TAMPA — That’s why they’re called preseason games. August matchups in the NFL used to be termed “exhibition games,’’ but league officials thought that label devalued the contest, especially because fans in attendance are asked to pay regular-season prices. By any name, reading too much into preseason games has proven to be a dangerous exercise. Some Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans woke up Friday morning feeling distraught that Baltimore pulled away to a 44-16 victory at Raymond James Stadium in the exhibition opener for both teams.
But preseason results are often misleading. In 2008, the Lions went 4-0 in August, posting a whopping 80-32 scoring advantage. When the calendar page flipped, Detroit flopped, becoming the only club in NFL history to go 0-16. The 2002 Bucs dropped a 40-10 decision at home to Steve Spurrier’s Washington Redskins in the third exhibition game, which featured extended play for starters. Washington went on to a 7-9 mark while Tampa Bay capped off a 15-4 season with a Super Bowl rout of the Raiders. Last year’s Philadelphia Eagles went 4-0 in the preseason and 4-12 when the NFL was truly keeping score. While a 28-point setback is never a confidence builder, at least six Tampa Bay starters still recuperating from injuries were held out of the game by coach Greg Schiano and the Bucs led 13-10 until things went awry in the final minute of the opening half. “My takeway from this game is we have a lot of work to do,’’ said center Jeremy Zuttah. “I think it kind of makes things more obvious what we need to work on. We have to be critical of ourselves and what we saw.’’ On Friday, Schiano talked up some of the players who impressed during a rain-soaked matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions — linebacker Lavonte David, running back Brian Leonard, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and kicker Derek Dimke. “There were some good things,’’ said Schiano, who limited quarterback Josh Freeman to two series before rookie Mike Glennon came in. “Some stuff to build on, which was nice.’’ The game turned when the Ravens broke through against backup punter Chas Henry and recovered the blocked kick in the end zone for a 24-13 advantage with only nine seconds remaining in the first half. ”We did some things that we normally wouldn’t do,’’ Schiano said of an offensive sequence that included two incompletions and a sack preceding the blocked punt. “You’re not going to go down there inside your own 20 and mess around with 28 seconds left and one timeout; we just wanted to get Mike more plays.’’ With both teams substituting liberally, the Ravens poured it on after intermission, capitalizing on Tampa Bay mistakes. Fourteen Baltimore receivers caught a pass and the Ravens enjoyed an average starting spot at their 38-yard line for their 14 possessions. “Being in the league going on four years,’’ Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said, “you learn how to approach the preseason. It’s to do an assessment. It doesn’t matter who you play. ...You don’t really game-plan the team. You go out and assess yourself. For me, it’s about getting the kinks out.’’ Schiano acknowledged there were some communication issues Thursday evening and used the word “sloppy’’ to describe some of the action. Besides the blocked punt for a score, Baltimore intercepted three passes and recovered a fumbled punt by second-year wide receiver Chris Owusu, who had been a training camp standout. “These games are for the guys to show the coaches they can play the game and earn a spot on the roster,’’ said Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, who carried only twice Thursday. “It’s a preseason game, so it doesn’t count in the standings. Fans can calm down a little bit. It’s for the guys trying to make the club and put good tape on film. “But as a team, we’ve definitely got some things to work on.’’ [email protected] (813) 259-7833 Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO