ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans had even more motivation to score once he saw defensive tackle Clinton McDonald return a fumble for a touchdown.
"I talked to Clinton and I said, `How are you going to score one before me?" the first-round pick said. "And then, luckily, I got in."
Buccaneers first-stringers on offense and defense were far too much for the slow-starting Buffalo Bills in rolling to a 27-14 preseason victory on Saturday evening.
McDonald returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown, Evans and quarterback Josh McCown hooked up for a 24-yard touchdown. And running back Doug Martin scored on a 1-yard plunge as the Buccaneers (1-2) broke the game open by building a 24-0 first-half lead.
For Evans, selected seventh overall, the touchdown also made up for the one he had taken away a week earlier in a 20-14 loss to Miami. That’s when a 42-yard touchdown catch was erased by a replay review which showed he fumbled at the 1.
"I was telling everybody I was going to redeem myself, and I did," said Evans, who had three catches for 44 yards
McCown was pleased for the rookie.
"It’s good to get him in the end zone, legitimately this time, and let him feel good about that," said McCown, who went 13 of 16 for 112 yards and an interception in playing the first half. "It’s good that a guy you picked that high, you want to see him, just like our offense, come together and move forward every week."
The Bills (1-3) continue to take steps backward.
The announced sold-out crowd that came to get its first glance at the $130 million in renovations at Ralph Wilson Stadium also got a look at a team that still needs plenty of polish.
The EJ Manuel-led offense spent much of the first 30 minutes sputtering, and was booed off the field at halftime. Buffalo managed just 82 yards and six first downs through eight first-half possessions, and never got beyond the Bucs 43.
Manuel struggled, completing nine of his first 18 attempts for 67 yards, with two turnovers.
"I don’t think any of us are happy," coach Doug Marrone said. "When you play poorly, you should get booed. I don’t have any problems with that."
Bills starters did finally reach the end zone for the first time this preseason. But it came against the Buccaneers’ second-stringers on two third-quarter possessions.
Manuel hit Mike Williams — the former Buccaneers receiver who was acquired by Buffalo in a trade last spring — for a 14-yard touchdown. Then running back Fred Jackson scored on an 8-yard run.
Williams’ touchdown was the starters’ first after being limited to four field goals on their previous 18 possessions.
Jackson was particularly fired up during the first half, and held an impromptu offensive huddle on the sideline.
"Obviously, we can’t be happy with that," Jackson said. "But at the same time, we can’t let that define who we are. It’s a preseason game that we didn’t look well in. We have to go out and make some adjustments and continue to move on."
Discipline was an issue, too. The Bills were flagged three times over a five-play stretch. Add in Jackson being stopped for a 5-yard loss, and it led to Buffalo facing one third-and-40.
Bills Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas wasn’t impressed by his former team’s offensive output midway through the second quarter. Thomas posted on his Twitter account that the starting offense "should play the entire game."
The game started sloppily, with the teams combining for three turnovers in the first quarter. Then came McDonald’s fumble return midway through the second quarter that put Tampa Bay ahead 17-0.
With Buffalo facing first-and-20 at its 22, Adrian Clayborn burst around the left side to sack Manuel and force the ball loose. McDonald scooped it up and rumbled into the end zone.
"We still got a lot of things to improve on, but this is a great dress rehearsal for us all to see on defense," McDonald said. "Our defense played lights out tonight."
NOTES: Bucs coach Lovie Smith announced starting linebacker Jonathan Casillas was left home because he violated team rules. Smith said Casillas would rejoin the team Sunday. … Bills receiver Marquise Goodwin (neck), tight end Lee Smith (toe) and safety Da’Norris Searcy (stinger) were hurt in the first half and did not return. … Tampa Bay S Bradley McDougald did not return after hurting his knee. … Marrone said DT Alan Branch did not play after he was informed the player was arrested earlier in Saturday. Marrone did not have any details except to say he intends to meet with Branch on Sunday.