Just practice, so why does it feel so good?

by Gary Shelton on August 17, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Gay isn’t worried about the bad kickers of old./TIM WIRT

Saturday, 4 a.m.

It was just a practice game in the rain. Why, then, does it feel like a promise?

It was just a back-and-forth between the backups of two mediocre teams? Why, then, does it feel like hope?

It was just another preseason game, fake sweat in the names of upcoming decisions. Why, then, does it feel like something worth keeping?

The Tampa Bay Bucs, who haven’t done enough winning in either the preseason or regular season, played one worth keeping Friday night. They came from behind once — which was improbable. They came from behind again — which was impossible. And they managed a 16-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

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Hudson scores a go-ahead touchdown for Bucs./TIM WIRT

You want preseasons heroes?

How about quarterback Ryan Griffin, who is making a loud argument that his team should keep three quarterbacks. Griffin now has more than 500 yards in his two games, and this time, he directed both go-ahead scores.

How about tight end Tanner Hudson, who has turned third down into third-and-Tanner. Hudson faces a crowded

Dean’s interception helped a fourth-quarter comeback./TIM WIRT

competition to make the team, but Friday night, he caught six balls for 93 yards. On the first comeback of the night, he caught the go-ahead touchdown. On the second, he caught a pass to set up the winning field goal.

How about kicker Matt Gay, who looks more and more as if he has the job won. Gay kicked a 32-yarder early in the game, then nailed a 48-yarder for the win.

How about cornerback Jamel Dean, who intercepted a pass in the end zone as the Dolphins were driving in the fourth quarter.

Let’s recap. Gay will make the team. Dean will make the team.

Arians won his first game as Bucs’ coach./TIM WIRT

Griffin is fighting for a spot. Hudson is, too. But in August, they’re all standouts.

“They schedule these games for sixty minutes for a reason,” Arians said. “Some of the things we go over every single day in our practices in mock situations.  We’ve done that thirty-four second one with two timeouts before, and I thought Griff (quarterback Ryan Griffin) executed it to perfection. Obviously, Matt (Gay) hit the field goal. So, it was a big win. Most teams, when you give up that touchdown and two-point conversion, go in the tank. Offensive guys were ready to go. They had a plan. They were ready to go and went and won the game. Winning is fun in this league. There were a lot of not-pretty things in this game, but there were some pretty things, too.”

Griffin led the Bucs from behind./TIM WIRT

Oh, you had to look fast to appreciate the guys who will do the bulk of the playing this year. James Winston threw only four passes, and completed only two. Running backs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II carried only twice each.

And, yes, there were nitpicks. The team blew a lead (before regaining it) at the end. It committed eight penalties.

“The continuation of the dumbest penalties I have ever seen with our second and third group continues,” Arians said afterward. “They’re lucky we’re not cutting tomorrow. Quarterbacks have a head for a reason. You don’t hit them in the head, and I think we slapped them in the head three times to give them big first downs when we had them backed up. It killed our field position. We didn’t have any field position in the first half after the first drive. But, that’s the way we play the game.”

Winston spent most of his night watching./TIM WIRT

Star receiver Mike Evans still doesn’t have a catch in the preseason.

Still, the Bucs had their moments.  The secondary forced 18 incomplete passes, and no quarterback had a rating of more than 72.0 against them.

Granted, Miami is probably kicking itself after letting this game slip away. The Dolphins were at the Bucs’ 13 with the score tied at 6, but Jake Rudock’s third-down pass was intercepted by Jamel Dean with 6:30 to play.

That ignited an 80-yard drive by Griffin. One of the key plays in the drive was an incomplete pass to Justin Watson deep in Miami territory. Officials called pass interference on Miami, then decided to pick up the flag and call no penalty. Bruce Arians challenged the play, and won.

One play later, the Bucs scored when Griffin found Hudson in the right flat.

The Dolphins weren’t done, though. Rudock led his team on a 51-yard drive, throwing eight yards to Patrick Laird with 38 seconds. The Dolphins made their two-point conversation.

But 38 seconds was enough time for the Bucs.  Griffin hit Hudson on passes of 18 and 27 yards on the drive to set up Gay’s 48-yard winner.

“I knew he’d catch it,” Griffin said. “The coverage probably didn’t indicate that that’s where the ball should have gone, but I knew he would get open.”

After that. it was an easy enough field goal for Gay.

“It was good before I kicked it,” he said.

Gay, who grew up as a soccer player, said he relishes the pressure.

“Even as a soccer player, I wanted to be fifth in the shootout,” he said. “I wanted to put the other team away. You have to embrace the pressure.”

Also making an impression on the Bucs was Dare Ogunbowale.

“Oh, (his case is) really strong. He’s probably our second-best pass protector. I think he did miss one blitz tonight. Sometimes, he gets a little itchy to get out (of the backfield.) Obviously, he had the wrong shoes or he scores on the screen. Then, he also (would have) scored on the one run where he falls down there on the four (yard line). But, he has made a real strong case.”

Dean seemed to make an impact on the secondary.

“It felt like a weight off my shoulders because I really beat myself up on the sideline knowing that I dropped something. And then I kept looking at the score of the game like, ‘I could’ve had an impact on this.’ So, I was just sitting there hoping that was not going to be the final score of the game 6-3. Because I (thought) that could’ve been 10-6.”

If there was one position that might have comforted the Bucs, it was the kick by Gay. Not just because it won the game, but because it erased memories of other kickers.

“I owe it all to those game situations that we practice every day in practice. Bruce (Arians) does them for a reason and when you get out there in the game, it just feels like the practice situation because you’ve done it. So, you’re able to have the nerves calm to be able to go out there and do what you need to do. Keith Armstrong, our special teams coach, was hounding me for making every single kick the same, whether it’s a PAT in the first quarter or a game-winner – treat it the same. That’s what I did today and I was lucky to see it go through the uprights. It was good.”

Gay said he is confident.

“Extremely – the ball is coming off my foot really well. I had a few good days in practice, feel really calm (and) really confident and that goes to how well people kick. Kicking is a mind game as much as it is the leg, so being able to be confident and trust in yourself is huge.”

Gay said it was important to have a high-pressure kick in training camp.

“Extremely important. Preseason is great, it’s good to feel a win, but it is preseason. We have preseason for a reason – to get us going into the season – so to have that situation in a game that still feels like it matters [and] means everything is – you can’t even put a price on it because it’s just priceless to be able to get that situation before you go into the regular season and just feel comfortable in that situation.”

The Bucs are home again next Friday, hosting the Cleveland Browns. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

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