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Bucs tuneup a turnoff

JAGS 14, BUCS 6: Tampa Bay plays a game to forget, outgained 233 yards to 21 by halftime.

By RICK STROUD
Published August 21, 2004

JACKSONVILLE - Jon Gruden promised anxious Tampa Bay fans they wouldn't see much of the Bucs starters in Friday's preseason game against the Jaguars. He was wrong.

They obviously played too long.

It took only seven snaps by the first-team offense, but now the Bucs have been exposed.

There's no more ducking behind injuries, adding more veterans to the roster than the local VFW or blaming Hurricane Charley for having to play two games in five days.

Not after Friday's 14-6 loss to the Jaguars - a score that does not begin to tell how awful the Bucs played when it counted.

Here's the other half of the story. The first half.

Tampa Bay did not pick up a first down until quarterback Chris Simms completed a pass to Will Heller with 10:46 remaining in the third quarter. In fact, by halftime, the Bucs were outgained 233 yards to 21. They went 0-for-6 on third down and committed two turnovers.

Bucs starting quarterback Brad Johnson went 2-of-5 for 8 yards and had his first attempt deflected and intercepted. Before Johnson was done, the Bucs also were penalized twice for 20 yards, including a personal foul on free-agent tackle Todd Steussie for grabbing the face mask that negated a 20-yard completion to Joey Galloway for a first down.

"Obviously, we were very sluggish offensively tonight," Gruden said. "I'm disappointed with the beginning of the game and how we played offensively. I'm not going to make any excuses. We obviously had a Monday night game and a Friday night game. It's tough circumstances, but it's not like it's different for anybody else this time of year.

"Tonight, we had some freaky things happen, we had some bad things happen. I'll take responsibility for that. We've just got to keep working and improving."

The Jags could have buried the Bucs in the first quarter. But they missed three field goals and had an apparent 34-yard touchdown catch by Jimmy Smith overturned on review.

Jacksonville finally broke a scoreless tie just before halftime on a 1-yard run by Rich Alexis, capping a 62-yard drive in 14 plays, a march in which the Jaguars converted four times on third down.

The Jags made it 14-0 when former Florida A&M quarterback Quinn Gray rolled left and lofted a 48-yard TD pass to Matthew Hatchette with 5:50 in third quarter.

For all the problems that plagued right tackle Kenyatta Walker last season, Steussie played just as poorly. On the initial play from scrimmage, Steussie was overpowered by defensive end Paul Spicer, who caught a piece of the ball and the throwing arm of Johnson. Defensive tackle John Henderson intercepted the deflection to give the Jags a first down at the Tampa Bay 20.

"It sets a bad tone," Gruden said. "But when you see Galloway where he is on that play, you can look at the potential. We have a four-man rush, we've got Galloway upstairs for a big one. Unfortunately, the protection didn't hold. But if you want to come out guns a blazing sometimes, you've got to take some chances. I'm very disappointed in that play because the outcome could've been magnificent for us. But that's why they play the game."

Steussie's personal foul - a Walker-like hands to the face penalty - erased the team's only first down of the half. But the offensive line was short-handed, playing without injured starters Derrick Deese and Matt Stinchcomb while guard Jason Whittle played with a broken hand.

"It's preseason, but you'd like to play better," Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "You have to learn from all your experiences. It'd be an understatement to say we're extremely disappointed in the way we played. But we've got to the right people on this team and we'll learn from it."

There were a few bright spots Friday, but you had to look hard. Simms (13-of-23, 104 yards), who relieved an ineffective Brian Griese, quickly marched the Bucs downfield when he entered the game midway through the third quarter. He led Tampa Bay to its only score - a 43-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica. The Bucs kicker added a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter.

In the battle for the No. 2 quarterback job, Simms has a healthy lead. Griese struggled to finish 2-of-7 for 8 yards, was sacked once and lost a fumble when a second-quarter attempt slipped out of his hands.

"Obviously, Chris had more success moving the ball than Brian did," Gruden said. "(Griese) had bad things happen to him tonight, but he's still a good quarterback and it's unfortunate."

Cornerback Brian Kelly was all over the field in the first quarter. In addition to forcing an interception by linebacker Keith Burns, he broke up another long pass to Smith and may have forced the Jags receiver to juggle the ball out of the back of the end zone, a play that originally was ruled a touchdown.

But what Friday's game will be remembered for is how the Bucs offense was overpowered.

"They gave us a butt-whipping tonight and the scoreboard showed it," Simms said. "I don't think anybody is satisfied tonight. We know it doesn't count, but everybody in here is a competitor and wants to win."

[Last modified August 21, 2004, 01:01:16]

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