Although the Buccaneers never trailed, they couldn't put the newest team in the National Football League away as their offense generated only three points behind an offensive line that couldn't open holes, couldn't protect the passer and couldn't avoid racking up four holding penalties.
Although it wasn't a pretty win, it was a win as the Bucs finish the preseason with a 3-1 record. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell realized that the offense didn't play well, but it was nice that the other areas of the team picked up the slack.
"We came out of the game with a win," McCardell said. "That's what we wanted. Sometimes you struggle on offense, but you have other parts of the game that steps up. Our defense played great and our special teams played great. When one group happens to struggle then the other groups have to pick it up. That's the sign of a good team.
"We made the plays we needed to make like the blocked punt on special teams. Nate Webster makes a big hit and Dexter Jackson runs it in for a touchdown. It gave us a jump-start on offense. We new coming out of halftime that we needed to play better. We came out and sustained some drives because we wanted to end the preseason on an upbeat note that would help us start the season off right. The real bullets fly next week. We've got the Saints coming into Raymond James. It's time to play because it's for all the marbles now. We can't start off like we did tonight next Sunday."
The Bucs jumped on top 7-0 midway through the opening period on the first possession of the Texans. On the second offensive play of the game, Houston running back Jonathan Wells ran a lead to the right side of the line. Defensive end Greg Spires wrapped up the Texans rusher and that allowed Webster to clean up on the rookie rusher and he caused a fumble with a jarring hit. Jackson scooped up the pigskin and took it the final 21 yards to put the Pewter Pirates on the board.
Webster was making the most of his playing time due to the fact that starting middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was held out for the second straight game due to an injury. Webster felt that the defense just came out and did what Tampa Bay defense have done in the past.
"I think we just came out tonight and played a little Buc ball," Webster said. "We had a great week of practice and it showed tonight. The defense had to set the tone and that's what we have to do week in and week out. We started off with a bang tonight and ended up with a touchdown. That was all she wrote."
The Tampa Bay special teams got into the act on the next series. The starting Bucs defense forced the Texans into a punting situation and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia went for the big play.
The Buccaneers went for the block and reserve safety John Howell came right up the middle. Howell got both hands on the ball after punter Chad Stanley had to leave his feet to catch a high snap. The ball rolled toward the Houston goal line where it was gobbled up by cornerback Ronde Barber at the 21-yard line and he was off to the races.
As Barber was being dragged down from behind by defensive back Kevin Williams, the ball just happened to be dislodged from his arms. A plethora of guys in red jerseys surrounded the football and running back Aaron Stecker was the recipient of this good fortune and took it the last 11 yards to extend the lead to 14-0.
Howell was instrumental in giving the Bucs the early lift that they needed. The blocked punt was simply a matter of hard work in the film room and a good game plan.
"It was really a great call by Coach Bisaccia," Howell said. "It was a game plan move. We decided to come out in a certain personnel and check what Texas would do. They came out in what we thought they would do on their first punt so we check off to it. It was wide open. I was man up over the head of the center and I came in untouched. I was able to time it up and take it off the foot of the punter."
The Texans cut the lead in half early in the second quarter when Wells scored the first rushing touchdown in franchise history, albeit in the preseason. The former Ohio State Buckeye ran a power play off the right side from two yards out. Tampa Bay strong safety David Gibson made an attempt to keep him out of the end zone, but was unsuccessful as Houston edged closer at 14-7.
The Texans made it 14-10 midway through the second quarter. Kicker Chris Brown nailed a 41-yard field goal from the right hash that split the uprights.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was not happy with his teams performance in the first half, especially the offensive unit, which was outgained 161-68 by the expansion Texans. He felt the Bucs were just making to many mental and physical mistakes.
"Obviously, I'm really disappointed with our play in the first half," Gruden said. "We had five penalties and four of them we holding calls. We dropped some passes and it's hard to move the ball when you can't protect the passer because you can't keep your hands inside. It's inexcusable and we have to get that corrected right now."
Left tackles Roman Oben and Lomas Brown were each flagged for holding, and right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for holding twice before being benched in favor of newcomer Cornell Green, who saw some time at right tackle in the second half.
Both teams traded field goals in the third quarter. After Williams picked off third-string quarterback Shaun King, the Texans started deep in Bucs territory at the 24-yard line. After the drive stalled Brown hit another field goal. This one was also from the right hash but four yards farther back. The 45 yarder pulled Houston within a point at 14-13.
The Bucs answered with a field goal of their own late in the period. Kicker Martin Gramatica hit a 48-yard blast from the right hash to extend the Tampa Bay lead to 17-13, which would be the final score.
The fourth quarter was scoreless but the outcome was not sealed until rookie cornerback Tim Wansley, who had a very solid outing, intercepted a pass to stop a late Houston rally. Wansley's pick allowed the Bucs to finish the initial preseason of the Gruden era a respectable 3-1.
Gruden was happy with the ultimate result, but he was not pleased with certain aspects of the team. He knows that the Bucs have a long way to go in a short time to get ready for the season opener with New Orleans.
"Penalties, obviously, were a big story in the first half," Gruden said. "We also mishandled a couple balls that we have to make plays on. We are disappointed in the production that we got tonight. We're happy that we won the football game. We got some timely plays in the kicking game and certainly from our defense especially at the end of the game. It was enough to win tonight but we have a long way to go."
Tampa Bay must rectify its offensive line problems in a hurry with the season opener against a dangerous New Orleans Saints team just over a week away.
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