By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida
Tampa Bay’s starters finally took the field in a preseason game on Saturday night against the Houston Texans.
Like other teams around the league, the Buccaneers were trying to avoid injuries on starters and maximize playing time for those vying for a spot on the 53-man roster and practice squad. Other than six snaps against Cincinnati, the Bucs offense had been led through the preseason by their backups. That changed, at least for part of the game, on Saturday.
Against Houston, quarterback Tom Brady had a slow start going three and out on the first series. But the offense quickly settled into a rhythm on the next drive. Brady led the Bucs 91 yards down the field, completing all 7 passes including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin.
Head coach Bruce Arians said, “first one was a no huddle we had been wanting to get into and get going. Tom did a great job, and great protection. Guys were where they were supposed to be.”
Brady added on in the second quarter with a 93-yard drive that ended with running back Ronald Jones carrying the ball 13 yards into the end zone. Brady said it was “good to get a couple long drives. We really haven’t played that much, so just get our feel, get out there and get our rhythm.”
Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and rookie quarterback Kyle Trask relieved Brady for the remainder of the game. Gabbert completed only 4 of 14 pass attempts, but was able to get the Bucs in field goal range with 2 seconds left in the half. The 36-yard field goal attempt by Borregales was good.
Kyle Trask led the Bucs offense in the second half, as he has done for the last two preseason games. He improved upon his performance last week, completing 12 of 14 pass attempts for a total of 146 yards. In the third quarter, following a 26-yard pass to receiver Jaelon Darden, Trask connected with tight end Codey McElroy in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. However, Trask fumbled the ball twice and needs to learn how to better protect the ball in a collapsing pocket.
In total, the Buccaneers offense targeted 16 different receivers, including returning starters Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, OJ Howard, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller. The depth in the receiver pool is magnified by potential additions of Gio Bernard, Jaelon Darden, or Tyler Johnson, as well as the possibility of an additional tight end in either Tanner Hudson or McElroy.
Not to be outdone, the Buccaneers defense also showed up against Houston with their proven speed and strength. This included an impressive stop at the end of the first quarter. Houston offense was on the field for over 9 minutes consistently moving the ball. They used short passes, a quarterback scramble and a fight on fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 23-yard line.
With 26 seconds left in the quarter, the Bucs were lined up against their goal line and Houston was second-and-5. After an incomplete pass and a run with no gain, Houston faced fourth down. Rather than attempt the field goal, the Texans decided to go for it. It did not pay off. The Buccaneers maintained pressure and Tyrod Taylor threw an incomplete pass.
The Bucs defense would be tested again on critical fourth downs. Houston opted to try to convert several times while in field goal range, as it was reported their kicker was out with an injury. It only paid off once for the Texans, in the fourth quarter, as they scored against the Buccaneers backups.
Arians said, “I was very, very pleased. Obviously getting 5 turnovers, but stopping them on all those fourth downs. It was obvious it was a totally different game when the kicker was injured, but I thought our defense . . . some young guys did a good job.”
Two of those young guys are cornerbacks Dee Delaney and Herb Miller, who are fighting for their spot on the team before next week’s cut. They both had interceptions against Houston.
Rookies worth keeping an eye on during the cut will be wide receiver Jaelon Darden, who has shown versatility down the field on offense and in the back field on punt returns, as well as linebacker Joe Tryon. Each week of preseason Tryon showed off his speed and athleticism, as he found his way to the ball for losses, sacks and forced fumbles.
Arians is happy with the 23-16 victory, and where his team is at heading into regular season. He explained, “we’re healthy. I like the game speed in which we played this ball game with. We still have some guys that are catching back up, but I think we’re going to be fine.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the 2021 NFL season at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, September 9th. They have returned all 22 starters from the Super Bowl championship team who are healthy and ready to go. Whether the Bucs afforded them enough playing time in this final preseason game remains to be seen, but they certainly appear to be firing on all cylinders.
The videos included in this story were provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube channel.