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Intrastate combat

Defense dominates Bucs' 14-10 win against Dolphins

Posted: Monday August 12, 2002 11:35 PM
Updated: Tuesday August 13, 2002 1:12 AM
  Frank Murphy Frank Murphy gave the Bucs a 6-0 lead with his only return of the game. AP

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Jon Gruden era with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is off to a successful if not overly impressive start.

Frank Murphy returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and Rob Johnson threw a 4-yard TD pass to Keenan McCardell as the Buccaneers beat the Miami Dolphins 14-10 in their first game under the NFL's youngest head coach Monday night.

The Bucs entered the NFL in 1976 and have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown during the regular season. Murphy's runback was the fifth by a Tampa Bay player in a preseason game.

"We started the game with a bang," Gruden said. "That kind of thing doesn't happen around here a lot."

Ray Lucas threw a 5-yard TD pass to Dedric Ward, and Olindo Mare kicked a 43-yard field goal for Miami, which outgained Tampa Bay in total yardage but wasted several scoring opportunities.

The Bucs paid a hefty price (four high draft picks, $8 million cash) to pry the 38-year-old Gruden from the Oakland Raiders in hopes of finally assembling an offense to complement a championship-caliber defense.

With five new starters on offense, and second-year pro Kenyatta Walker making the move from left to right tackle, the Bucs ran for 182 yards but finished with just 63 net yards passing.

McCardell is one of 10 veteran free agents signed to help overhaul an attack that ranked 30th in rushing and 26th overall last season. Johnson, the former Buffalo Bills starter, was brought in as competition for incumbent Brad Johnson at quarterback.

"We are going to be a very good offense, if not great," said McCardell, one of the league's most productive receivers the past six seasons with Jacksonville.

"We are going to take it one step at a time and be good first. If everybody dedicates themselves, we can be a great offense. I think it is a good start for us. I just hope we keep getting better."

Miami also made improving the offense its top priority during the offseason, bringing in Norv Turner as offensive coordinator and trading for running back Ricky Williams, who rushed for 1,000 yards twice in three seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

Jay Fiedler, sidelined part of training camp while recovering from hip surgery, started at quarterback and completed 4-of-6 for 36 yards. Lucas went 11-of-15 for 136 yards and one touchdown before being replaced by third-stringer Zak Kustok.

"The hip feels good. ... It felt really good going into the game. It felt good coming out," Fiedler said. "I landed pretty hard on the other -- on my right side -- on one of the screen passes, but that didn't affect anything on the left side at all."

Fiedler and Williams both played two series for the Dolphins, with Williams gaining 9 yards on five carries against a Tampa Bay defense that ranked among the best in the league the past five seasons under former head coach Tony Dungy.

"You can't evaluate Ricky on four or five carries. Forget about that," Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He needs 25, 30 carries to evaluate him. ... He's going to be fine. He didn't have much of a chance tonight."

Brad Johnson started and worked seven plays for Tampa Bay, completing 2-of-5 for 8 yards. Shaun King, who's slipped to third on the depth chart after leading the Bucs to the NFC Championship game as a rookie in 1999, played the third and fourth quarters.

Lucas was the most productive of Miami's three quarterbacks, leading one touchdown drive and marching the Dolphins into position for another. But Travis Minor fumbled on first-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1, and safety John Howell recovered.

Two other promising drives also failed to produce points as Mare, whose conversion rate on field goals of .905 was the best in the NFL last season, missed on attempts of 52 and 30 yards.

The Dolphins also hurt themselves with five penalties for 50 yards.

"You want your first group to go out there and not necessarily execute perfect. You know, it's the first preseason game, that's not going to happen. But the penalties and those type of things bother me," Wannstedt said.

 
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