The third preseason game traditionally serves as an opportunity for the starters to see their most significant playing time of August, with many playing into the second half in order to get their final reps before the season starts.
As for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who faced the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night, it provided starting quarterback Josh Freeman with another chance of easing the concerns of a rough start to his preseason, as well as the possibility of getting into somewhat of a rhythm heading into the regular season.
That, however, was not the case, as Freeman and the offense struggled to generate yards or points, instead relying on two turnovers created by their special teams unit to put 10 first-half points on the board, but nothing else.
It was not enough to hold the Bucs back, however, as thanks to a late touchdown and a forced turnover, Tampa Bay squeaked past the 'Fins, 17-16, marking their first victory of the preseason.
Below are my takeaways and analysis from Saturday night's game.
The offensive line continues to be a source of frustration and stalled drives, allowing six sacks of the Bucs quarterbacks against Miami a week after yielding four to the New England Patriots.
All told, they've surrendered 12 sacks through three games.
While I'm cognizant of the injuries they're nursing up front, which has undoubtedly played a role, it does not take away from the fact that the healthy starters along the line—particularly tackles Donald Penn and Demar Dotson—have played rather poorly.
Which, of course, has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense, specifically Freeman, who has been out of sorts and under constant duress from opposing defenses.
Worst yet, this unit is widely considered the stalwart of the team, but it frankly hasn't played like it. And unless they can flip a switch and suddenly figure things out over the next two weeks, it could be a very long season offensively for the Bucs.
Akeem the Dream
After falling into the fourth round of April's draft, rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence came into camp with minimal expectations, but due to a razor-thin depth chart, he was expected to compete for playing time opposite fellow tackle Gerald McCoy.
Instead, all Spence has done is put together a very impressive camp, capped off by several impressive performances this preseason, including a handful of tackles for loss against the Dolphins.
In fact, it's no longer a matter of if Spence will see significant playing time this season, but rather how much he'll see. Spence has been an absolutely disruptive force against the run, displaying unbelievable power and penetration, and looks to be a nice complement alongside McCoy.
Oh, and if his play holds up, Spence will be considered a definite steal in the fourth round.
Hay Leads the Way
Special teams standout and "Mr. Versatility" himself, Adam Hayward, racked up two fumble recoveries while on punt-return duties, accounting for half of the four turnovers committed by Miami. His recoveries proved crucial, as the Bucs were outgained in total yardage by a nearly 2-1 margin, yet they somehow managed to eke out a victory.
Hayward, a seven-year veteran, plays a vital role for the Bucs as not only someone who excels on special teams, but also as someone fully capable of filling in at all three linebacker positions and doing so admirably.
Better yet, Hayward's relative success in this league serves as a reminder to many a less physically gifted athletes that if you work hard enough and play the game the right way, good things will happen to you.
Newly acquired defensive end Trevor Scott quickly established himself as someone worthy of garnering additional snaps by racking up three sacks in his first action with the Bucs.
No, he may not be the quickest, and he certainly isn't the smoothest, but Scott deserves credit for his endless motor and dogged determination, which is sure to stand out along a crowded group of pass-rushing ends who have largely failed to produce thus far.
If nothing else, maybe his play, coupled with the very apparent benching of Da'Quan Bowers, will prove enough to wake up an otherwise stagnant bunch.
Blame It on the Rain
Whether it was the wet conditions, the freshly sodded field or just an off night, the receivers simply failed their quarterbacks by dropping numerous catchable passes.
Even Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the usually sure-handed receiving duo, each dropped passes intended for them, which won't show up on Freeman's abysmal stat line.
Only making matters worse is the fact that Miami's receivers did not appear to be affected in the same manner as the Bucs group, as Miami starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill put together a very respectable performance, finishing with 150 yards through the air and one touchdown.
Freeman, on the other hand, completed just six of 16 attempts for 59 yards, although as I highlighted in the intro, he was under constant pressure and was sacked five times on the evening compared to Tannehill's one sack.
Nevertheless, the offense continued to struggle getting out of its own way and, with the starters seeing little to no action next weekend, will head into the regular season with zero momentum but myriad unanswered questions.
J.J. can be reached via email at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com