The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had some slow starts in 2011, but this might have been the roughest one yet.
The visiting Houston Texans took a 16-3 lead into halftime Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, opening the game with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Jacoby Jones on the game's first play. RB Arian Foster later added a 78-yard score on a short pass and a long run, and the Texans finished the first half with 268 yards of offense.
Once again, the Buccaneers' offense moved the ball relatively well but struggled once entering opposing territory. Tampa Bay's best chance for a touchdown came on a drive late in the second quarter that reached a first down at the Texans' 13. The Bucs eventually went for it on fourth-and-two from the five but an attempted fade pass to WR Dezmon Briscoe was broken up. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman looked sharp in the second quarter and finished the first half with 10 completions in 20 attempts for 137 yards, plus two runs for 23 yards.
The Bucs did get the ball back quickly after that missed opportunity to Briscoe and were able to tack on three points on K Connor Barth's 55-yard field goal as the first half came to an end.
Schaub was also sharp, particularly on a large number of play-action rollout passes playing off the expected strength of Houston's second-ranked rushing attack. Schaub completed nine of 12 passes for 222 yards, two scores, no interceptions and a near-perfect 156.2 passer rating.
The Texans won the toss and chose to receive, with the Bucs' Michael Koenen driving the opening kickoff to the back of the end zone for a touchback. Unfortunately, the Texans put the Bucs in an immediate hole with an 80-yard touchdown on the game's first play. Schaub faked a handoff to Foster going left, then rolled right and, with the Bucs' defense keyed on TE Owen Daniels underneath, threw over the top to Jones. Jones caught the pass near the Bucs' 40-yard line, then cut between safeties Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones to find the open field and a clear path to the end zone. Neil Rackers mis-hit the resulting extra point and it was blocked by DT Albert Haynesworth, keeping the score at 6-0.
The Bucs started with play-action, too, but Freeman had to throw the ball away when he couldn't find anyone open. Blount got the handoff up the middle on second-and-10 and bashed for eight yards. On third-and-two, Freeman took a shotgun snap and started to scramble, before spying Williams cutting left to right and hitting him for a gain of 23 to the Texans' 44. After a first-down pass was broken up, Blount got five more on another fine second-and-10 carry, setting up third-and-five at the 39. Freeman didn't have time to set up on his next dropback and took a sack from LB Brian Cushing for a loss of eight. Koenen's punt was fair caught by Jones at the Houston 15.
The Texans started their second drive with another play-action rollout, this time with Schaub hitting Owens for a gain of 13. A middle screen to Foster on the next play worked as well, as he got 10 more before being run out of bounds at the Houston 38. Foster's first carry of the game followed and he got five yards up the middle. A quick slant to WR Kevin Walter got just enough for another first down at the 49, and DE Adrian Clayborn stopped Foster for no gain on the next first down. A false start backed the Texans up five yards, and Foster got six back with his second-and-15 run. On third-and-nine from the midfield stripe, Schaub had time to throw and found WR Derrick Mason over the middle for a gain of 16. Another rollout pass resulted in a 12-yard catch by Owens, and two plays later Foster ran 10 yards to the Bucs' 10. Yet another rollout right was well-defended and Schaub had to throw it away on first down. The Bucs stopped a Foster sweep right and a pass into the end zone on third down, but the Texans got a second chance when DE Adrian Clayborn was flagged for being offsides. That ended up working in the Bucs' favor, because a quick rush forced a lob over the middle that was intercepted by CB Aqib Talib at the Houston six. However, Houston challenged the play and it was ruled an incomplete pass, allowing Rackers to knock in a 22-yard field goal for a 9-0 Houston lead.
The Bucs started at their own 20 after a touchback and soon faced a third-and-four after a strong Blount run and an incompletion intended for TE Kellen Winslow. On third-and-six, Winslow caught a fly down the left sideline that appeared to be good enough for a first down, but he was flagged for a post-catch personal-foul facemask that was difficult to see on the play's replay. A third-down pass to WR Preston Parker was incomplete and the Bucs had to punt.
Starting again at their own 27, the Texans brought in their second prolific back, Tate, and he got six yards on first down despite a hard hit from Clayborn. Haynesworth got quick penetration on second-and-four but Tate bounced around him and found the corner for a gain of 14. A short run by Tate and a well-defended pass out to Foster on the sideline left Houston in a third-and-seven at the midfield stripe. Schaub impressively escaped what looked like a sure sack on third down but his lob downfield was incomplete. The Texans punted down to the 20 as the first quarter came to an end.
Blount tried to go left on first down but DE J.J. Watt came flying through the line and grabbed Blount's foot for a four-yard loss. On second down, Benn ran a fly down the right sideline and made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch for a gain of 33 yards to the Bucs' 49. A two-yard run and a false start made it second-and-13, and a holding call backed the Bucs up another 10 yards. Freeman scrambled for 11 yards on second down but a short pass to RB Kregg Lumpkin, while complete, didn't come close to moving the sticks.
Koenen's punt put Houston at its own 11, and Haynesworth made an impressive one-armed tackle on Foster to hold a first-down run to just one yard. However, an offsides on Haynesworth followed, and another extended rollout pass gave Daniels time to get open for a six-yard gain and a first down at the 22. On the next play, Foster took a short swing pass out to the right and didn't stop until he hit the end zone 78 yards away. Foster made two sharp cuts along the sideline, getting past Talib and Jones and eventually breaking out into the open field for the last 45 yards.
The Bucs' offense followed with a three-and-out. Cushing stopped Blount for one yard on first down and Freeman's next two passes were incomplete. The Texans quickly got it back at their own 41 with eight minutes left in the half.
The defensive stand got off to a good start, as LB Geno Hayes stopped Tate for no gain on first down and DT Brian Price broke up the middle for a seven-yard sack of Schaub on second down. The Texans settled for a draw play to Foster on third-and-17 and the Bucs stopped it well short of the sticks.
A fine punt return by Parker got the ball back to the Bucs' 37, but a promising opening completion to Williams was erased by a holding call. Freeman faked a handoff on first-and-20, started right and then stopped and fired a dart to Winslow between four defenders for a gain of 14. Two plays later, Freeman found Lumpkin over the middle and he got 16 yards and a first down at the Houston 45. Freeman impressively escaped a sack on first-and-10 and was able to scramble for 12 yards, choosing not to slide at the end of the play. A quick-release fade to Williams was perfectly thrown and good for a 20-yard gain to the Houston 13, bringing on the two-minute warning.
After the break, the first-down play broke down quickly and ended in an incompletion through Blount's hands. After another incompletion made it third-and-10, Freeman hit WR Dezmon Briscoe on an out for eight yards. The Bucs chose to go for it on fourth-and-two, and a fade to Briscoe didn't work, giving the ball up on downs at the five.
A holding call backed it up to the three and DE Michael Bennett nearly trapped Foster in the end zone for a safety. Foster extended the ball back over the goal line in time, and Schaub ran a keeper on second down to made it third-and-13 at the two. The Bucs used their last two timeouts after those plays, so the Texans snapped it with 1:29 left and got two more yards up the middle on third down. Houston punted with roughly 40 seconds left, after a timeout, and the Bucs took over again at their 46 with 28 seconds left. Two short passes took it to the 37 and Barth came on to try a 55-yard field goal as time expired. He hit it true and just snuck it over the crossbar to get the Bucs on the board before halftime.