TAMPA, Fla. - The Texans fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-24, on Thursday night in the preseason finale at Raymond James Stadium.
In a game in which the Texans likely held back a large portion of their playbook because they face the Bucs in Week 14 of the regular season, quarterback Sage Rosenfels started in place of Matt Schaub, and the rest of the Texans' starters gave way to reserves as well.
The Texans jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and came back from a 10-point deficit to tie the game late in the third quarter, but came up just short as the Bucs scored the winning touchdown in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Gary Kubiak is encouraged after concluding his second preseason as head coach, but he doesn't particularly enjoy making final cuts in the coming days.
"There are so many things you have to accomplish in a preseason," he said. "You are evaluating your team, but you also want to play well and win games. I think we accomplished a lot of things. I think we were in position to be a 4-0 preseason team. I like the way we were in position every week.
"Because our ones showed us some good stuff we were able to look at some other guys, and now is the tough part. That's the worst part of the business, to be honest with you. You have 75 guys in there who have given you everything they have for the past six weeks, now you have to go tell 22 of them 'no'. It is very difficult."
One player that doesn't have to look over his shoulder for the Turk is Jacoby Jones, who caught a three-yard touchdown pass for his fourth overall touchdown of the preseason, while Wali Lundy had eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown and Jared Zabransky finished 12-22 for 117 yards and one interception in over three quarters of play, by far his most extensive action of the preseason.
"I see a tough-minded kid," Kubiak said of Zabransky after the game. "His first play in the NFL, he throws an interception, but he comes back and battles all night. He gave us a chance to make some plays. We didn't protect him very good early, but that is the NFL. I think the kid has shown that he can play this game and there is a lot he has to learn, but he definitely showed us some things tonight to warrant us taking a second look at him."
The Texans wasted little time in taking a 7-0 lead with a 71-yard, seven-play opening drive. Rosenfels continued his impressive preseason, going a perfect 5-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown. He completed passes to Jones and tight ends Jeb Putzier and Joel Dreessen, finding Jones for a three-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone. Kris Brown nailed the extra point to put the Texans up 7-0.
On the Bucs' first possession, Texans defensive end N.D. Kalu forced a fumble on a sack of Tampa Bay quarterback Luke McCown. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher scooped up the ball and ran it back 36 yards for a touchdown to put the Texans ahead 14-0 after another Brown extra point.
But the Bucs would respond with 24 unanswered points. Late in the first quarter, McCown threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Paris Warren to cap a 76-yard, eight-play drive that cut their deficit to 14-7. Tampa then drove 85 yards to tie the game at 14-14 on a 12-yard McCown touchdown pass to fullback B.J. Askew.
Zabransky entered the game to start the second quarter and was intercepted on his first pass by rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli, giving the Bucs a first down from the Texans' 12-yard line. On first-and-goal from the one-yard line, consecutive sacks by Jason Babin and Earl Cochran forced the Bucs to kick a 41-yard field goal by Matt Bryant that gave Tampa its first lead of the game, 17-14.
Another Texans three-and-out led to a booming 58-yard punt by Matt Turk that pinned Tampa at its own 10-yard line. A 51-yard pass from McCown to Warren on third-and-six moved the Bucs to the Texans' 33-yard line, and McCown threw a five-yard touchdown pass to running back Lionel Gates that put the Bucs up 24-14 with 4:28 left before halftime.
The Texans broke their scoring drought late in the half. With the Bucs trying to execute a two-minute drill, Fletcher intercepted McCown to give the Texans the ball with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half. Zabransky drove the Texans into field goal range on two quick plays, and Brown hit a 39-yard field goal to pull the Texans within 24-17 at halftime.
The scoreboard operators got a rest in the third and fourth quarters, as the Texans and Bucs combined for 14 points in a slow-moving second half.
On the first possession of the third quarter, linebacker Shantee Orr forced Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens to fumble, and rookie safety Brandon Mitchell recovered to give the Texans the ball near midfield. Zabransky then orchestrated his most impressive drive of the game. Lundy ran for 24 yards to the left side, Zabransky completed a 16-yard pass to Keenan McCardell and then just missed on a 13-yard touchdown when his pass sailed through McCardell's hands in the end zone. The rookie signal-caller scrambled 12 yards to the Tampa Bay one-yard line to set up first-and-goal, and Lundy punched the ball in from there to tie the game at 24-24 with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Running back Darius Walker got his first action of the game and ran the ball five times for 34 yards on an early fourth quarter drive. Zabransky completed a pass to David Anderson deep in Tampa territory, but Anderson fumbled the ball away and the Bucs recovered at their own nine-yard line to thwart the potential scoring drive.
Cornerback Fred Bennett appeared to intercept a deep pass from Bruce Gradkowski with less than five minutes left in a tied game, but the play was overturned on a coach's challenge to keep the Bucs' drive alive. On fourth-and-one from the Houston 35, Gradkowski hooked up with Warren on a four-yard pass for a first down, then connected with Warren again on the next play for a 31-yard touchdown pass, putting Tampa ahead 31-24 and giving Warren seven receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Warren, a second-year player from the University of Utah, severely injured his leg on what Bucs coach Jon Gruden called a "terrible dislocated ankle" that will sideline him for the season after he was tackled at the goal line. Warren remained on the field for several minutes and the enitre Bucs sideline cleared as his teammates and several Texans players gathered around him in the end zone before he finally regained consciousness and was carted off the field to a rousing ovation from the crowd.
The Texans' last gasp effort to tie the game came up short. Three consecutive Zabransky completions and a pass interference call moved the Texans to the Tampa 34 at the two-minute warning, but Houston was unable to get another first down. Zabransky's final attempt on fourth down was batted down by defensive end Greg White. Gradkowski kneeled the ball on consecutive plays to run out the clock and hand the Texans their second loss of the preseason.
- After the game, Kubiak addressed his team's injuries in the following statement:
"We lost Cedric (Killings) late in the game on the touchdown play when they lost their player. (Cedric) has been a fine player for us. I don't know the extent of (the injury), but we were running out of bodies there at the end. But I'm really proud of our guys. I thought they fought through. I handcuffed the coaches from a standpoint of who wasn't going to play and who was going to play. It was the one night our defense was on the field a lot that I'm going to be proud of their effort. I think we got to take a great look at our players, now we have to go back and make some decisions."<br>