Aug 23, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) gets hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson (90) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Defense Dominates as Buccaneers Beat Bills 27-14

We asked all week for signs of life.

We begged the football gods to show mercy on us and give us something to cheer about.

The gods returned the favor.

Tampa Bay’s starting defense, which has looked respectable in the preseason, was downright dominant yesterday afternoon in a “should’ve-been-route” of the Buffalo Bills.

Dashon Goldson got things started by picking off an errant EJ Manuel pass. Next, Adrian Clayborn got the sack on Manuel as the former FSU quarterback lost the football, and newcomer Clinton McDonald scooped it up and scored for 17 yards out. Those were two of the three turnovers that had a large part in determining the story of the game.

We’ll get to the offense in just a second, but if we really want to analyze this game, we have to talk about how explosive this defense looked. The entire front four looked absolutely stellar. There wasn’t a time in the game that I can recall in which EJ Manuel had time to throw when the starting front four was in. He was being forced out of the pocket, and had to settle for desperate throws on the run, many of which could have ended up in the hands of a Buccaneer. It is what led Tampa Bay to a halftime shutout, and why the Bills kept their starting offense in during the third quarter while the Bucs were content with letting the second team trot onto the field.

It was only then when Buffalo could manage to put some points on the board. Their first score came from an EJ Manuel pass to ex-Buc Mike Williams. He led the Bills in receiving with three catches for 46 yards and that touchdown. The Bills would add one more on the next drive.

But enough about what the Bills did on offense. Let’s talk about the Bucs, and their surprising success.

After a Josh McCown interception on the first drive of the game, and some sloppy play shortly thereafter, it was not looking good for Tampa Bay’s starting offense. The often-critiqued offense line had shown exactly why they were criticized, allowing their quarterback to be sacked and stripped before recovering for a punt.

That was the last we saw of the “putrid” offensive line. For the rest of the game, they played respectable against a stout Bills defensive line. Not great, but just good enough.

After trading turnovers with the Bills early, the Bucs finally got things going when McCown found Doug Martin on a 21-yard pass to the one yard line. Martin would dive over the line for the touchdown on the very next play to give the Buccaneers the 7-0 lead.

Next, after a few more dull drives, the Buccaneers truly came to life to put together a second quarter that would have Bucco Bruce crying tears of joy. Alongside that dominant defense, the offense finally found a consistent rhythm. Connor Barth had already hit a 43-yard field goal to give Tampa a 10-0 lead, when Clinton McDonald returned the Clayborn sack-strip into the end zone for a touchdown. And with that 17-0 lead, Jeff Tedford’s offense looked to be in its most impressive form, culminating with Mike Evans absolutely burning his man with a fake to the inside, and McCown finding him in the endzone for a 24-yard touchdown pass. It was a thing of beauty, as Josh had a full pocket and time to throw, and Evans ran the perfect route. It is what we have come to expect from this team.

While Doug Martin rushed for a pedestrian 38 yards on 12 carries and a score, he played much better than his stat sheet would indicate. He had two catches for 27 yards, and looked to be in midseason form as he carried the ball. With Charles Sims out, Martin will look to continue his success in the receiving game, and become a nightmare for anyone who has to game plan for him, or play someone who owns him in fantasy football.

After the starting unit came out for both sides, the Buccaneers showed their lack of depth…sort of. The Bills had most of their starters on the field for the third quarter when the Bucs had already put in their reserves, and it showed. After Manuel spent most of the game looking like a sitting duck, he had two phenomenal drives against the injury-riddled backups on Tampa Bay’s defense.

On offense, it wasn’t much better.

While Mike Glennon put in an efficient performance of five completions for 46 yards on seven attempts, he was unable to make any of the splash plays that you would want to see from a future-franchise quarterback.

Jeff Demps, who Tampa fans also have high hopes for, might be on his last legs as a member of the Buccaneers. While the speed demon has shown flashes of brilliance in practice, he has yet to show it in a game. He had dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Josh McCown in the second quarter, and finished the day with only 26 yards on 11 carries. While the Buccaneers might keep him around for his potential, he just hasn’t shown his hands or his speed in a game scenario yet.

Overall, this was the game the Buccaneers have been dreaming of playing since Lovie Smith was hired earlier this year. The team dominated on defense, and was efficient enough on offense to take advantage of that. While we haven’t seen everything we would like to see from the offense at this point, yesterday’s game was enough to get any fan excited.

Tampa Bay will finish up their preseason at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night against Washington.

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