Browns 13, Buccaneers 9: Immediate observations and reactions

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 26: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 26: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers /

With several key players out, the Buccaneers just needed to keep the rest of their starters healthy on Saturday night. For the most part, they managed to do that. As for the game, they fell 13-9 after surrendering a late touchdown. Here, we have observations and reactions from the loss.

9. 48. 13. 53. Final

The Buccaneers were sloppier in their third preseason game, but managed to keep most of their starters healthy while resting others. They weren’t too crisp, but still did some nice things in a loss.

Observations and Reactions- General

-I can’t be the only one that freaked out when it looked like kickoff would be delayed due to weather. Mayweather-McGregor will wait for no one. Thankfully, there were no delays at all.

-Tampa Bay was missing some key players on Saturday night. DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, Kevin Pamphile, Demar Dotson and Caleb Benenoch were missing from the starting offense. On defense, Brent Grimes, William Gholston, Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander and Devante Bond were all out. None of that is too concerning, as most (if not all) were out as a precaution.

-The weather might have hurt the crowd a little bit, but it was still good to hear Raymond James Stadium get pretty loud at different points throughout the game.

-With this being the last action for most of the starters before the season opener, keep one thing in mind. Preseason is glorified practice. The Bucs had their share of positives and negatives. Every team does in the preseason, and none of it defines the season. Tampa Bay will be ready by the time Sept. 10 rolls around.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

-It looked like the starting offense got out to a strong start for the third straight week, but the opening drive ended with a thud. On third down from the Cleveland 16, Jameis Winston was intercepted by Jabrill Peppers on a ball intended for Cameron Brate. Whether Brate was held or not going full speed, it was still an unfortunate turnover in a key spot.

-Winston wasn’t especially sharp, but stayed healthy without some of his top offensive linemen. That’s a plus, and he still completed 17 of his 27 passes for 200 yards.

-Tampa Bay was dreadful on third down in the first half, going 0-for-7.

-Without Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, the other receivers had a chance to shine. Adam Humphries stepped up, finishing with 24 yards on two catches. He later left with a hip injury, which hopefully isn’t too serious.

-Rookie Chris Godwin looked like a star on Saturday night, hauling in four passes for 56 yards. It will be a treat to see him develop throughout this year.

-Rookie tight end O.J. Howard hasn’t been overly impressive in the preseason. He went for 15 yards on his only two targets. With Evans and Jackson out, as well as Humphries’ departure, I expected to see a little more of the rookie. Not quite.

-The makeshift offensive line struggled. That’s bad for depth, and the only real positive out of the group is the fact that Winston managed to stay healthy.

Jacquizz Rodgers showed a little more of his 2016 self on Saturday night. He ran for 34 yards on 10 carries and caught one pass for 17 yards.

-The offense worked a nice drive with under two minutes left in the first half, setting up a game-tying field goal.

-Bernard Reedy certainly has the lead for the No. 5 receiver spot, right? He showed small flashes of potential in the first two weeks, but made a bigger impact on Saturday. The former Lakewood High star caught a 25-yard pass and ran for nine yards on a reverse. His potential in the punt return game may help his case as well.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-From the start, Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer picked on Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith. He went after him consistently on Cleveland’s opening drive, which eventually led to a field goal. Smith continued to struggle a bit after, which is concerning. He almost came up with a leaping interception at one point, but failed to come up with it.

-The absences of Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander and Brent Grimes were very noticeable. The defense looks much different without them, so keeping them healthy needs to be a big priotiy this year.

-Early in the game, the Bucs struggled on third down. The Browns started 4-for-5, converting on a few third-and-long situations. They finished the first half 5-for-10.

-Despite allowing some big plays, the defense did a good job of taking the ball away. Vernon Hargreaves came up with an interception on a pass tipped by Lavonte David. Later in the second quarter, rookie Kendell Beckwith forced a fumble in Bucs territory. Adarius Glanton, who has been impressive this preseason, came up with the recovery.

-Hargreaves had a nice night. He is ready for the regular season.

-Beckwith had an inconsistent night, which isn’t abnormal for a rookie. He made a splash play with the forced fumble, but also missed a few tackles.

-The Bucs struggled to get much of a push up front. Their two sacks of the night came came later in the game. One was from Noah Spence early in the third quarter, then George Johnson picked one up in the fourth.

-Rookie Justin Evans continued his less-than-impressive preseason on Saturday. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness twice on the Browns’ game-winning drive. The second one was questionable, but that’s still not the type of impact anyone has in mind for the former Texas A&M Aggie.

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

-It’s week three of the preseason, and Bryan Anger is still really good. His first two punts of the night pinned the Browns inside their own 5. He punted seven times on the night, finishing with an average of 40.4 yards per punt. All seven landed inside the 20.

-After a solid week of practice, Nick Folk looked good on Saturday night. He tied the game from 31 yards out as time expired in the first half, then gave the Bucs a 6-3 lead with a 42-yarder in the third quarter. He later extended the lead in the fourth quarter with a 43-yarder.

-The kick return competition is still unresolved, which is a big problem. It doesn’t seem like anyone is stepping up, so Tampa Bay might just have to wing it throughout the year.

Final Thoughts

For the third straight preseason game, the Buccaneers did some good things and some bad things. That seems to be par for the course during the preseason, though, so it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Jameis Winston wasn’t as sharp as he has been, but he was missing his top two receivers. The running game didn’t get too much going, though it didn’t help that the offensive line wasn’t at full strength. Defensively, Tampa Bay kept rookie DeShone Kizer in check, aside from third downs. The team was ineffective on both sides of the ball in third down situations, which is somewhat of a concern. However, the defensive takeaways were great to see. Special teams came to play, with Bryan Anger and Nick Folk both looking solid.

Saturday night was technically the final tune-up for most of the team’s starters. There are a few roster spots still up for grabs in the final preseason game, but there likely won’t be much to write home about next week. In three preseason games, the offense flashed some potential of what it can do this year. The defense continued to develop, and most of the key starters were able to stay healthy. Overall, it was a successful preseason for Tampa Bay. It’s time for the first-team units to rest up and be 100 percent healthy when the season opener arrives.

Next: Buccaneers: People are finally seeing the real Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay wraps up its preseason schedule at home on Thursday night against Washington. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.