TAMPA, Fla. -- Raheem Morris joked that maybe it's time he stop harping about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to play better early in games.
Josh Freeman directed a touchdown drive just before halftime and third-string quarterback Rudy Carpenter capped a fourth-quarter scoring drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Nathan Overbay with 3:11 remaining, giving the Bucs a 17-13 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night.
"I'm going to stop talking about starting faster and enjoy the way these guys finish," Morris said.
Freeman missed several open receivers and nearly had a couple passes intercepted, but left on a high note after ending his night with a six-play, 54-yard march that made it 10-10.
The third-year pro probably will not play much -- if at all -- Thursday night in the preseason finale at Houston. That's OK as far as Freeman is concerned.
After all, he's seen extensive play this month after barely playing in the preseason a year ago, when he injured the thumb on his throwing hand in the first exhibition.
"He's way ahead of where he was at this time last year," Morris said.
"I think we're right where we need to be," Freeman added, assessing the progress of the offense. "I missed a couple of throws. ... That comes with getting more and more game reps and getting in more of a rhythm, but that's nothing I'm really concerned about."
The Bucs (2-1) overcame 15 penalties for 135 yards in a performance not nearly as crisp as they'd hoped for coming off last week's sloppy, lopsided loss to New England.
"We were getting in our own way," Miami tight end Anthony Fasano said.
The Bucs learned before the game that cornerback Aqib Talib won't be suspended for any of the season for his arrest in connection with an offseason shooting in Texas.
The fourth-year pro is facing a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Police in the Dallas suburb of Garland say they believe the 25-year-old player and his mother shot at a man in March. Talib's trial is set for March 2012, and the NFL could revisit the matter pending the outcome of the case.
"We discussed Aqib's situation and they informed us he will not be suspended for the 2011 football season," Dominik said. "Certainly we and the National Football League will continue to track the case, and we will proceed accordingly however that pans out."
Talib sat out Saturday night because of a hamstring injury that also sidelined him the first two weeks of the preseason. He led the Bucs with six interceptions in 2010, despite being suspended without pay for the season opener for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and four other games after suffering a season-ending hip injury.
Freeman and the rest of Tampa Bay's starters were hoping to atone for a poor performance against New England. The first-team offense gained 34 yards in a little less than a half, and Tom Brady made it look easy by scoring on four of the Patriots' first five possessions to build a 28-0 lead.
With the exception of a couple of early third-down completions and a short throw to LeGarrette Blount that the second-year running back turned into a 52-yard gain to set up a field goal, Freeman had little to show before getting his team into the end zone in the final minute of the opening half.
The third-year quarterback set up Earnest Graham's 2-yard TD run with a 15-yard completion to his fullback and a 17-yard scramble to the Miami 2.
Freeman finished 12 of 23 for 149 yards and hasn't turned over the ball this preseason. He did have two potential interceptions dropped and had one pick nullified by a penalty.
Henne played into the third quarter and was sacked three times. He went 10 of 13 for 175 yards and one touchdown, connecting with Marshall on a sideline throw that was defended well by Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers, starting in place of Talib.
Marshall made the catch inside the Tampa Bay 35, managed to stay in bounds before cutting back toward the middle past safety Cody Grimm. He then stiff-armed linebacker Quincy Black to remain on his feet and get into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
"That's definitely a confidence booster out there ... That we can put the ball up and let him go get it and make some big plays out there," Henne said. "That's what he is. Give him the ball, give him a shot where he can make a big play down the field."
Marshall's second-quarter fumble, forced by Biggers at the end of a 30-yard catch and run, led to Tampa Bay's touchdown just before the half.
Miami coach Tony Sparano said the Dolphins self-destructed offensively after Marshall's early touchdown.
"Not a little bit, a lot," the coach said. "There were penalties, minus plays, and a couple of rushing attempts that put us behind the sticks."
The good thing, Sparano said he told his team: "It's fixable."
The NFL says it is close but still has yet to interview the four players named along with Peyton Manning in a report five months ago that linked them to PEDs.
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