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Bucs Win Thursday Night Opener

Roy Cummings

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Aug 9, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) calls a play at the line against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers opened up the preseason on Thursday night, rallying to defeat the Dolphins 26-24 on a late 26-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal. Here are a few observations:

Victories in the preseason don’t usually mean much but I believe the situation is a bit different for this year’s Bucs. After missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season last year and recording their seventh losing season in the last nine, this team desperately needs to develop a culture of winning, and this was a step in the right direction.

After controlling the game throughout, the Bucs gave up the lead late, but third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin led them downfield to set up the game-winning field goal.

What a nice start for the Bucs defense. They didn’t generate much of a pass rush, especially during their initial series against quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but Gerald McCoy had a sack of David Fales during the second; they recorded three stops in their first three series (two in the red zone) and allowed just three points.

It’s all about results and early on in this one, the Bucs defense delivered.

Aug 9, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) attempts to bring down Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback David Rivers (27) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 9, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) attempts to bring down Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback David Rivers (27) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What a disappointing finish for the Bucs defense. The Bucs D did a lot of good things in this one, stopping the Dolphins on each of their first 10 third downs and holding them to field goals or field-goal attempts on several trips inside the red zone.

It was a shame to see the unit give up the lead late and was far too reminiscent of what often happened to this team a year ago.

As expected, Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first quarter, which amounted to two full series. Looking extremely sharp throughout, he moved the ball and the team well. He completed six of eight passes for 55 yards, scrambled twice for 11 yards and made quick, smart decisions across the board.

Had a couple more of his very catchable passes (especially on a third down toss to rookie RB Ronald Jones) been caught, his outing would have been even better.

As good as Fitzpatrick was, Jameis Winston was even better. Taking over and playing the entire second quarter, Winston completed 11 of 13 passes for 102 yards, and despite taking a sack when his line broke down finished with a 99.4 passer rating.

Winston was playing with and against backups, but he looked a lot like he did late last year when he completed 123 of 183 passes for 1,584 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and had a passer rating of 99.1 across his last five games.

RB Peyton Barber has been one of the most impressive players in training camp this year and he carried that over to the game-day field on Thursday, running four times for 21 yards and a touchdown while catching a pair of passes, albeit for minus-1 yard.

The Bucs have long thought that Barber has the ability to be a feature back and he did nothing to dispel that theory during his first official game as the new leader of the Bucs backfield.

Here we go again. K Chandler Catanzaro, whom the Bucs signed to a three-year, $9.75 million contract during the offseason, missed his first PAT in a Bucs uniform and later missed a 53-yard field goal attempt that would have all but sealed a Bucs victory.

Sure, he bounced back and redeemed himself by kicking the game-winning field goal, but you really have to wonder if Matt Bryant put a curse on this team all those years ago when the Bucs let him leave and join the Falcons.

It’s early of course but you also have to wonder if it’s going to be another agonizing season for the Bucs kickers.

Rookie running back Ronald Jones had a pretty rough debut. He dropped a pass and while he did score a touchdown on a 2-yard run, he only gained 9 yards on eight carries. Jones has had a lackluster training camp so far and he failed to break out of his funk against the Dolphins.

There’s still plenty of time for Jones to find his groove but if this trend continues, the Bucs will eventually bag their original idea of using a committee of backs and give the bulk of the ground work to Barber.

Opponents are still picking on CB Ryan Smith in the passing game and rightfully so. Smith was awful last year, one of the weakest members of what was easily the worst defenses in the league.

He didn’t look any better on Thursday. He picked off the final Hail Mary pass of the game but before that he surrendered a number of catches in coverage and was flagged for a DPI on a series that resulted in a Dolphins score. If Smith keeps playing like this, he won’t just lose a backup job, he’ll lose a roster spot.

Vernon Hargreaves left the game early with a groin strain. He didn’t seem too upset about it so it may not be that bad. He better hope that’s the case because he’s fighting for his starter’s job this preseason and rookies Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart were among the Bucs best players on Thursday.

Davis had five tackles and Stewart played tight coverage all throughout.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs DE Barrett basked in first Pro Bowl appearance Wednesday

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Off the best pass-rushing season in Buccaneers history, potential free-agent defensive end Shaq Barrett was soaking things in Wednesday in Orlando.

That’s where the NFC and AFC top players have congregated for the 2020 Pro Bowl coming Sunday.

Barrett, who set the Buccaneers single-season sack record with 19.5 this past season, ended up being the lone Buccaneer able to play in the game. This, after receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have both had to bow out due to hamstring injuries.

Barrett got props on day one from one from Cardinals DE Chandler Jones, whom he battled for the sack title all the way down to the final Sunday of the season:

Barrett then got to hangout and sign autographs with the fans assembled at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The sixth year player out of Colorado State, who was originally undrafted but signed with the Broncos in 2014, then told the media, he’s looking for a big-money free-agent deal. And, further, his preference is that he stays in Tampa Bay.

After all, Barrett surpassed anyone’s expectation in 2019, while playing for a modest one-year free agent deal and betting on himself to cash-in. And now, after his agent Drew Rosenhaus and Bucs GM Jason Licht are done, it appears he will be making in the neighborhood of $18-20 million per year just like the top pass rushers in the NFL.

The Bucs also have the possibility of putting the franchise tag for 2020 on Barrett which would also be valued around that same amount for just the one season.

One final cool moment came Wednesday, where Barrett got introduced to a young Buccaneers fan who’s enduring tremendous family hardship with one parent battling cancer and another suffering from the debilitating ALS disease. After signing an autograph for the young man, Barrett gave him the surprise of his young life with two tickets to next weekend’s Super Bowl in Miami:

And just like that fantastic reward, Barrett will soon be similarly rewarded for his fantastic year and upcoming potential. And most likely, it will be in Tampa Bay for a long time.

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Bucs Evans got respect from LeBron James Saturday night

Florida Football Insiders

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The new present day cliche’ for respect among athletes/opponents in sports is: “Game Recognizes Game.” And, there was a neat example of that Saturday night, as the Houston Rockets of the NBA hosted the L.A. Lakers. That’s when iconic NBA star LeBron James of the Lakers came over to acknowledge Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans in the seats behind him.

As you probably know, James is arguably the most recognizable and successful NBA hoops player worldwide in the last 10+ years. He’s a 15 time All Star, a four time MVP, and helped the Miami Heat win two World Championships. And, then came back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who originally drafted him out of high school, and led them to the city’s epic first professional title in any sport in over 50 years back in 2016.

And, LeBron has the Lakers rolling at 34-8 with another win in Houston last night.

As for Evans, he is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers biggest offensive weapon and was having a tremendous 2019 season statistically until it was cut short with a hamstring injury in the Bucs early December win over the Indianapolis Colts.

That’s when Evans suffered a severe hamstring injury on a 61 yard touchdown catch from Jameis Winston and did not play another down in 2019. Still, he joined teammate Chris Godwin, as they both went over 1,000 yards for the season, which was the first time in Tampa Bay history that that happened.

Evans is also only the second player in league history, besides Randy Moss, to have 1,000 or more yards receiving in a season in his first six years in the NFL.

Further, it’s also well-known that Evan is a huge fan of the NBA and he’s originally from Galveston, Texas and play in college at Texas A&M. So, it’s only fitting that he would be courtside during the off-season and the Rockets game against the Lakers.

Evans has made mention earlier in his career that he had met and talked to LeBron James on previous occasions. One reason that Evans brought that up during the season, was his touchdown celebration dance when Tampa Bay outgunned the L.A. Rams in late September.

In that 48 – 40 win Evans caught this clinching fourth-quarter bomb touchdown from Winston and then, celebrated with LeBron James’s signature dance move

James has previously and frequently used that on the court after a big moment, a big win or a championship.

Again “Game recognizes Game,” and clearly James wanted to give some recognition to the Bucs star whiteout Saturday night courtside at his own game.

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