Bengals 23, Buccaneers 12: Immediate observations and reactions

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 11: Vernon Hargreaves III #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intercepts a pass at the goal line intended for Brandon LaFell #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter of a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 11: Vernon Hargreaves III #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intercepts a pass at the goal line intended for Brandon LaFell #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter of a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Buccaneers finally returned to game action on Friday night, opening up the preseason in Cincinnati. Tampa Bay fell 23-12, but managed to escape without any serious injuries. Here, we have observations and reactions from the loss.

12. 48. 23. 56. Final

The Buccaneers got out to a quick start on Friday night and saw some positives from their starters. However, the backups weren’t able to hold up and Tampa Bay eventually fell to the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 23-12.

Observations and Reactions- General

-The first notable observation of the night came early, when the team took the field. The red jersey and white pants combination looks smooth.

-Overall, the Bucs avoided major injuries. There were a few minor issues, but nothing appeared too serious. That’s always a plus in the preseason.

-Tampa Bay committed too many penalties in the first half, getting flagged four times for 36 yards. The second half was better, as the team finished the night with just six penalties for 46 yards.

-Time of possession was a big positive in the first half for the first and second-team guys. The Bucs held the ball for 17:33 to the Bengals’ 12:27. By the end of the game, Cincinnati had the advantage, holding the ball for 32 minutes to Tampa Bay’s 28.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

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-After starting the game inside the 10 yard line, Jameis Winston led a 14-play, 92-yard drive that lasted 6:19. The series ended with a field goal, but there were some good signs for the first-team group.

-Overall, Winston completed nine of his 13 passes for 99 yards. He looked sharp, but two misses inside the five were disappointing.

Mike Evans is still really good, but that’s no surprise. He caught four passes for 58 yards, including a couple of nice grabs for first downs.

Cameron Brate had a nice night, catching two passes for 27 yards. DeSean Jackson was only targeted once, but he caught the pass for a six-yard gain.

-The top running backs didn’t stick out too much. Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers finished with identical stat lines: four carries for 11 yards.

Charles Sims had a solid night, going for 23 yards on three carries. He appeared to be dancing around a little less, which was encouraging to see after he struggled to move forward last year.

-The starting offensive line played well, even without Ali Marpet at center. The unit didn’t allow a sack in its two drives.

Ryan Fitzpatrick led a strong drive in the second quarter that ended with him scrambling for a six-yard touchdown. He later returned to the game and finished six of 13 for 45 yards.

-Fitzpatrick had to return in the fourth quarter because Ryan Griffin left with a shoulder injury. Before the injury, Griffin completed four of his nine passes for 57 yards. Rookie Sefo Liufau entered late and completed four of his five attempts for 31 yards.

Caleb Benenoch struggled at times throughout the night, particularly on a drive in the second quarter. On said drive, he allowed a sack and got called for holding.

-Rookie Chris Godwin caught one pass for 14 yards in the third quarter. I’d expect to see him get more looks next week against Jacksonville.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-Throughout the whole night, the defense had tackling issues. Across the board, the team missed tackles and allowed big plays that could’ve been prevented.

-Cincinnati put together a good first drive, running through the defense with relative ease. However, Tampa Bay came up big when it mattered,  as a Vernon Hargreaves interception at the goal line halted the threat.

-The run defense as a whole struggled heavily. The Bengals rushed for 140 yards on the night, which certainly won’t please the coaching staff.

-Rookie safety Justin Evans showed his weaknesses on Friday night, missing a couple of tackles in open space. Fellow rookie Kendell Beckwith, who is competing for the strong-side linebacker spot, didn’t have the best of debuts either.

-Cornerback Ryan Smith, starting in place of Brent Grimes, had a fairly rough night. He is still adjusting to a larger role, and he’ll get more chances in the coming weeks.

-The Bucs didn’t get much of a pass rush going until late in the game. The starters didn’t do much, but the backups got some push going.

-The standout on defense for the pewter and red was veteran Clinton McDonald, who had a few nice run stuffs. He will be a key depth piece in the defensive line rotation this season, so it was great to see him holding tough in the middle.

-Hard Knocks star Riley Bullough made an immediate impact when he entered the game, picking up a tackle for loss on his first play. He appeared to be flying to the ball, which will help him continue to catch the eye of his coaches.

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

Roberto Aguayo kicked a 20-yard field goal on the opening drive before missing an extra point in the second quarter. With about a minute left, he missed a 47-yarder. Nick Folk connected on a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter. After one game, Folk may have a big leg up (pardon the pun) in the kicking competition.

Josh Huff had the best kick return of the night, going for 37 yards on his one chance. Bernard Reedy and Ryan Smith were less impressive in their returns. Reedy did take one punt for 22 yards into Bengals territory, but the Bucs failed to take advantage of the field position.

-It’s been several months since I’ve had the chance to say this, but Bryan Anger is still good. He punted four times for an average of 46.5 yards per punt. Two of those punts landed inside the 20.

Final Thoughts

Friday night was a standard preseason opener. The Bucs did some good things early on before getting sloppy as the game progressed. Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate were bright spots on offense. Defensively, Vernon Hargreaves and Clinton McDonald were the bright spots. As far as the kicking competition goes, things were very discouraging for Roberto Aguayo fans. His only successful attempt of the night was a chip shot, while Nick Folk’s only attempt came from over 40 yards.

All in all, the starters played well and showed flashes in their short appearances. The backups left a lot to be desired, which left a damper on what was an exciting start from the Bucs. There wasn’t a lot of separation gained in any of the position battles, aside from the kicker race. Next week’s game in Jacksonville is another chance for the second and third-teamers to prove that they have what it takes to not only make the team, but be contributing members of it. Sloppy play is inevitable in the preseason, so there’s not a lot to be too down about from Friday night’s action. The Bucs are back. Isn’t that great?

Next: Buccaneers: Ageless Brent Grimes continues to impress

Tampa Bay will get back at it next Thursday night in Jacksonville. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.