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Texans Top Bucs' Comeback, Deliver Loss in Houston

C.J. Stroud's fifth touchdown pass of the game, with six seconds left in regulation, came just 40 seconds after the Bucs had rallied for a last-minute lead, giving Houston a wild 39-37 victory and sending Tampa Bay to its fourth straight loss


Rookie QB C.J. Stroud threw five touchdown passes, the last one a 15-yard strike to fellow rookie Tank Dell with six seconds left to lead the Houston Texans to a 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

That score came just 40 seconds after Cade Otton had appeared to score the game-winner on a 14-yard pass from Baker Mayfield that put the visitors up by four points with 46 seconds left. But Stroud directed a six-play, 75-yard drive in the remaining seconds as Houston's offense finished just four yards shy of 500 on the day.

"It's a devastating loss, no doubt about it," said Bowles. "We've got to eat it. All of us feel the same way, especially me. I've been coaching a long time and I haven't been involved in too many of these, where it's been back-and-forth like that. We've got to eat it and we should be pissed off the whole week. We own it. They scored enough points on offense to do it. Defensively, the fundamentals, the technique, the breakdowns at the end of the ballgame and at the start of the third quarter were unacceptable."

The Texans played the second half without a kicker thanks to an injury to Ka'imi Fairbairn, but that didn't stop them from scoring at will over the last two quarters. On six second-half possessions the Texans scored four touchdowns and a field goal, that three-pointer a surprising 29-yard kick by former Buccaneers running back Dare Ogunbowale that gave Houston a 33-30 lead with five minutes left. Mayfield then took the Bucs' 61 yards on 10 plays to set up Otton's second touchdown of the game. Bowles said the Texans' final drive featured multiple mistakes by the Bucs' secondary in zone coverage.

"We didn't play good fundamentals or technique," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We busted some things that we do every day in practice. You can't do that, you can't play in this game.

"[Mayfield] gave us a chance to win," said Bowles. "They did a good job giving us a chance to win. Defensively, we've got to play better."

The Buccaneers' had their most prolific scoring day of the season as Mayfield completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 119.4. Running back Rachaad White scored on two one-yard runs and kicker Chase McLaughlin made field goals of 35, 49 and 55 yards. White ran 20 times for 73 yards as the Bucs' rushing attack started to take a turn for the better.

"We should have been in better positions to go into the red zone and score more touchdowns. There was improvement in the run game but it just wasn't good enough. It's a team sport. We win as a team and we lose as a team."

The Bucs got off to a fast start with their first 10-point first quarter of the year. The big plays early were turned in by Otton and White, but WR Mike Evans eventually led the team with 87 yards on four catches, including a 53-yarder to the Texans' one-yard line that set up a game-tying White touchdown run in the fourth quarter. In the process, Evans became the first Buccaneer and the 39th player in NFL history to surpass 11,000 receiving yards.

The Bucs' defense sacked Stroud three times – one each by Devin White, Shaquil Barrett and Calijah Kancey but otherwise didn't put consistent pressure on the rookie, allowing him to extend plays and find open men downfield. Stroud finished with 470 passing yards, the first 400-yard game of his career. Lavonte David led the defense with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

"You trust everybody that we've got out there," said Mayfield of the Bucs' defense at the end of the game. "It still comes down to the little things, doing your job every snap. There were a few times there on offense today that we didn't do that so we had to rely on some field goals. Obviously Chase was perfect today, so that was good."

After scoring no more than 18 points in any of their last three outings, the Buccaneers took a 17-10 lead into halftime on Sunday. The offensive output for both teams was mostly even; the Bucs had a 154-132 edge in total yards but both teams had 10 first downs and only two third-down conversions. Tampa Bay had a rare edge in rushing yards over the Texans, 40-7. The Bucs also recorded the only takeaway of the first half, an Antoine Winfield Jr. fumble recovery after David popped the ball out of Dalton Schultz's grasp on the third play of the game. That led to a Buccaneer field goal.

The Bucs increased their lead to 20-10 early in the third quarter but the momentum shifted significantly on Houston's first play of the second half, a 75-yard catch and run down the left sideline for a touchdown by Noah Brown. Stroud also threw touchdown passes to WR Nico Collins and TE Dalton Schultz, plus a second one to Dell.

"I'll tell you what, C.J. Stroud doesn't look like a rookie to me," said Mayfield. "He's so impressive. He looks like a polished NFL quarterback. Hats off to him. He played extremely, extremely well today."

The loss was the Buccaneers' fourth in a row following a 3-1 start to the season. With New Orleans defeating Chicago on Sunday, the Bucs fell to 1.5 games out of first in the NFC South.

"There's still a lot of ball left," said Mayfield. "Still have a ton of faith in this team. This is not me getting my head down by any means, but I'm frustrated, to say the least. I hate losing but we've got to learn from this tape, move forward, see how we can help this team win any way possible."

The Texans got the ball first after a Jake Camarda touchback, but a Tank Dell drop and a blitz by LB Devin White that forced a throwaway made it third-and-10. Stroud appeared to convert that one on a completion to TE Dalton Schultz but David forced a fumble from behind and Winfield fell on it at the Texans' 42.

Mayfield's first pass got more than half of the way to the goal line, as TE Cade Otton got open down the right seam for a 24-yard gain. However, the Bucs quickly fell into a third-and-10 at the 18, and although Mayfield escaped a near-sack he was only able to get it out to Rachaad White for a gain of one. The Bucs sent out K Chase McLaughlin and he was good from 35 yards to start the scoring.

Houston started at its 25 again and immediately got a first down on Stroud's rollout completion to Schultz for 21 yards. Two plays later, WR Tank Dell ran a deep square-in and Stroud hit him in the gut for 15 more yards to the Bucs' 36. A one-yard TFL by David on Singletary and a Dell end-around that only got two made it third-and-nine. Stroud was able to evade Barrett long enough to get off a six-yard pass to WR Noah Brown, and a personal foul flag on Barrett at the end made it enough yards for a first down at the 15. Collins zipped underneath CB Jamel Dean on a slant on the next snap and Stroud hit him in stride for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Bucs' second drive started at their 25 but got across midfield on one play when White took a short dumpoff left and cut back to the middle of the field, finding room for a gain of 33. He then got two straight handoffs with four yards on each and Mayfield moved the chains with a quick slant pass to Evans for 10 more. Two Ke'Shawn Vaughn runs only gained three yards and Mayfield tried to scramble up the middle on third down but fell to the ground well short of the line to gain. However, S Jimmie Ward hit Mayfield late and drew an unnecessary roughness call to make it first down at the Houston 13. White got four yards on a shotgun handoff but it was third-and-six after an incompletion. After a holding call made it third-and-16, Mayfield hit Godwin in the left flat and the receiver was able to split a pair of tacklers to get within a yard of the line to gain. The Bucs hurried up to the line to go for it on fourth down and White bashed his way through a gang of tacklers to get to the one. After a Mayfield keeper lost two yards, Otton got open over the middle, caught a short pass and was able to dive through a tackler across the goal line.

Mike Boone made a late decision to field a kickoff that hit the ground at the five and was only able to get back to the nine. After another quick tackle by David and a missed deep shot to Dell, the Texans called a timeout before trying to convert a third-and-nine. Dell got open near the left sideline on the next play but Stroud sailed it over his head and the Texans had to kick the first punt of the game.

The Bucs' third drive started at their own 36 and appeared to get a huge gain on a dazzling downfield catch by Evans, but he was flagged for offensive pass interference. After the two teams switched teams to start the second quarter, the Bucs faced a third-and-17 and could get only nine on a completion to Otton. Camarda came on for his first punt of the game and angled it out of bounds at the Houston 10 for a net of 52 yards.

Tampa Bay's defense then came up with a big three-and-out, with Barrett and Christian Izien getting tackles for losses on consecutive plays. A penalty on Houston on the ensuing punt allowed the Buccaneers to start at the Houston 40 and Mayfield immediately hit Evans on a 16-yard out. White then ripped off an 11-yard run to the 13. Three plays later, on third-and-seven, Mayfield hit White over the middle and he danced past a tackler to get to the one. The Bucs got into formation quickly and White was able to scamper into the end zone untouched.

After a touchback, Houston got the ball back and got a first down on the second snap with a 13-yard completion over the middle to Dell. After Winfield nearly picked off a deflected pass on the next play, Stroud went deep to Dell on a flag route but it was out of his reach. Stroud kept the drive alive, however, with a 12-yard completion to Schultz over the middle. WR John Metchie got wide open on a crossing route for 14 more to the Bucs' 33. Devin White hurried Stroud into a throwaway two snaps later to make it third-and-nine. Stroud had forever to throw on third down but was eventually chased into another incompletion by White. Ka'imi Fairbairn came on to drill a 50-yard field goal to pull back within a touchdown.

Tampa Bay's next drive went nowhere. Two Vaughn runs amounted to three yards and when Mayfield eventually checked down to Vaughn on third down he was dropped for a loss of one. Camarda once again angled his punt out of bounds, this time getting a 54-yard net down to the Texans' 16. A quick pass to Schultz put the Texans within a yard of a first down and they tried to use that second-and-one to hit a deep ball. However, Kancey eventually broke through to drop Stroud for a 13-yard sack, bringing on the two-minute warning. After the pause in the action, the Texans blocked up a tunnel screen perfectly and Collins was able to get all the way out to the 29 for a first down. Izien then drew a defensive holding call, stopping the clock with 1:25 left in the half. A sack by White and a three-yard tackle for loss by David pushed the Texans back and they eventually ran out of time at the end of a 12-yard completion to Collins.

The second half began in slightly unusual fashion, with RB Dare Ogunbowale kicking off for the Texans, indicating a possible injury to Fairbairn. A short pass over the middle to Rachaad White and a personal foul flag on Denzel Perryman took the ball out to the Bucs' 45 and White ripped off a 16-yard run two snaps later. However, a missed deep shot to Godwin and an attempted flea-flicker trick play that didn't fool the defense and an outlet pass to Otton on third-and-10 came up two yards short of the sticks. The Bucs sent out McLaughlin to try a 49-yard field goal and he drilled it to increase the Bucs lead to 10 points.

Houston's next drive only took one play, as Brown caught a pass on a crossing route, got around the corner on the Bucs' defenders and was able to race 75 yards for a touchdown. With their kicker now officially ruled out for the game, the Texans went for two and failed when OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka intercepted the pass at the goal line.

Tryon-Shoyinka drew a flag for tossing the ball after he was tackled, which allowed Houston to kick off from midfield and Ogunbowale hit it through the end zone for a touchback. The Bucs quickly got behind the sticks at third-and-nine but Mayfield went deep down the middle to Palmer, who drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty on Shaquill Griffin. Now at the Texans' 37, the Bucs followed with an incompletion and a White run that lost a yard. Mayfield had to scramble out of a collapsing pocket on third down but only got to the 37. That set up a 55-yard field goal try that McLaughlin calmly booted through the uprights, putting the Bucs up 23-16 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

Two plays into the ensuing Houston drive, Collins peeled off his go route and cut across the middle, catching a 23-yard pass from Stroud, which was followed by Singletary's nine-yard run. The Texans once again tried to get big yards on second-and-one but this time Dell dropped a pass near the sideline. On third-and-one, the Texans brought in a jumbo package and got Singletary over the line, but the play came back on a holding call. Stroud once again moved around in the pocket to buy a lot of time and eventually found Schultz, who slipped through a diving tackle try by David and got 26 yards to the Bucs' 29. On the next play, Stroud went up top, hitting Dell in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Forced to go for two again, the Texans tried a quick slant to Dell but it was incomplete, leaving the Bucs with a one-point lead.

Thompkins appeared to give the Bucs' offense a boost with a kickoff return well into Houston territory, but a holding call brough the ball all the way back to the Tampa Bay 19. Neither a checkdown to Chase Edmonds nor a tunnel screen to Godwin worked, so the Bucs quickly were facing a third-and-10 and Mayfield was sacked by Khalil Davis back at the 10. Camarda's punt went 49 yards and Dell fought through several tacklers to get to the Houston 48.

Stroud remained red hot, starting the next drive with a 13-yard dumpoff to Schultz. After a short pass to FB Andrew Beck made it first down at the Bucs' 27, an end-around toss to WR Xavier Hutchinson went for 12 yards. Stroud faked a handoff and rolled right to find Schultz again for 11 more to the four. Vea shot around the left end to drop Singletary for a loss of four on a first-and-goal handoff, bringing the third quarter to an end. After both teams walked the length of the field to the other end zone, Kancey filed another handoff to Singletary for a loss of one. Stroud tried a fade to Collins on the left edge but Zyon McCollum kept him from landing in bounds. The Texans went for it on fourth-and-goal and Schultz stretched out for a catch right across the goal line, giving Houston the lead. This two-point conversion succeeded as Stroud kept the ball and was able to power over the line. That gave Houston a 30-23 lead with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

After a touchback, Mayfield hit Otton over the middle for a first down at the 35 and White waited for a hole to develop on the next play before shooting through it for 11 more. Mayfield then went deep to Evans, who had to turn his back to the end zone to catch it. He slid over the goal line for what was originally ruled a touchdown, but the officials then changed the ruling and put the ball down at the one. Two plays later, White powered over left guard for the game-tying touchdown with 11:43 left in regulation.

Stroud answered right back, starting the Texans' next drive with a strike to Brown over the middle on a crossing route for 28 yards. Houston then got tricky with an option play, with Singletary taking a handoff but then pitching it back to Stroud for a gain of 1 to the Bucs' 36. Stroud found Brown again downfield for 31 more yards, making it first-and-goal at the five. After a false start, Kancey sniffed out a dumpoff to Beck and dropped him in the backfield for a loss of one. A misdirection handoff to Dell didn't work either, with White tracking him down for no gain. Kancey chased Stroud out of the pocket on third down, leading to an incompletion. This time the Texans didn't go for it on fourth down, instead sending out Ogunbowale to try a 29-yard field goal. Remarkably, he made it, putting the Texans back up by three with nine minutes left.

Two White runs gained only three yards and an attempted out to Godwin was incomplete, leading to a punt. Camarda drove that one out of bounds at the Houston 22. A holding call erased another big completion and after a second holding flag the Texans eventually faced third-and-18 at their 14. Barrett worked his way behind Stroud and was able to chop the ball out of his hand, but George Fant recovered for the home team.

After the punt, the Bucs had the ball at their own 39 with a little less than five minutes left. The drive started with a short pass to Evans for eight yards. Two White runs moved the sticks but an Edmonds run lost eight yards as the two-minute warning arrived. Mayfield threw incomplete on second down and the Bucs lost five more yards on a false start. Facing third-and-23, Mayfield stepped up in the pocket and fired a dart to Palmer for a gain of 21. The Bucs had to go for it on fourth-and-one and Mayfield danced around in the pocket to keep the play alive long enough for him to find a lane to scramble for the first down. The Bucs used their second timeout with 1:02 left in regulation and the ball at the Texans' 36.

The next play was a handoff to White that went for seven yards and Houston called a timeout at the 53-second mark. Mayfield then hit Godwin over the middle for a gain of 26, and disaster was averted when Godwin's fumble went right into the arms of Evans at the 10-yard line. A teammate cannot advance another player's fumble in the final two minutes so the ball was moved back to the 14 with 49 seconds left. The Bucs elected to use their final timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. After the break in action, Mayfield threw a seam pass to Otton, who caught the ball over a defender and held on as he it the turf. McLaughlin's extra point put the Bucs up by four with 45 seconds left in regulation.

The Texans' last possession started at the 25 and got a quick 14 yards on an underneath pass to Schultz. After using their second timeout, the Texans went back to Houston for six more but McCollum's open-field tackle kept him inbounds and forced the use of their last timeout. Stroud hit Brown at the Bucs' 41 and spiked the ball with 15 seconds left. Stroud then got the ball to Dell just inbounds at the Bucs' 15 and he ran out of bounds with 10 seconds left. On the next play, Stroud hit Dell again, this time in the end zone for the winning score with six seconds left.

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