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Bucs in High Gear for Final Tune-up

Two quick turnovers by the starting defense and a masterful performance by reserve QB Chris Simms led to a 38-14 Buc win over visiting Houston in the preseason finale


Rookie WR J.R. Russell had one of the Bucs' four touchdown catches in a 38-14 domination of Houston

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting defense was on the field for only seven plays Thursday night in the team's preseason finale against the Houston Texans. If the Buc defenders were disappointed in their playing time during the final regular-season tune-up, they had only themselves to blame.

By intercepting two of QB David Carr's first three passes, the first-teamers ensured that their action would be very limited. They also set up two quick scores, leading to a 10-0 Buccaneer lead and, yes, came through with that quick defensive start Head Coach Jon Gruden has been imploring them to deliver. The Bucs actually scored the game's first 38 points before settling for a dominating, 38-14 victory.

The good field position from those two early picks also led to a fairly little work for the starting offense, but all that did was clear the way for a masterful and encouraging performance by backup QB Chris Simms. Simms completed 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards, led three long drives, threw three touchdown passes against no interceptions, compiled a near-perfect passer rating of 146.6 and generally looked exactly the way he had told himself to play: Calm.

"We have some young guys who we're excited about," said Gruden. "Chris Simms the last three games has played extremely well. That's a credit to him. It's good to have a young quarterback with that kind of talent. I thought [starting QB Brian] Griese played great, too. We've got some really good quarterbacks here."

Houston kept its first-team offense on the field through the middle of the second quarter, but the Bucs still dominated the statistical tables in the first half. Several long plays in the second half evened up the total yardage at 327-305 in the Bucs' favor, but it was still a strong showing by the defense. It wasn't all the work of the first-team unit – obviously, as there were 48 more plays after their early departure – and the reserves had some impressive moments, too. Most notably, a stop of RB Vernand Morency on fourth-and-one by DE Dewayne White stopped Houston's only drive into Buccaneer territory in the first half.

But those two first-quarter interceptions set the tone, and they came courtesy of an old Buccaneer hand and a new gun who could make a big difference in the secondary this year. CB Juran Bolden intercepted Carr's first pass, leading to K Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal.

Two drives later, Barber anticipated a three-step-drop pass on first down and cleanly snared a pass intended for TE Marcellus Rivers. Barber might have scored had he not tripped over a fallen Derrick Brooks.

"We had two three-and-outs and one one-and-out, seven points total for us, which is a great way to end the preseason," said Barber. "I think it's been as good of a preseason as I've ever had. I've been healthy for the first time in a couple of years and I'm excited about it. I think everybody came in a little rejuvenated, a little excited, especially myself. I'm ready to go."

That play led to the game's first touchdown after a 26-yard drive that was kept alive by an impressive Brian Griese throw to Joey Galloway on third-and-four. Three plays later, FB Mike Alstott ran in untouched around the left end for a one-yard score.

Gruden had hinted that he was going to give Alstott his first carries of the preseason, and he held to that plan, despite what must have been a strong temptation to get another long look at rookie RB Cadillac Williams. Alstott's numbers were ordinary - five yards on three carries – but he looked fresh and certainly remained a crowd favorite. The franchise's all-time touchdowns leader, Alstott got a huge ovation when he scored to give the Bucs a 10-0 lead 10 minutes into the game

Even on the strength of short drives, it was a fast start for the offense, too. Not once during the 2004 regular season did the offense score twice in the first quarter, as they did on Thursday night. Then, when Simms and the second-team came in, things kicked up another notch.

Coming in with three minutes left in the first quarter, Simms immediately engineered a 52-yard scoring drive, culminating in a 20-yard touchdown pass to WR Edell Shepherd on the first play of the second period. The defense gave Simms the ball back four minutes later, and he immediately led an even more impressive march, moving the team 84 yards in seven plays for another score. After a tough, 27-yard rollout pass down the sideline to TE Will Heller, Simms put it in the end zone on the next play with a short pass to WR J.R. Russell that the rookie turned into a 21-yard score.

Simms started the second half, too, and showed no signs of slowing down. Taking the opening drive of the third quarter, he marched the team 78 yards on 12 plays, converting two third downs along the way. Clearly feeling it, Simms pump-faked Houston's defense into a quick jump on second down from the 22, then threw over the top to another rookie WR Paris Warren for his third touchdown pass of the day.

At that point it was 31-0, Tampa Bay, and there was little left to determine other than the worthiness of some of the young players on both sides of the ball. The next few plays were certainly encouraging in that regard.

DT Anthony Bryant stopped RB Tony Hollings for no gain on the next play. One snap later, LB Marquis Cooper stripped Hollings of the ball and CB Blue Adams recovered at the Houston 24. On second down, QB Luke McCown threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to TE Nate Lawrie in the back right corner of the end zone, giving Tampa Bay a 38-0 lead with eight minutes to play in the third quarter.

Bryant is a rookie, and Cooper, Adams, McCown and Lawrie are all second-year players. Cooper showed impressive hustle on the Bucs' worst play of the day, a 74-yard breakaway reception by WR Sloan Thomas that appeared to be headed for six. Cooper, fast for a linebacker as is the Bucs' mold, ran down the receiver from behind and dragged him out of bounds right at the goal line. After seeing a replay, the Bucs believed Cooper had taken Thomas out at the one, but their red-flag challenge came up empty and the Texans had their first points of the game.

Bryant also had several more standout plays, including another one in which he blasted right through the line at the snap to stop Hollings for a loss of four. Adams nearly had another huge play, too, when he cut in front of a quick slant and got his hands on the ball with open field in front of him in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, he couldn't hold on, though the play did force Houston into an unsuccessful fourth-down pass. Later, Adams deflected a Preston Parsons pass that led to rookie CB James Patrick's interception and 46-yard return down to the one. The Bucs tried two runs from the one to get the ball in, but didn't try to push the issue, letting the clock run out of Derek Watson's second run.

The lower level of Buc reserves did struggle at times in the second half as QB Dave Ragone repeatedly threw deep passes down both sidelines. Thomas' catch and a 56-yarder by WR Jerome Mathis led to 14 quick Houston points and evened up the final yardage totals. Ragone finished with numbers to rival Simms': six of 13 for 172 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 132.2 rating.

Some of the Bucs' new veterans had strong showings, though. WR Ike Hilliard, who will be the team's third receiver on opening day, got a good dose of playing time in the second quarter and showed off his excellent hands. His two catches for 25 yards both came on plays over the middle where he took a hard hit just after he hauled it in. Not only did Hilliard hang on to both passes, but he spun off the second hit for an additional eight yards.

Matt Bryant also had a strong outing, and his spot is less secure than Hilliard's. After Todd France was given all the opportunities in Miami on Saturday, nailing a 46-yard field goal among his efforts, Bryant was given the stage on Thursday. He made the most of it, hitting his long field goal try and generally kicking off deep. That leaves the Bucs with a very difficult decision to make at the kicker position by Saturday.

Leading up to Thursday's game, Gruden had his team running gassers after practices on Monday and Tuesday, perhaps reacting to some sloppy play that had disappointed him. If so, that sloppy play cropped again early in the form of a rash of penalties. At one point midway through the first quarter, the Bucs committed three penalties before they were able to get off a punt. Fortunately, P Josh Bidwell, continuing his almost ridiculously good summer, followed that series with a booming, 56-yard punt pushed Houston back to its own 25. Bidwell punted three times on the day for an average of 52.7 yards and a net of 45.0, right around his numbers for the entire preseason. And after that three-penalty sequence, the Bucs played relatively flag-free; in fact, Houston committed 11 penalties on the day to the Bucs' nine, and Tampa Bay didn't kill its scoring chances with infractions, as it had five days before in Miami.

There were a few Buccaneer disappointments, which is almost unavoidable in a game with such rampant substitutions. The defense failed to record a sack until the last three minutes of the game, after getting none over the previous two games, while the offense gave up three, though all came after McCown came into the game. Second-year QB Luke McCown, sharp in the Bucs' last home game, struggled at times, taking three sacks that appeared to be the result of indecision. And the running game was a bit lost in the pass-happy attack in the red zone. Though the Bucs did run 31 times for 96 yards, they gained only 3.1 yards per carry.

Overall, though, the Bucs felt as if they ended the preseason on just the right note.

"I really wish we had Minnesota this Sunday," said WR Joey Galloway, referring to the September 11 regular-season opener against the Vikings. "Everyone's just excited to get the regular season started. This a formality – come in and get the kinks out – and now everyone's ready to go."

Game Notes: Prior to the game, the teams and the fans at Raymond James Stadium observed a moment of silence for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Fans also watched a taped plea for help for the citizens of New Orleans by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. … The Bucs also took a moment before the game to present the Tampa Bay Youth Football League with a check for $10,000. The funds replace those that were recently stolen from the league's concession stands and will go towards equipment and refreshments for the young players. In addition to the check, the youth players also were given an exciting pregame job…they ran out with the team flags in front of the players during introductions. … Thursday's victory allowed the Bucs to avoid their first losing preseason since 2001. The Bucs finished 2-2, breaking a string of three straight one-loss preseasons. … The Bucs have finished four consecutive preseasons with victories over Houston. Tampa Bay has played the Texans in the preseason for each season of Houston's franchise existence. … G Matt Stinchcomb made his first appearance of the preseason after missing the first three games with a lower back strain. Stinchcomb started at left guard. … The Buccaneers' 38 points was the most they have scored in a preseason game since August 28, 1999, when they beat the visiting New England Patriots 45-14.

Inactives: Technically, there are no inactive players for preseason games. However, the Bucs had a few injured players who did not suit up for Saturday's game, including T Derrick Deese, T Kenyatta Walker and LB Jeff Gooch. Rookie Chris Colmer started at right tackle and played extensively. Houston played without QB B.J. Symons, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Jon Pendergrass, RB Jonathan Wells, CB Jason Bell, RB Domanick Davis, CB Chris McKenzie, LB Shantee Orr, LB Zeke Moreno, G Brandon Evans, G Zach Wiegert and LB Jason Babin.

Injuries: Neither team reported an injury during the game.

Quarter-by-Quarter Reports: During the game, provided updates of the action after each quarter. Those reviews of each period are below, providing a closer look at how the game unfolded.

First Quarter Report

The Bucs dominated the first quarter, thanks in large part to two takeaways against Houston's first-team defense. Interceptions by CBs Juran Bolden and Ronde Barber set up a field goal and a touchdown, respectively, and the Bucs took a 10-0 lead into the first break. In addition, Tampa Bay, which had an 83-9 yardage edge in the first quarter, put the ball at Houston's 20-yard line as the period came to an end.

Texans' ball

Houston won the toss, so the Bucs sent K Matt Bryant out for the opening kickoff. Bryant's kick settled into WR Jerome Mathis' hands at the three. Mathis got out to the Houston 25 before being dropped by S Dexter Jackson.

Rookie RB Vernand Morency got the handoff on first down and ran left for a gain of four yards. Even with the Bucs loaded up in the box on second down, the Texans ran Morency left again and he got just one yard, tripped up by LB Ryan Nece. On third-and-five, QB David Carr tried to hit WR Corey Bradford, but Bolden stayed in tight coverage and got in position to intercept the pass at the Houston 42. Bolden got back to the 40 with the game's first turnover.

Bucs' ball

Rookie RB Cadillac Williams went left on first down, and got tough five yards after cutting back inside and moving the pile. The Bucs brought in a jumbo backfield with fullbacks Mike Alstott and Rick Razzano on second down, but Alstott got only one yard, setting up third-and-four. QB Brian Griese threw short over the middle to WR Michael Clayton on third down, but the pass bounced off Clayton's hands. The Bucs sent Bryant out to try a long, 52-yard field goal and Bryant blasted it through the uprights with several yards to spare. Bucs 3, Texans 0.

Texans' ball

The Texans ran on first and second down again. Morency's first run was stopped quickly by DT Anthony McFarland after just two yards, and his second run got just two more. On third-and-six, Carr tried to fire a quick slant to Bradford, but couldn't fit it in between a diving Barber and S Jermaine Phillips. The Texans had to punt, and WR Joey Galloway executed a fair catch at Tampa Bay's 34.

Bucs' ball

Williams started the drive with another tough run left on first down, but a holding penalty pushed the Bucs back to their 24. On the resulting first-and-20, Griese escaped a quick rush and threw a short pass to Williams, which the rookie turned into a six-yard gain with a quick move. After another short out to Clayton picked up eight more, the Bucs faced third-and-six at their own 38. Some miscommunication killed that play, as Clayton stopped on the left side but Griese threw a deeper pass into open field. Josh Bidwell came on to punt and, after two penalties pushed the line of scrimmage back to the Houston 25.

Texans' ball

Houston's next drive lasted just one play. Carr took a short drop and tried to throw quickly to TE Marcellus Rivers on the left side. However, Barber jumped the route and intercepted the ball at the 29. Barber might have scored, but he tripped trying to get over a fallen Derrick Brooks and fumbled as he hit the ground. LB Shelton Quarles recovered for the Bucs at Houston's 26.

Bucs' ball

Alstott got the carry on first down and found a seam, bashing for three yards. After a false start, Griese completed a sideline pass to TE Alex Smith for a gain of eight. On third-and-four, Griese stood in against a quick rush from DE Robaire Smith, just getting off a pass before he was hit that WR Joey Galloway caught for a gain of nine to the Houston 11.

Williams swept left on first down and cut back to get all he could, a gain of two. A play-action pass to TE Will Heller, who had gone in motion from left to right, worked perfectly, with Heller getting around the corner on S C.C. Brown and diving to the one-yard line.

That gave Tampa Bay a first down, and only one play was needed from there. Alstott took a handoff towards left tackle, then bounced it outside and walked untouched into the end zone. Bucs 10, Texans 0.

Texans' ball

A quick tackle by Torrie Cox on the ensuing kickoff forced Houston to start at its own 19, and they quickly lost five yards on a false start. With the Bucs' second-team defense on the field, Morency tried to go left twice, gaining one yard on first down and giving it back on second down. Carr stepped up amid a big rush on third-and-15 and threw downfield in the direction of big, athletic WR Andre Johnson. However, S Kalvin Pearson was on the spot, as was rookie LB Barrett Ruud, who hustled down the middle of the field. Pearson got his hands on the ball first, and Ruud nearly intercepted it after Johnson knocked it away.

Bucs' ball

After the punt, the Bucs' second-team offense started at its own 48. An end-around to WR Edell Shepherd worked perfectly, with Shepherd making one necessary cut inside the last defender to get free for a 16-yard gain.

From the Houston 36, RB Michael Pittman went up the middle for a gain of two. A swing pass to Pittman gained only one more when he had to fall to catch the pass. On third-and-seven, QB Chris Simms threw a pass to WR Ike Hilliard, who ran a 10-yard square in and held on despite a well-timed hit from CB DeMarcus Faggins. After Pittman's three-yard run on first down, time expired on the first quarter.

Second Quarter Report

The Bucs continued their first-quarter domination into the second period, leading to a 24-0 lead at halftime. The second-team offense had a prolific quarter, scoring twice and pushing the Bucs' overall yardage total to 194, as compared to Houston's 116. The Bucs also had 10 first downs to Houston's five and the game's only two takeaways.

Bucs' ball

The Bucs scored on the first play of the quarter. Facing a second-and-seven at the Houston 20, QB Chris Simms enjoyed a well-formed pocket and used it to fire easily over the middle to WR Edell Shepherd, who was standing alone just to right of the middle of the end zone. Bucs 17, Texans 0.

Texans' ball

The Texans' first drive of the quarter began at their own 31. RB Vernand Morency made it around left end on first down and picked up nine yards, then moved the chains with a three-yard run up the gut.

From the Houston 43, Morency went left again, picking up three, then up the middle for nothing, thanks to a quick tackle by LB Marquis Cooper. After a Houston timeout and a pair of false starts, Carr settled for a short pass to Vernand Morency that came up 13 yards short on third-and-17. A punt ensued, pushing the Bucs back to their own 16.

Bucs' ball

RB Michael Pittman made it around the left corner on first down and danced down the sideline for a gain of nine. On second-and-one, Simms threw down the right hash marks to WR Ike Hilliard, who held on despite a hard hit, then broke free to gain extra yards out to the Buccaneer 40.

After a Pittman run up the middle gained four, Simms faked a handoff and rolled left, firing a low pass that WR J.R. Russell picked off the turf for a gain of five. After a Buccaneer timeout, RB Earnest Graham plowed up the middle for three yards and a first down at the Houston 48.

Simms ran a play-action again on the next first down but had to dance out of a near-sack. As he scrambled left, it appeared he would throw it away, but instead he unleashed a pass deep down the sideline that TE Will Heller leaped to haul in for a 27-yard gain.

From the 21, Simms put the ball in the end zone on one play. On a quick drop, he threw a short hard pass between two defenders to Russell. Not only did Russell make the catch, but he dashed out from between the two tacklers and ran the final 15 yards into the end zone untouched. Bucs 24, Houston 0.

Texans' ball

A nice tackle by S Kalvin Pearson and a holding penalty on Houston pushed the Texans back to their own 13, but an offside call made it first-and-five at the 18.

With the Texans' second-team offense now in, Banks threw over the middle to WR Jerome Mathis, but it was far too high and incomplete. Morency jumped over the pile for four yards on first down, and on third-and-one Banks hit WR Jabar Gaffney for a gain of three on the left sideline.

Banks tried to hit Gaffney on a bomb on the right side on the next play, but it was incomplete. Another Morency ramble up the middle got eight, and Banks' quick third-down pass to Gaffney got four more and a first down at the Houston 37.

Cooper got to Morency quickly on first down, dropping the back for a loss of two. The Texans got their first big play of the game on the next snap, as Gaffney made a dazzling, one-handed catch of a pass down the right sideline for a gain of 34.

From the Bucs' 31, Morency danced up the middle for five yards, but he tripped taking a handoff on second down and lost a yard. The Texans made an astute play-call on third-and-six, throwing a screen pass to Morency right over a Buccaneer blitz, but LB Barrett Ruud fought through three tacklers to get to the back. Though Morency was able to spin away from Ruud, the delay allowed DE Josh Savage to knock him out of bounds a yard short of the sticks. Houston elected to go for it on fourth-and-one from the Bucs' 22, but called a timeout first.

After the break, Morency tried to run off left guard, but the Bucs pushed the pile back and DE Dewayne White broke through to stop the back for no gain.

Bucs' ball

Taking over at their own 22, the Bucs had 1:36 left on the first-half clock. Simms stood in against a blitzing Texan and got a pass off over the middle to Pittman, who picked up seven yards. After throwing his second-down pass away under pressure, Simms tried to hit Russell deep down the right sideline, but Faggins remained in tight coverage and Russell couldn't quite pull in a diving catch. The Bucs had to punt, and Josh Bidwell hit a 51-yarder that pushed Houston back to its 25.

Texans' ball

With 43 seconds to play, Banks completed a short pass to Gaffney for 10 yards over the middle. After an almost exact replay that got the Texans out to the Houston 45, the Texans called their final timeout with 17 seconds left in the half.

A holding call erased a 15-yard completion after the break, pushing Houston back to its own 35. DT Bryan Save nearly got to Banks for a sack on second down, forcing a desperation throw-away. The Texans ran one more play with five seconds left, a handoff to RB Tony Hollings that gained nine yards.

Third Quarter Report

Tampa Bay quickly added two touchdowns to its lead in the third quarter, including Chris Simms' third scoring pass, before Houston got on the board with the game's longest play. The Bucs had the ball and a 38-7 lead when the quarter came to an end.

Bucs' ball

RB Earnest Graham got the handoff on first and second down, and got enough to move the sticks, in a way. After a gain of three on first down, Graham spun his way to within a yard of the sticks on second down, then fumbled. The ball went forward and was recovered by WR Edell Shepherd at the 33 for a first down.

After QB Chris Simms quick pass to WR J.R. Russell was incomplete, Graham got just a yard up the middle. On third-and-nine, a well-designed outlet pass to Graham gained 17 yards up the left sideline.

From the Houston 49, RB Derek Watson swept left and found a seam for a gain of six yards. Simms then ran a play-action fake, rolling left and throwing a quick strike to TE Will Heller for 10 more yards, down to the Houston 33.

After Watson's one-yard run up the middle, Simms threw a quick pass to Russell, who had run a curl and got eight yards. On third-and-one, Graham ran off left guard and got just enough for a first down at the Houston 22.

Another designed rollout failed when Simms couldn't find anybody uncovered on first down. No matter. On second down, Simms drew the defense up with a pump fake then threw a perfect floater over the top to WR Paris Warren, who caught it in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. Bucs 31, Texans 0.

Texans' ball

An open-field tackle by S Kalvin Pearson put Houston on their own 22 on the kickoff. After DT Anthony Bryant burst through the line to drop RB Tony Hollings for no gain. On the next play, Hollings started left but LB Marquis Cooper stripped the ball and CB Blue Adams recovered for Tampa Bay at the Houston 24.

Bucs' ball

QB Luke McCown came into the game and the Bucs got the ball into the end zone in two plays. After a four-yard run by Watson, McCown threw over the top to a wide-open TE Nate Lawrie in the back right corner of the end zone. Bucs 38, Texans 0.

Texans' ball

A holding call on the kickoff pushed Houston back to its own 14. After Hollings ran left for two yards on first down, QB Dave Ragone tried to hit WR Sloan Thomas deep down the right sideline. Thomas caught the ball but had to push CB Torrie Cox down to do so, and he was flagged for offensive pass interference.

That made it second-and-16 from the Houston eight. CB James Patrick kept tight coverage down the left sideline on the next play as Ragone tried unsuccessfully to hit WR Reggie Swinton deep.

That made it third-and-16, and Ragone escaped a near-safety to fire an 18-yard completion over the middle to WR Derick Armstrong. After an incompletion, Ragone caught the Bucs' defense in a breakdown. Ragone hit Thomas on the right sideline and the Bucs' secondary had nobody over the top. Thomas sprinted to the goal line, but Cooper caught him from behind and dragged him out of bounds right at the goal line. The Bucs challenged the ruling of a touchdown but were overruled.

Bucs' ball

Houston's ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Bucs possession at their own 40. However, a holding call on first down pushed it back to the 30. On first-and-20, Watson went up the middle for four yards. He took a dumpoff over the middle from McCown on second down and used the umpire as a screen, picking up eight yards. On third-and-eight, McCown dropped back and tried to scramble up the middle, but he was dropped for a sack of five yards by Travis Johnson.

Texans' ball

After Josh Bidwell's 51-yard punt and Jerome Mathis' nine-yard return, Houston started at its own 21. Ragone quickly completed an 11-yard pass to Mathis in the left flat, then tried to go deep again, this time overthrowing Mathis on the right sideline. After Ragone's next pass over the middle was nearly intercepted by LB Josh Buhl, the Texans had to punt.

Bucs' ball

The Bucs ran one play from their own 28 to finish the quarter, a run up the middle by Watson that lost a yard.

Fourth Quarter Report

After an onslaught of points through three quarters, neither team scored in the final 15 minutes. That was fine with the Bucs, who finished up a 38-14 victory in the preseason finale, evening their summer record at 2-2. The Bucs also led the yardage battle, 327-305, recorded 17 first downs to Houston's 11 and produced all four of the game's turnovers.

Bucs' ball

Facing second-and-11 at the Bucs' 29, QB Luke McCown tried to roll right and make a play. When no receivers came open, he had to scramble for the sideline, and he lost three yards. The Bucs simply handed the ball to RB Derek Watson on third-and-14, and he got just two yards. The Bucs had to punt and Brian Simnjanovski's kick rolled to a stop at the Houston 32.

Texans' ball

The Texans kept heaving it deep, and it worked again, as QB Dave Ragone hit WR Jerome Mathis down the right side for a gain of 56, down to the Bucs' 22.

After RB Tony Hollings swept right for four yards, Ragone tried a fade to WR Derick Armstrong over CB Juran Bolden, but Armstrong's dive came up a bit short. On third-and-six from the 18, Ragone faked a handoff and rolled left, eventually throwing a dart that Armstrong caught with a flat-out dive just inside the back line of the end zone. Bucs 38, Texans 14.

Bucs' ball

Starting from the Tampa Bay 28, Watson ran right then cut back to the middle for a gain of seven. Watson's next carry met resistance at the line and lost two. On third-and-five, McCown hit Watson flared out to the left and the back ran upfield for eight yards, moving the chains.

From the Bucs' 41, Watson found nowhere to go on the left side and was stopped for no gain. RB Earnest Graham fought through one leg tackle on a second-down swing pass to get a total of eight yards. A first-down-gaining completion to WR Paris Warren was then erased by a holding penalty, and on third-and-12 McCown absorbed a seven-yard sack by Kenneth Pettway.

Texans' ball

A 15-yard punt return by Mathis put Houston at its own 39, and Hollings got around right end on first down for a gain of 24 yards. A hard hit by LB Matt Grootegoed on first down kept WR Sloan Thomas' reception to just five yards, and CB James Patrick kept Hollings from getting around the left side on second down, causing a loss of three. On third-and-eight, Ragone got off a pass as he was being dragged down and impressively completed it to WR Donovin Morgan. However, Morgan was flagged for having gone out of bounds first, and that cost Houston five yards.

On the resulting third-and-13, CB Blue Adams jumped a slant and was in position to pick it off, but the ball went through his hands. That did force fourth down and Houston went for it, with Ragone throwing incomplete down the right sideline to WR Reggie Swinton.

Bucs' ball

Taking over on downs at their own 40 with 4:51 to play, the Bucs were content to run the ball and grind the clock.

Watson made the strategy work on first down, weaving for nine yards. However, after a run for no gain on second down and a false start, the Bucs were quickly in a third-and-six. They still chose to run, but Watson's sweep right didn't work, losing a yard.

Texans' ball

A holding penalty on the ensuing punt return pushed Houston back to its own nine. On first down, new Houston QB Preston Parsons was sacked in tandem by DT Bryan Save and DE Andrew Williams. Parson's next two passes were incomplete and the Texans had to punt from their own three. A short punt gave it to the Bucs at the Houston 39.

Bucs' ball

McCown faked a handoff and first down and threw to WR Larry Brackins but CB Lewis Sanders broke it up. Watson's next carry got nothing and led to the two-minute warning. The Bucs ran on third-and-10, with Watson picking holes to gain five yards. Worried about little but the clock, the Bucs went for it on fourth down, but McCown's pass to WR Paris Warren was well short on a quick out.

Texans' ball

Houston took over on its own 34 with 1:10 to play and tried to make something happen, which it did, but not for the Texans.

Parson's first-down pass was intended for Jabar Gaffney but was tipped away by Adams. Patrick caught the deflection and followed with a very impressive, weaving return up the right sideline. Patrick tried to dive over the last few tacklers at the goal line, and was originally signaled to have reached paydirt, but a replay showed that he landed at the one.

Bucs' ball

Thus, the Bucs had a first-and-goal at the one with 52 seconds to play. Watson tried the middle on first down but was stopped for no gain. The same thing happened on second down and the Bucs let the clock run out, finishing a 38-14 Tampa Bay victory.

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