The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a collective loser in the preseason standings when they fell to the New England Patriots by a final score of 25-21 on Friday evening, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t individuals who stood out positively or negatively in the effort.
But first, let’s start with a special category, just for one player at the center of almost all of the first half controversy:
Not a Winner or a Loser: Josh Freeman, QB
Yes, that’s right. Josh Freeman was not a winner or a loser tonight. Despite the hysteria that broke out on Twitter over the sacks he took during the first two drives of the game, there should be little to no blame placed on Freeman for the mess that was the Buccaneers’ offense. The offensive line did very little for Freeman, who actually managed pressure well on multiple occasions before eventually being sacked and leaving the game with the Tampa Bay fanbase up in arms over his perceived indecision.
Freeman was 2 of 3 for 8 yards, and the incompletion was a picture perfect pass thrown after stepping up in the pocket against pressure, and delivering a bullet to Kevin Ogletree, who just couldn’t hang on for a sideline catch.
- Mike James and Peyton Hillis, RB: Both of Doug Martin‘s backups who were healthy for the evening contest against the Patriots impressed during their extended performance on the field Friday night. After Martin left the game early after taking a hard hit, James and Hillis filled in admirably, combining to rush for over 150 yards on 33 carries. Hillis showed powerful downhill running ability, and found gaps to run though very well all night. James ran very hard, shedding tackles and bursting through gaps in the line.
- Kevin Ogletree, WR: Kevin Ogletree didn’t get as long of an audition on Friday evening as he did in the first preseason game, but that’s likely because the Buccaneers have virtually chiseled him in to the third receiver spot on the depth chart. Ogletree did drop a Josh Freeman pass early in the game, but this was not an inexcusable drop. He made up for the poor play though, hauling in multiple tough catches from QB Mike Glennon before eventually getting an easy catch for a score after sneaking past the Patriots defense, which was lined up with no safeties.
- Derek Dimke and the Buccaneers’ Special Teams: Derek Dimke continues to be solid during his audition to be the Buccaneers’ starting kicker for week one of the season, and he did so as a part of a special teams unit that was much improved after last week’s debacle. Coverage units were solid all night long, punt block and field goal block rushers were getting pressure on the Patriots, and returners were gaining yards and field position.
- Luke Stocker, TE: Stocker did play on Friday night, which might come as a surprise to many fans who watched the game. The man once thought of as the lock to start for the Buccaneers at tight end was invisible, only showing up as a blocker on a few plays, and not necessarily impressing in the process. Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham, and even Danny Noble are doing things that they do well, leaving Stocker as a potential “first to worst” candidate to not even make the roster, should Noble or another backup pass him by over the next two weeks.
- The Buccaneers’ First Team Defense: The pace and timing of the Patriots’ defense was far too much to handle for the entire first team, who allowed passes over the middle and into the flat to gain chunks of yards all the way down the field. The run defense was solid as usual, with Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence making a couple of plays early on. But there was a general feeling that the Patriots were a step or two ahead of the Buccaneers on defense. Plays began with the Buccaneers still shifting, and matchups always favored the Patriots, including a play where a linebacker was covering Danny Amendola.
- Leonard Johnson, CB: It’s a little unfair to call out LJ specifically, especially after noting that the entire Buccaneers’ defense was poor to start the game. But it’s apparent that there’s still some work to do to get Johnson ready to play against slot receivers. He has worked inside almost exclusively during the preseason, and he’s not quite there yet. He’s a player I have faith in, and I suspect he’ll do just fine by the time the season rolls around, but at this point there is some concern about how he’ll do as a slot corner, versus lining up outside.