TAMPA — On field goal attempts inside 40 yards, Matt Gay expects to be automatic.
He also knows he’s not going to be perfect.
So count his uneven day in the Bucs’ 13-12 preseason win over the Cleveland Browns as a learning experience for the rookie kicker playing his third preseason game.
Gay entered Friday’s third preseason game having made all three of his field goal attempts — including a pair beyond 40 yards — taking a hold of the club’s kicking competition with Cairo Santos.
His first attempt Friday, from a distance of 37 yards, hit the right upright. His next field goal attempt was the game winner, a chip shot from 21 yards.
“We wouldn’t have been in that situation of I had made the first one, so I’ve got to be better on that one,” Gay said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m more locked in on those. Inside 40 has to be 100 percent. If I make that, we’re not in the position in the end. But wins are hard to come by in this league so we’ll take it.”
Gay said he underestimated the wind on the miss.
“The wind was going right to left,” Gay said, "I thought I had my line. I thought it was going to take it and seemed to just stay through the wind and hit the upright.
Since the Bucs used a fifth-round pick on Gay, he entered camp as the favorite, and his powerful leg has been as advertised.Gay has made attempts from 55 and 47 yards this preseason, the latter being a game-winner against Miami last Friday,
He converted another game winner on Friday with 15 second left. Since the two kickers have been alternating kicks, Gay was told a few minutes before splitting the uprights that he would have the opportunity to kick if needed.
“Every kick’s got to be the same whether it’s 21 or 51 so you make sure you go through your process,” Gay said. “When you get into the mindset that I can just chip this one in, that 's when you start missing them.”
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has contended the competition between Gay and Santos is still alive, and now it still might be. He also said that Santos would receive the first long kick against the Browns, but his only field goal attempt was a 23-yarder in the third quarter that he converted.
Secondary in the clutch
The Bucs defense held the Browns to just 2-for-14 on third down, and that included three big first-half pass breakups by the secondary that stalled drives, including one in the end zone.
After M.J. Stewart broke up a pass over the middle on third down intended for receiver Rashard Higgins to kill the Browns first drive, cornerback Carlton Davis made a big breakup on third-and-3 at the Bucs’ 18, forcing the Browns to settle for a field goal.
And safety Jordan Whitehead and Stewart converged on Browns tight end Demetrius Harris to interrupt a pass in the back of the end zone in the second quarter.
Auclair injury leaves Bucs thin at tight end
Antony Auclair, the Bucs’ primary blocking tight end, left Friday’s game with a calf injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. And despite tight end being one of the team’s deepest positions, the Bucs were already without Cameron Brate, who didn’t practice this week.
With those losses, one would expect Tanner Hudson — who entered the night as the team’s leading receiver in the preseason with 13 catches for 177 yards — to see more snaps early, but it was Jordan Leggett who saw time with the first team in two tight end sets, suggesting he’s being considered a better blocker than Hudson, who is battling for one of the final roster spots.
Leggett caught the game’s only touchdown late in the third quarter. Hudson logged four catcher for 49 yards.
— Injured outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who hasn’t been with the team throughout the preseason, made an appearance on the sideline before Friday’s game. He wasn’t wearing the bulking neck brace he’s been seen wearing on social media as recently as this past weekend.
— Rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller made his preseason debut after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, and was the team’s primary punt returner in the first half, suggesting he’s still competing for that job with Bobo Wilson.
— With top receiver Mike Evans sidelined with a leg injury, Chris Godwin and Bredshad Perriman started on the outside, and Wilson was the first receiver that saw snaps in the slot in three-receiver sets.
— Defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches continued to play well, and logged a big second-quarter sack of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for an eight-yard loss that stalled an impressive Cleveland drive.
— Outside linebacker Carl Nassib and offensive tackle Demar Dotson were the Bucs’ team captains, and for the pregame coin toss, the were joined by the captains from the Alonso and Robinson state championship flag football teams.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.