Bucs’ Smith should have embraced a special night

by Gary Shelton on August 25, 2015 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston celebrates his touchdown/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Winston celebrates his touchdown/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Lovie Smith should have lingered. Raymond James Stadium has seldom looked so spectacular.

The ship in the end zone glistened in the evening lights. The palm trees in the left end zone shimmered in the moon light. The fans were smiling for a change, and who can remember that.

Ah, victory.

It brightens a stadium right up.

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Of course, Smith ran off the field with a same serious look lining his face, as if he were already considering Wednesday's practice drills. He should have taken a minute to smile. He should have taken a instance to swap fives with the crowd. He should have embraced the feeling.

After all, a guy wins his first home game only once, right?

Smith won for the first time at Raymond James./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Smith won for the first time at Raymond James/ANDREW J. KRAMER

For Smith, the record had been 0-10 at Raymond James Stadium, and frankly, it wasn't that much better for his predecessors, either. Consider this: Since firing Jon Gruden – who was back in the stadium as a TV analyst Monday night – the Bucs are only 16-42 at Raymond James counting these preseason games. (Two "home" losses in London do not count).

But this? This was a keeper of a moment, and it hardly seems worth it to mention that it was a practice game. Hey, the Bucs have been losing those, too.

This time?

This time, it wasn't just that the Bucs won a 25-11 decision over the Bengals. It was how they did it. Tampa Bay won every battle on Smith's checklist. On everyone else's, too.

For instance:

Quarterback: This time, Jameis Winston got off to a great start. He hit his first three passes and ran the ball in from the one for a touchdown. In all, Winston hit eight of 13 for 90 yards and an a rating of 82.2 (his rating his first time out was 48.8). He looked calmer, more efficient, more in control.

“Most of it,'' head coach Lovie Smith said of Winston's quality play. “Jameis would probably tell you he would like to have that deep ball back probably. Besides that I thought he was accurate throughout. Even on some of the incompletions, the ball was right there. He was in control from the start. He played winning football tonight.''

Winston said that it didn't matter that it was a preseason game. For the Bucs, it was a victory.

“People want to look at this  as a preseason game,'' quarterback Jameis Winston said. “But in that locker room, we're going to look at this as us getting a win. Winning does matter. It doesn't matter if it's a football game in the Wal-Mart parking lot, we want to win. So that's obviously important.”

Winston probably gave his fans about all they would want. But his backup wasn't bad either. Mike Glennon's rating was 31 points higher than Winston's, and he threw a nice 22-yard touchdown pass to Russell Sheppard.

The offensive line: The Bucs gave up four sacks, three of them to Glennon. But they still played a solid game – “an amazing game,'' Winston said – to highlight the game. The Bucs averaged 7.1 yards per carry in the first half against a solid Bengals' defense.

Doug Martin: There has been much discussion over whether there really is a new Doug Martin in training camp this year. Certainly, his play Monday night suggested that he is ready to be a force again. He ran six times for 59 yards, a 9.8 per carry average, and he looked as if his burst had returned to him.

“Doug has been outstanding in training camp,'' Smith said. “He's had an excellent camp. He's healthy for the first time in a while, really healthy. I thought he ran hard. He had burst, vision. All the things you look for, I thought he displayed tonight.''

The pass rush:  Oh, so that's why the Bucs signed George Johnson.

McCoy dominated the interior of the line again./ANDREW J. KRAMER

McCoy dominated the interior of the line again/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Johnson had 1.5 sacks to lead the way for the Bucs' defense, which finally showed pressure off of the edge. In all, the Bucs had four sacks, and the pressure helped lead to two interceptions.

“When they first brought me in,'' they said they hadn't had a double-digit sack guy since Simeon Rice. Seeing Simeon today (in pregame) gave me even more burn and inspiration. I wanted to prove that I can be a double-digit sack guy. The reason they brought me here is to get sacks, so that's what I'm going to do.''

At defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy was dominant once again.

Linebacker: Rookie Kwon Alexander, who has taken over in the middle, was tied for the Bucs lead with four tackles. Danny Lansanah had three, including a safety.

The secondary: During the first week of the season, the Vikings' three quarterbacks had only six incompletions for the  night. This week, Andy Dalton had seven in the first half, and the Bucs' Alterraun Verner and Bradley McDougald both had interceptions.

If there was a glitch for the Bucs, it was the 14 penalties for 153 yards, and at least three were called but not accepted.

“We did a lot of good things,'' Smith said. “Winning helps no matter when. Cincinnati is a good ball club. We realize that. It was good to see us take another step.''

Again, the victory doesn't carry over. No one will remember this game by the time the season is under way. But if the offensive line can open holes like this, and if the defensive line can pressure the quarterback, and if the quarterback can make throws, and the running back can find holes, and the receivers can get open, and the linebackers can make plays, and the secondary can create turnovers, who knows?

And that's what winning does, even in preseason, especially in Raymond James. It makes a better day seem possible.

No, this one won't stand up for long. But it makes you think that maybe, just maybe, there will be a game or two that will.

Then, maybe Lovie will smile.

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