Cleveland Browns vs. Bucs preseason matchup means nothing, everything
The Cleveland Browns may have played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and lost in a heart-breaker, but it helps make this preseason game mean a little more.
Last time the Cleveland Browns played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was lucky enough to be there.
It was in October, Week 7 of the 2018 season. Hue Jackson was still in charge of the team and Todd Haley was still coordinating rookie Baker Mayfield’s offense. The 2-3-1 Browns were going to travel south to Tampa Bay, Florida to play the 2-3 Bucs in a day game coincidentally the same weekend I was scheduled to be in town.
My St. Pete-based friend surprised me with a pair of sweet tickets in the 100-section and told me my money was no good.
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The even better news – we were right behind the Browns sideline.
The bad news was we were uncovered and my shaved head was fully exposed to the surprisingly effective early fall Florida sun as well as to the thousands of Buccaneers fans drinking heavily while impeccably dressed as fancy pirates.
The worst news was the other attention-grabbing feature of the Raymond James Stadium, which sits at one end of the stadium in what’s known as Buccaneers’ Cove. There, smack dab in the middle of the 200-deck directly beneath the instant replay board is a solid gold, life-sized pirate ship equipped with full masts and cannons and a huge skull and crossbones on its bow beneath the long and flagged bowsprit.
The most dreadful part – every time the Bucs would score, multiple cannons from the ship would explode and go, “BOOM!”
And on that day, far too many a “BOOM” was heard, each a thunderous reminder of how far the rebuilding Browns still needed to go.
The quick game recap starts three minutes into the first quarter, when the Browns scored two points on a safety after stuffing Bucs running back Peyton Barber in the end zone on a 2nd & 10.
- UNFORTUNATE SIDE NOTE: Browns wouldn’t score again until well into the third quarter.
On another note, that day our defense was both amazing and horrible.
On top of the aforementioned safety, they posted two interceptions and two forced fumbles, but while allowing Jameis Winston to throw for 365 total yards and pump fake them into a touchdown.
And the Bucs easily outscored the Browns 16-2 in the first half.
- BAD CALL SIDE NOTE: At one point after running the ball, Mayfield received a helmet-to-helmet hit from safety Jordan Whitehead, but the referee incorrectly and inexplicably ruled it “no penalty,” saying in effect that because Baker became a runner he was somehow allowed to be hit in the helmet with another helmet.
Say what? BOO!
- PERSONAL SIDE NOTE: By the second half, I’d gotten sunburn on half my pale and foolishly unprotected shaved head and on most of my unshaved left arm. And since I didn’t drink beers that day I could really feel the burn.
As could the Bucs’ defense as Mayfield threw a touchdown pass in the third quarter to tight end David Njoku to get the Browns somewhat back in the game.
Later, after one more “BOOM!” was heard, Nick Chubb ran the ball in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter followed by Jarvis Landry scoring the tying touchdown with minutes to go by catching the ball and then wisely slip-sliding into the end zone before any Bucs could touch him.
Then, with time running out and the Bucs on the Browns’ thirty, their kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a forty-yarder to push the game into overtime.
Phew. New life. Except…
Jabrill Peppers fumbled a punt return with three minutes left in overtime, the Bucs recovered the ball and after missing two chip shots earlier in the game, Catanzaro kicks a 59-yard field goal.
Bucs win, 26-23, and the Browns go to 2-4-1.
So why even bring it up?
While watching the replay of that lousy three-point loss in preparation for the Browns’ upcoming third preseason game on Friday night against those same Buccaneers, my first thought was this year’s team would’ve totally won that game.
The new defense would have held and the upgraded offense (no longer led by a rookie or coordinated by a Neanderthal) would have scored earlier and more often.
Which brings us to Friday’s preseason game, when the Browns take on the refurbished Buccaneers, newly led by the legendary Bruce Arians but sans deep threat receiver DeSean Jackson.
The current Browns can (and better) beat this team because they’re far more talented, but it’s preseason football so does it really matter?
Yes, for these Browns and their fans it kinda does.
One beef on last year’s Browns was that they couldn’t win the big games against playoff bound teams and that they lost four games by just one score or less and tied yet another one.
It doesn’t take a football surgeon to figure out that if the Browns had won those close games suddenly they end last season at 12-4 and in the playoffs.
Yes, most preseason games are meaningless, unless you’re watching the rebirth of a franchise.
Unless it’s year five of a five-year rebuild.
Unless there’s so much expectation surrounding the new roster that the thought of going back to “it’s just the Browns, they’ll blow it somehow” is unacceptable.
Then every game means something.
I don’t care if Friday night is just the preseason or that I’m not going to be there at the game this time. It’s called a “Dress Rehearsal” for a reason, so I’m popping some beers from my couch and slathering up with SPF because this 2019 Browns team is as sizzling as the Florida sun.
Nothing will be more pleasing than watching thousands of fancy pirates not get their “BOOM!” fix filled.
Except maybe seeing exactly how Freddie Kitchens, Baker Mayfield and this 90-man preseason roster go about doing it.
This game means nothing, for sure, but to Cleveland Browns fans starved to see wins, it means everything.