackles that impressed, but rather how he got them. The first came on a diving effort in the third quarter, where Adams tripped up Heath Evans with just one hand. You've got like a player willing to do whatever it takes, especially if he's got that kind of hand strength (which also help the youngster shed blockers). Then he displayed his work ethic in the fourth, scoring his second tackle in pursuit of Evans.
Yes, it would've been nice to see what Adams could do if someone else was present on the Bucs line to command double teams. But the Clemson product looks like he'll be just fine.
The scary part for Bucs fans is the fact Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel led a 13-play, 65-yard march that ate up 8 minutes, 54 seconds and gave New England a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Sammy Morris' 2-yard scoring plunge even went right through linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Considering the Bucs were missing starting MLB Barrett Ruud (knee), and it was the first preseason game, I can overlook that drive. Besides, does anyone really think Morris will win that battle should it come up again this season?
Right, moving on.
Before we get to the offense, there's still a matter of pressuring the QB, which Tampa Bay simply failed to do. Ellis Wyms broke through for the Bucs' only sack late in the second quarter. But other than that … nothing.
The Bucs must create a steady pass rush if they're going to make a serious run at the postseason. Adams should help as he develops, but much of that responsibility will fall on the under tackle position, where Wyms did manage a sack to go with three tackles before leaving with a hip pointer. But that's just not enough. Fellow under tackle Jovan Hoye did lead the team with four tackles, and DTs Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims played solid.
Offensively, the Bucs were a mixed bag as far as the first unit goes, mustering a pair of three-and-out drives before Gruden went to the reserves.
Projected starting left tackle Luke Petitgout (back) and No. 3 wide receiver Michael Clayton didn't play. Cadillac Williams touched the ball just twice — a run for 4 yards and a pass for another 4. Jeff Garcia completed just 1-of-4 and admitted afterward he was a little nervous and still working on timing with his receivers. It didn't help that Joey Galloway dropped a first down to end their night.
If you can get past all that, both Sears and right guard Davis Joseph looked more than capable of emerging as the league's best guard combo in the not-too-distant future, which should do wonders for the Bucs' ground attack this season and beyond.
Jeremy Trueblood, however, raised some concerns at right tackle, a position that seemed to be in good hands. The second-year man from Boston College allowed McCown to be sacked on back-to-back plays, drawing an earful on his return to the sideline. It's a situation you'd like to think can easily be corrected, but it also warrants a close eye next weekend in Jacksonville.
As previously stated, McCown was nothing short of spectacular. Watching his performance, you almost forgot he lost the entire 2006 season to knee surgery, and hadn't played in a live game since the 2005 preseason. His flawless passing night included an 11-yard TD connection with Paris Warren, who finished with 46 yards on four catches and looks more than capable of being the Bucs No. 4 WR.
McCown also scrambled three times for 19 yards and looked comfortable, even smooth, in the pocket. But what impressed me most was the accuracy of his passes. Every replay the ball seemed to hit Warren perfectly in stride.
The same couldn't be said for Bruce Gradkowski. Sure, the Toledo product displayed plenty of that grit Bucs fans enjoyed last season. But he still can't make the deep pass, as evidenced numerous times against New England, and his receivers just weren't put in good positions to make plays after the catch.
No matter who takes the snaps for Tampa Bay, the Bucs' ability to run like they did against the Pats will solve most of Gruden's offensive worries. With Cadillac stuck in park most of the night, the Bucs still managed 169 yards on 36 carries (4.7 per).
Surprise, surprise, Earnest Graham was productive in the preseason. The former Gator rushed for 35 yards on seven carries.
However, it was the former Alabama standout that stole the show. Darby carried the ball on seven consecutive plays for 31 yards to set up Matt Bryant's 32-yard game-winning field goal. Every time he touched the ball he just knew where to go. He hit the holes quick and hard, not wasting any time or movement, as everything Darby did seemed like the right decision.
A 5-foot-10, 211 pounds, Darby isn't physically imposing. He's also not considered a burner. But he's clearly a football player.
However, Darby does have to work on his pass blocking. His ankle-biting approach on rookie LB Oscar Lua resulted in McCown's third sack in the third quarter. And Gradkowski barely got off a pass when Darby failed to pick up blitzing S Mel Mitchell in the fourth. But it's not uncommon for rookie RBs to need work in pass protection.
Should Darby produce similar numbers against the stout Jaguars defense on Saturday, Gruden might just have a new backup for Cadillac.
Also watch for S Sabby Piscitelli in Jacksonville. The popular rookie sat out against New England, which never really tested any of Tampa Bay's safeties. Based on the early reports of the Jags offense under new coordinator Dirk Koetter, that should change next week with a heavy dose of play-action.
Eric McKinney writes for the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla.