DE Greg Peterson (96) and a defense full of reserves kept Houston in check for most of the first half
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense failed to put up any points of their own in the first half against Houston Thursday night, the team's other two phases of the game looked solid – even as the starters rested comfortably on the bench.
Led by rookie WR Dexter Jackson and a surprisingly stout defense comprised of reserves, the Bucs sprinted out to a 7-6 halftime lead over the Houston Texans.
Things got off to a somewhat slow start for the Bucs. The second-teamers on defense allowed the Texans to move 47 yards in nine plays on the opening drive of the game, capped by K Kris Brown's 53-yard field goal to give Houston the early 3-0 lead.
K Matt Bryant was unable to even the score on the Bucs' opening possession, however. Bryant also attempted a long field goal after the drive sputtered, but his 54-yarder fell just shy of the crossbar, leaving the score at 3-0 Houston.
The Bucs were able to force a very quick three-and-out on the next possession, though, highlighted by a familiar face, DE Patrick Chukwurah, getting pressure on the quarterback on third down and forcing an incompletion.
Another offensive possession stalled in Texans territory for the Bucs, as RB Michael Bennett was stuffed on fourth-and-two at the 27. But WR Dexter Jackson earned the Bucs some points on special teams soon thereafter, taking a punt 83 yards to the house early in the second quarter as the Bucs jumped on top 7-3.
Bryant's struggles continued later in the half, as a 36-yard attempt sailed no good, preventing the Bucs from extending the lead to 10-3.
Houston added another three points as time expired in the half on Brown's 41-yarder, but the Bucs' defense looked strong overall. Made up mostly of reserves, the unit held the Texans to six points, 140 total net yards and only a 28 percent third-down conversion rate.
Meanwhile, the Bucs – led by quarterbacks Luke McCown and Chris Simms – picked up 150 total net yards of their own as the two passers combined to go 9-of-11 for 85 yards. Bennett led the way on the ground, picking up 30 yards on nine attempts.
CB Eugene Wilson was the highlight on defense in the first half, leading the team with three tackles, including a sack.
- The Bucs called heads but lost the toss, and the Texans elected to receive the opening kickoff. WR Jacoby Jones fielded K Matt Bryant's kick and brought it back to the 19-yard line. Jones then caught a pass from QB Sage Rosenfels down the left sideline and picked up 19 yards. On first-and-10 from the 38, Rosenfels found WR LeRon McCoy for another seven yards. RB Darius Walker then picked up one yard on second down, setting up third-and-two, where he dove ahead for three yards and a first down. Rosenfels then hit WR David Anderson for 13 yards and another first down as the Texans moved into Tampa Bay territory. Walker burst through the left side of the line for nine yards, but Rosenfels play-action rollout pass fell incomplete on second down. On third-and-one, the Bucs got excellent penetration and swallowed up the ball carrier, but a false start penalty before the play moved the Texans back five yards. The third-and-six play saw the Bucs come on a blitz and hurry Rosenfels' throw, which fell incomplete. K Kris Brown came on for a 53-yard attempt, which was good, giving the Texans the early 3-0 lead. * WR Dexter Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff to the 26-yard line where QB Luke McCown and the Bucs' offense took over. RB Michael Bennett darted ahead for a few yards, but the Bucs elected to accept an offside penalty that moved them ahead five yards. On first-and-five at the 31, Bennett ran up the middle for six yards and a first down. Speedy WR Dexter Jackson then took an end around to the left for a gain of 13 and another Bucs' first down. McCown then found Bennett on a short pass over the middle that picked up 10 more yards, and Bennett picked two yards on the next first down play. On second-and-eight at the Houston 38, an encroachment penalty gave the Bucs five free yards. Now on second-and-three, RB Clifton Smith was bottled up in the backfield for a two-yard loss, setting up third-and-five. Smith was again wrapped up on a run to the right, this time for a one-yard loss, bringing Bryant on the field for a 54-yard field goal attempt. The kick came up just short of the crossbar, however, keeping the score at 3-0 Houston and setting the Texans up at their own 36-yard line. * Walker was stuffed for no gain on consecutive runs to start the next drive, and DE Patrick Chukwurah got a hit on QB Shayne Boyd that forced an incompletion and punt. P Matt Turk's booming 56-yard punt bounced through the end zone, setting the Bucs up at the 20. * McCown changed the play at the line on first down, then proceeded to hand off to Bennett for a four-yard gain up the middle. McCown was flushed from the pocket on second down, but found FB Byron Storer for one yard. On third-and-five at the 25, McCown lofted a beautiful pass down the right sideline to WR Cortez Hankton for 28 yards and a first down into Houston territory. RB Kenneth Darby then took a handoff ahead for 12 yards, moving the sticks once again. Bennett then fought his way forward for another four yards, but McCown's second-down pass was batted into the air but luckily fell to the turf incomplete. The Bucs were called for a tripping penalty on the play, however, moving them back 10 yards. On the second-and-15 play, TE Ben Troupe caught a pass and fought ahead for 10 yards. On third-and-five at the Texans' 30, WR Maurice Stovall caught a quick pass and dove ahead, reaching out for the first-down marker, but came up just short. On fourth-and-two, the Bucs elected to go for it, but Bennett was swallowed up for no gain and the Texans took over on downs. * Rookie CB Aqib Talib made a nice play on the ball, smacking Jones in the back as the pass arrived and forcing an incompletion on first down. Walker was then held to no gain on second down, setting up third-and-10 as the first quarter came to a close. LB Geno Hayes came on a blitz got a hit on Boyd as he threw, and Talib made a nice open-field tackle to limit TE Joel Dreessen to an eight-yard gain and force a punt. Dexter Jackson then showed his elusive moves and blazing speed, bursting through the coverage down the left sideline for 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. Bryant's extra point gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead with 13:49 to go in the half. * Bryant's squib quick was fielded by DT DelJuan Robinson, who stumbled ahead to the Texans' 42. Boyd's first-down pass slipped through Dreessen's hands and fell incomplete, and a holding penalty on second down backed the Texans up 10 yards. On second-and-20 from the 32, Boyd dumped a short pass off to Dreessen for eight yards, setting up third-and-12 at the 40. Boyd then threw behind his receiver incomplete, bringing Turk back onto the field. Despite Jackson's big return on the previous punt, WR Micheal Spurlock got the call on this return and promptly fumbled the punt. Luckily, DE Jimmy Wilkerson pounced on the loose ball, setting the Bucs up at their own 37. * Bennett ran ahead on first down for a gain of eight, then was dragged down on a run to the right on second down for a gain of only one. On third-and-one at the 46, Bennett plowed ahead for the necessary yardage, picking up three yards. QB Chris Simms then hit Bennett out of the backfield for six yards before Darby picked up one yard on second down. On third-and-three at the Houston 44, Simms hit Troupe for 11 yards and a first down. Darby then found daylight up the middle and picked up a nice gain of 10 and yet another first down. Simms then threw low to Storer for an incompletion, followed up by a short gain by Darby on a pitch left. On third-and-seven at the 20, Simms found Bennett for a short gain, but a holding penalty nullified the gain. Now facing third-and-17, Smith took a screen pass up the middle for 12 yards, bringing Bryant into the game for a 36-yard attempt. The kick was no good, however, leaving the score at 7-3 Bucs. * Boyd rolled right on first down and hit Jones, who did a nice job holding onto the ball as he absorbed a big hit from S Will Allen for a nine-yard gain. Walker was then stuffed for no gain on second down, then wrapped up by DE Charles Bennett in the backfield for a two-yard loss, forcing the Texans to punt once again. Turk's punt to Spurlock was returned to the Tampa Bay 29, and a five-yard penalty on Houston moved the Bucs up to the 34. * Bennett fought for a short gain on first down, but Simms' deep pass down the sideline intended for WR Brian Clark was broken up. Before the third-and-nine play at the 35, the Bucs burned their first timeout of the half, then saw Simms' dump-off to Smith pick up only four yards, forcing a punt. P Josh Bidwell's first punt of the evening was a 55-yard boomer, which Jones returned to the Texans' 12 before he was tripped up by LB Ryan Nece. * After the two-minute warning, Boyd's first-down pass was complete over the middle to Dreessen for a gain of four, then Walker burst ahead for seven yards and a first down. Houston took their first timeout to stop the clock, then Boyd hit Jones for four yards. On second-and-six at the 29, Boyd found WR Mark Simmons for nine yards, then quickly hit Dreessen again for a big play of 23 yards as Houston burned their second timeout. Now facing first down at the Tampa Bay 41, Boyd's pass sailed incomplete. On second down, Boyd initially avoided a huge rush, but was then wrapped up by CB Eugene Wilson for no gain as Houston took their last timeout. Boyd rebounded though, hitting Simmons over the middle for 18 yards, then quickly spiking the ball to stop the clock with three seconds to go. Brown's 41-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, making it 7-6 in favor of the Bucs at the half.