TAMPA – The smattering of fans that came out to watch the Buccaneers take on the Browns at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night didn’t see the “dress rehearsal’’ for opening day they were hoping for.
As expected, the Bucs didn’t even dress several starters, including wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, offensive linemen Demar Dotson and Kevin Pamphile and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
As the 13-9 final score suggests, the result was a tedious display of football the likes of which we usually see in the first or last game of the preseason. Here are a few quick takeaways.
As you can tell from the score, the Bucs struggled inside the red zone yet again in this one.
The first team offense moved the ball inside the 20 twice, on its first and last drive of the first half, but turned the ball over on a Jameis Winston interception on the first attempt and settled for a field goal on the second.
The fact Winston was working without his top two wideouts and later lost slot receiver Adam Humphries to a hip injury didn’t help but it can hardly be used as an excuse either. Winston has plenty of red zone weapons and he simply failed to connect with them yet again.
The Bucs first-team offense is now 1-for-6 inside the 20 this preseason and the concern is that this appears to be a carryover from last season, when they ranked 21st in the league in red zone scoring when they notched touchdowns on just 51.8-percent of their trips into the red zone.
The absence of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who sat out with a sore groin, was noticeable. Without McCoy the Bucs did little to harass starting quarterback DeShone Kizer into mistakes, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter calling the pass rush “non-existent.”
The mistakes Kizer did make were mostly of his own doing and he had plenty of them as he completed just six of the 18 passes he threw for 93 yards, finishing his one-half stint with a 28.2 passer rating.
Credit the defense for making some big stops, though. Despite allowing the Browns to convert 5 of their first 9 third-down tries, the first-team defense held the Browns out of the end zone and forced two takeaways, one a pick by Vernon Hargreaves, the other a fumble recovered by Adarius Glanton.
Rookie Chris Godwin has begun to separate himself from a lot of the other young wide receivers that have teased Bucs fans over the years. Unlike so many other training camp darlings, Godwin did not fade when the pads went on and he hasn’t faded under the bright lights of game night either.
With Evans and Jackson on the sidelines for this one, Godwin stepped into the starting lineup and he didn’t look at all out of place, catching four of the five passes that were thrown his way for 56 yards, including two clutch catches in traffic over the middle.
The Browns spent a lot of time picking on cornerback Ryan Smith, who didn’t play with a lot of aggression early on bounced back well after he was dinged up on a play and nearly had a pick.
Smith isn’t ready to step in as a starter but keep in mind that he spent most of last year playing safety and is still getting himself reacquainted with the cornerback position.
Bernard Reedy may have taken the lead in the battle for the fifth receiver spot. With Josh Huff out, Reedy got regular work both on offense and on special teams and he did a solid job.
Reedy had an end-around run for 9 yards, caught a pass for 25 more and broke and had a 22-yard punt return that was wiped out by a holding call against Robert McClain.
Punter Bryan Anger had a great night. He might have been the best player on the field for the Bucs, dropping each of his first six punts down inside the 20.