Most of the top players for both teams sat out the preseason opener between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which allowed lower-on-the-depth-chart players an opportunity in the Dolphins’ 26-24 exhibition win on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson, the rookie seventh-round pick who got the start with Tua Tagovailoa among 20-plus Dolphins resting, went 20 for 28 for 218 yards, a touchdown and narrowly avoided an interception.
With backups in the secondary allowing the Buccaneers to drive late, former Miami Hurricanes Low Groza Award-winning kicker Jose Borregales had a game-winning field goal attempt doink off the right upright no good, preserving the preseason win for Miami.
Thompson’s touchdown lifted Miami from a mostly lackluster first half, hitting Lynn Bowden open in the end zone on a double move for the 22-yard score. It came on the following play after cornerback Elijah Campbell intercepted a short pass to the flat, ripping the ball away from a receiver.
“The whole objective of the preseason was to have some adversity and fight through it,” first-year Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel told the CBS4 broadcast at halftime. “Obviously, we didn’t come out the exact way we wanted. Guys are getting used to tackling, but what I did like is no one panicked and then people made some plays and then we were opportunistic.”
Thompson and Bowden connected again to start the second half for a 29-yard gain over the top of the Buccaneers defense on a drive that eventually resulted in a field goal. Bowden led Miami receivers with 55 yards on three catches.
Linebacker Sam Eguaoven, who was having a rough night with missed tackles early, scored a defensive touchdown on a 33-yard fumble return. Outside linebacker Darius Hodge hit Buccaneers quarterback Kyle Trask’s arm before it went forward on a pass to force the fumble.
While tight end Mike Gesicki, playing 2022 on the franchise tag, has seldom seen targets in training camp practices in McDaniel’s new offense, Gesicki got the Dolphins’ first offensive play to come his way, a short pitch and catch with room to run for 13 yards.
The Buccaneers scored a first-quarter touchdown from quarterback Blaine Gabbert to receiver Jaelon Darden where it appeared Dolphins strong safety Brandon Jones was not in the right spot in zone coverage as Darden ended up open between Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham, the cornerback who was playing free safety over the top.
Tampa Bay, with former Florida standout Trask replacing Gabbert to start the second quarter, went for a 15-play, 86-yard drive to follow where backup Dolphins defenders had multiple missed tackles, including a noticeable one from Eguavoen. Ke’Shawn Vaughn capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Buccaneers scored a third-quarter touchdown from Trask to Jerreth Sterns where cornerback D’Angelo Ross was with Sterns 1-on-1 in the end zone but couldn’t get turned around to defend the pass. The Dolphins’ cornerback depth remains a concern as Buccaneers passers combined to go 30 of 38 for 314 yards, two touchdowns and the Campbell interception.
With free agent offensive line additions Terron Armstead and Connor Williams out, Larnel Coleman started at left tackle and Michael Deiter at center. Deiter had only returned to practice on Wednesday from a foot injury. He didn’t have any poor snaps, which have been a problem for Williams in practice.
Coleman gave up the third-down sack of Thompson on Miami’s opening drive that forced the Dolphins to settle for a 33-yard field goal after Thompson started 4 of 4 for 31 yards on the opening series. On a third down for an ensuing series, the Buccaneers ran a stunt in front of Deiter and right guard Robert Hunt, which got Thompson hit on the incomplete pass.
The Dolphins had another drive stall deep into the first half where right tackle Kion Smith, replacing Austin Jackson at that point, allowed a sack, causing Miami to settle for a 52-yard Jason Sanders field goal.
With several starters out, Miami trotted out a defensive unit to start that involved defensive linemen Raekwon Davis, John Jenkins and Porter Gustin, outside linebackers Jaelan Phillips and Andrew Van Ginkel, inside linebackers Eguavoen and Duke Riley, cornerbacks Igbinoghene and Keion Crossen and safeties Jones and Needham, who would be the team’s nickel when Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are available at cornerback and Jevon Holland is in at free safety. Crossen had a physical pass breakup on a deep 1-on-1 opportunity.
In addition to Thompson’s outing, fellow Dolphins rookies in third-round linebacker Channing Tindall and fourth-round wide receiver Erik Ezukanma got their first preseason action in the NFL. Tindall made his first tackles, and Ezukanma made his first reception, a 14-yard catch and run. Deandre Johnson, the undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami and Miami Southridge High, split a late sack with Miami Central High product Owen Carney.
Cornerback Trill Williams was curiously not seen on defense in the first half but got into the action in the second half. He had two injury scares, returning from one, but the second one appeared more serious with McDaniel walking out to the field to check on him before he was eventually carted off.
Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders went 4 for 4 with converted field goals of 33, 52, 23 and 53 yards.
Preston Williams took in the Dolphins’ first punt return, and Bowden was back deep on the initial kick return, a touchback.
Both starting running backs Saturday, the Dolphins’ Sony Michel (American Heritage) and Buccaneers’ Giovani Bernard (St. Thomas Aquinas) were South Florida high school football stars. The debut of McDaniel’s run game in the exhibition didn’t provide much early, although key offensive linemen Armstead and Williams sat, as did tailbacks Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert.