*HOUSTON -- **Tampa Bay found its offensive groove in the first half while the Bucs defense kept the Texans out of the end zone en route to a 17-9 win in front of a home crowd of 70,024. The win gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 record over the Texans in the two teams' preseason series.
Though the Texans weren't able to get that last win heading into next week's opening game against San Diego, head coach Dom Capers saw some upsides in the four-week dress rehearsal.
"I'd like to have seen us this evening go down and get a touchdown," he said. "I think the best thing that came out of this evening was that we didn't lose anyone to an injury."
Capers was also pleased with the Texans first-team offense. QB David Carr only participated in two offensive series while RB Domanick Davis only went in for one. Capers already sees an improvement from top to bottom along the offensive unit in 2004.
"I like what I've seen with our first-team offense throughout the preseason. I think we'll be much more efficient."
But it was the Bucs offense tonight that led the way. And they were able to jump ahead early.
The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to receive, returning the kickoff to their own 42. Texans NT Seth Payne, who returned to action for the first time since last September, made the first tackle as the Houston defense forced the Bucs to punt on their first possession.
The Texans offense was sparked with an eight-yard Davis carry before WR Andre Johnson pushed the unit back five yards with a false start penalty. Johnson rebounded
on the next play, grabbing a 30-yard pass from Carr down the middle. Davis hauled in an11-yard reception before Carr put one up for
WR Corey Bradford. But Carr was hit on his blindside by LB Ian Gold, placing the ball short of
Bradford and into the hands of Bucs CB Mario Edwards.
As the Bucs took over at their own 18, rain began to fall onto the Reliant Stadium grass and the roof was quickly closed. Tampa Bay began marching down the field shortly after.
RB Michael Pittman picked up four yards on the ground before catching a 20-yard reception from QB Brad Johnson. Johnson completed an impressive spiral to rookie WR Michael Clayton for an additional 19 yards. The Texans defense was able to prevent the Bucs from invading the end zone and K Martin Gramatica came in to attempt a 47-yard field goal. But Gramatica's kick came up short, bouncing off the crossbar while Houston took over at the their own 29.
The Bucs defense answered accordingly, forcing Chad Stanley topunt the ball away.
Brian Griese came in for the Bucs to line up under center and hit WR Bill Schroeder down the left sideline for a 26-yard connection, pushing the Bucs into Houston territory. Griese quickly moved his troops into scoring range, finding Clayton on a 12-yarder to place Tampa Bay at the Houston 5. But the Texans defense took a stand as LB Jay Foreman and FS Marcus Coleman came up with big goal line stops to hold the Bucs to a 20-yard Gramatica field goal to give the Bucs a 3-0 second quarter lead.
Carr finished the night completing four of six passing attempts for 35 yards, one interception and a four-yard rush as Tony Banks came in to take over the reigns at quarterback.
RB Tony Hollings took the first handoff but Banks' second exchange with Hollings was fumbled and recovered by Tampa Bay DT Oliver Gibson at the Houston 21. Three plays later, Griese hit TE Rickey Dudley on a one-yard scoring pass to extend the Bucs lead 10-0.
Houston's next drive didn't end much better. Hollings was able to push his way down the sideline for an 18-yard run before Banks found WR Derick Armstrong for a 19-yard strike. The momentum then turned as Banks was first sacked by DE Josh Savage and then intercepted by CB Roynell Whitaker, brining the Texans defense back onto the field.
The Bucs punted back to Banks and the Houston offense. Hollings picked up carries of three and 14 yards before leaving the game with a thigh bruise. Kris Brown was called in for field goal duties and hit a 39-yarder but an illegal formation penalty on the Texans pushed his second attempt back to 44 yards out. Brown hit the second try to put the score at 10-3 as time ran down in the first half.
The Bucs had 14 first downs to the Texans six in the first half and also led in total yards with 208, 100 more than Houston accumulated.
J.J. Moses got things rolling in the second half with a 41-yard return on the opening kickoff. But the inital drive quickly stalled and Stanley punted the ball away to Tampa Bay early in the third.
Chris Simms entered the game--the third quarterback that the Texans defense would see for the night. Simms was able to hit WR Charles Lee for 13 yards, converting the Bucs seventh of 10 third downs attempts of the night while keeping their first drive of the second half alive.
Pittman led the Tampa Bay offense with two six-yard runs and a 27-yarder to put the unit at the Houston 9. Simms capped an 89-yard scoring drive by hitting TE Will Heller on a six-yard pass in the end zone to give Tampa Bay a commanding 17-3 lead.
The Texans offense started to look alive after Banks hit WR Kendrick Starling on a 14-yarder. FB Jarrod Baxter then sparked the running attack with a 12-yard carry before RB Adam Matthews
chipped in with runs of seven and one yard. Banks found Armstrong on a nine-yarder
to give Houston only its second third-down conversion of the night. The dependable
leg of Brown gave the Texans another three points after he nailed a 43-yard field
goal to make the score 17-6 in favor of Tampa Bay.
The Texans special teams unit trotted on the field with a few tricks up their collective sleeve as Brown kicked a surprise onside kick. Texans S Glenn Earl recovered the loose ball to give Houston possession at their own 43-yard line with another scoring chance at bay.
But the turnover didn't materialize into points and Stanley punted a 50-yarder to give the ball back to the Bucs.
Simms trotted onto the field looking to repeat his last scoring drive. But the Bucs' hopes were snuffed out when CB Demarcus Faggins stepped in front of Simms' pass intended for Lee. Faggins returned the ball 22 yards to the Houston 31 as Dave Ragone entered the game as Houston's new quarterback.
Ragone got off to a good start, find TE Matt Murphy before sailing a 32-yard long pass down the sideline to Starling. The Texans were again kept out of the end zone by the Bucs defense, but Brown was able to hit a 38-yard field goal to put the score at 17-9.
Both Tampa Bay and Houston's offenses stalled in the final minutes of the game as the Bucs sealed a win with 17 points (10 scored in the second quarter) to the Texans 9.
The Texans finished the game with 223 yards of total offense with only 42 gained in the running game and the remaining 181 coming in the air attack. Armstrong led the Texans receivers with four catches for 48 yards while Hollings paced the running backs with six carries for 22 yards.
Ragone completed four of seven passes for 58 yards during the fourth quarter for an 84.2 passer rating.
The Texans will lift and watch film Friday with Saturday and Sunday slated as off days before preparation begins on Monday for the Sept. 12 home opener against San Diego.
"What we've been doing over the last four weeks is trying to find out about our football team," Capers said after the game. "Obviously the preseason is officially over and our experiment is officially over. After tomorrow night, everyone will be 0-0 and everything we've done over the last five months, we've done with one purpose and that is to be ready to be at our best a week from this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers and every week after that.
"I'm convinced that we have a lot of work to do. But I'm convinced that the guys understand what it's going to take. I know that they'll be anxious to get back in here on Monday and go back to work and start on the Chargers."