With a healthier squad that showcased more depth on offense and improved balance on defense, the Miami Dolphins notched their first win of the preseason Saturday night with a 20-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore led an impressive passing game that was able to rack up 280 passing yards, which was critical as the running game never took off, with just 46 rushing yards.
The defense showed overall improvement with Jordan Tripp, Olivier Vernon, Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes each making big plays, but tackling remains an issue across the board.
After Moore’s offensive blitz in the second quarter, the outcome of the game never really seemed in doubt, with Tampa Bay wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins scoring their second touchdown with just 14 seconds left.
Here are a few takeaways of the comfortable Dolphins victory …
1. Starters not nearly as sharp as last week.
Ryan Tannehill and the starters weren’t able to top the near perfection they showed last week on their opening drive against the Atlanta Falcons, but nonetheless had their moments in the first quarter before it ended with a thud on a turnover that led to the Buccaneers scoring their first touchdown.
The team showed depth with their receivers, even with Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace showing little in their preseason debuts. Damian Williams led the team with 46 yards and three catches, followed by Rishard Matthews with 43 yards and three catches and Kevin Cone with 30 yards and two catches.
2. Moore leads impressive scoring drive.
It was backup quarterback Matt Moore who had the best night. He wasn’t able to play the first week against the Falcons due to injury but sure made a statement with an impressive first half, in which he completed 10 of 14 passes for 107 yards which was highlighted by an impressively well executed two-minute drill that resulted in the team’s first touchdown.
The 71-yard scoring drive in eight plays totaled a minute and a half of game time and it was a marvel to watch. The team had been working on this precise scenario in training camp, and it paid off on this drive.
It likely wouldn’t have happened at all if it weren’t for linebacker Chris McCain making a big play for a sack near the end zone to force the punt. Once Moore got going, he consistently fed Williams and Matthews, who smartly ran out of bounds on one catch to stop the clock on one play.
The drive ended with a 9-yard-pass for Matthews, who was able to keep both feet inbounds as he caught the soft floating pass over his defender’s head.
3. Offensive line adequate in pass protection, but run-blocking needs work.
It wasn’t all good news for the offense, and the coaching staff will need to take a hard look at what to do get a consistent running game going. With Moreno still on the mend, none of the healthy running backs impressed enough and his participation in next week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys will be counted upon to give the team a boost.
The offensive line gave their quarterbacks enough time to make plays but weren’t nearly as successful giving the running backs enough support.
4. Grimes’ game-changing play saves touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans lost out on a first half touchdown thanks to Grimes’ quick thinking and even quicker hands. Evans appeared to get the 42-yard touchdown after the receiver caught the ball up the middle and bounced off safety Jimmy Wilson’s body and headed towards the end zone.
Grimes saved the touchdown by tracking his man down from the other side of the field and shoved him just enough to get the ball loose at the one yard line as it rolled into the end zone before Evans could cross the line.
After the review it was official: touchback for Dolphins instead of touchdown for the Buccaneers.