TAMPA ― On the sixth play of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Bengals, Tom Brady took a shotgun snap and was sacked immediately, disappearing under Bengals defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson and Joseph Ossai.
For a few breathless seconds, as Brady was sprawled on the turf, it was fair to question the sanity of playing the 44-year-old Bucs quarterback in a meaningless game.
There simply wasn’t enough biscuit to risk it.
Fortunately, Brady got off the ground in one piece and the Bucs defense of their Super Bowl 55 title is still whole.
“He saw it coming and just folded up like a cheap tent,” coach Bruce Arians said of Brady, who left the game after that play. “Smart as hell.”
The Bucs lost to the Bengals 19-14 in a turnover-marred game in which Tampa Bay didn’t have the football much. They compiled only 159 total yards on 60 offensive plays while allowing 303 yards.
The defense forced four turnovers, including two fumbles to stop Bengals drives. One was caused by linebacker Lavonte David. Rookie K.J. Britt recovered the only one forced by safety Ross Cockrell.
Linebacker Joseph Jones intercepted Cincinnati’s Kyle Shurmur and returned the ball 15 yards for a touchdown with 11:10 remaining in the game. A conversion pass from Kyle Trask to Codey McElroy cut the Bengals lead to two points, but the Florida rookie was unable to mount a comeback.
“Honestly, he just threw it right to me,” Jones said. “First pick ever, first pick six. I’m excited.”
Blaine Gabbert put together the drive of the night, a 15-play march capped by running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn powering across the goal line for a 2-yard TD run.
The Bucs tried to use some razzle-dazzle on the conversion, lining holder Bradley Pinion up at quarterback with kicker Ryan Succop at running back before shifting into the normal kicking formation. The PAT was good but “aborted” because the ball wasn’t placed at the 15-yard line.
“We had really bad communication on the faked extra point,” Arians said. “The kicker didn’t know the rule. You can’t line back up and kick it. You don’t get a point for it. Evidently, it wasn’t communicated well enough that you can’t do that, so that’s on me.”
Vaughn, a third-round pick from Vanderbilt last year, was the Bucs’ workhorse in the first half. He finished with 27 yards on 11 carries, including the TD, while adding a 7-yard reception.
Unfortunately, the Bucs couldn’t protect the football. Quarterback Ryan Griffin had two passes deflected into the air and intercepted.
Trask deserved a better fate than his numbers (4 of 15 passing for 35 yards) would indicate. His receivers dropped two deep passes that may have changed the outcome.
“Those are plays I’ve seen those guys make in practice,” Trask said. “Little things here and there just didn’t go our way. We’ll get it coached up and hit it next time.”
Another rookie who drew raves was first-round pick Joe Tryon, who had a sack negated for unnecessary roughness.
“Bang-bang play,” Tryon said. “It is what it is. I’ll probably go for the ball next time.”
Other teams have elected not to allow their starting quarterback to play at all in the preseason. The list includes Bengals starter Joe Burrow, who has returned from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL; and Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom coach Sean McVay said wouldn’t take a snap this preseason.
But the best thing Brady did was crawl out under the pile of Bengals defenders and walk to the sideline, where he safely stood the rest of the night. “(Next time), just throw it away,” Arians said.
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