Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Missed Opportunities Doom Bucs in Houston

The Texans pulled away late in a 19-9 game that slipped away from Tampa Bay due to third-down troubles and an errant kicking game.

Photos from the Buccaneers' game against the Texans in Houston.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Houston hoping to get their record over .500. Unfortunately, they let that big opportunity get away because they missed too many little opportunities along the way in a 19-9 loss to the Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday.

The Buccaneers converted just one of 12 third-down tries and gained 318 net yards of offense while allowing eight of 18 conversions and 413 net yards. An extra point that hit the upright in the second quarter and three missed field goals by rookie K Kyle Brindza eventually loomed very large.

The Buccaneers fell to 1-2 with the loss and will return home for an intra-division game against Carolina in Week Four. The Bucs are 1-0 in division play after defeating New Orleans in Week Two.

Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston looked sharp early and eventually racked up 261 yards and a touchdown but he completed fewer than 50% of his passes (17-36) and threw a third-quarter interception that led to the Texans' go-ahead points on a Randy Bullock field goal. Bullock had his struggles, too, misfiring on an extra point and a 43-yard field goal try, but he tacked on a 19-yarder in the game's final two minutes to essentially seal the victory.

Despite facing defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Houston's aggressive 3-4 front, Tampa Bay blockers gave Winston time to throw for much of the day. He was not sacked and he didn't once take off and run for yards.

"The positive thing is that our offensive line did amazing," said Winston. "I've got to take the blame for that. I've got to be able to convert on third downs; that's a big thing. Situational football is me being able to make throws on third down.

"They have a great defense powered by their defensive line, but our offensive line did amazing. I just have to make some plays for us to win the game."

Winston looked for second-year WR Mike Evans all day. Evans, who played his college football at Texas A&M and had dozens of family members in attendance, was targeted a whopping 17 times, nearly half of Winston's throws on the day. Evans caught seven passes for 101 yards but many of the other attempts failed due to bobbles or throws that were a bit off target. Winston's one touchdown pass went to second-year RB Charles Sims, who turned a short pass into a 32-yard score in the second quarter, giving the Bucs a 9-7 halftime lead.

Winston also didn't get much help from the Bucs' rushing attack, which followed a strong outing in Week Two in New Orleans with a mere 57 yards on 20 carries. Meanwhile, Alfred Blue led a very strong rushing attack for the Texans, as he got 139 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries as part of a 186-yard day. Given that the Buccaneers actually gained more net passing yards than Ryan Mallett and the Texans, it was the home team's rushing attack that made the difference in the game.

Ironically, Brindza's day began with a 58-yard blast in the first half that stands as the second-longest field goal in franchise history. His third miss was from 57 yards in the game's final seconds as the Buccaneers tried to get the first of two needed scores. Most of Brindza's failed attempts were pushed a bit to the right.

"I just didn't do my job," said Brindza. "I've just got to come back and get ready for the next game. I just didn't follow through all the way [on my kicks]. I've just got to push through. It's tough. It's one of the toughest jobs in the game, mentally, but I've just got to do my job."

Rookie LB Kwon Alexander had the Bucs' only takeaway, a second-quarter interception of a deflected pass that set up Sims' touchdown. The defense forced two other fumbles but failed to recover either, including a fumble by punt returner Cecil Shorts in the third quarter that bounced directly to newcomer Josh Martin. Martin couldn't corral the ball inside the Texans five and Houston eventually recovered.

Although Houston controlled the action for much of the first half, holding the ball for nearly 19 of the 30 minutes and rolling up 217 yards of offense, the Buccaneers took a lead into halftime. Houston scored first in the opening quarter, driving 64 yards on 10 plays to set up a five-yard touchdown pass from Mallett to WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Buccaneers answered with Brindza's 58-yard field goal, then took the lead following the game's first turnover. LB Danny Lansanah tipped a pass and Alexander dived to intercept it, and two plays later Sims scored on a well-blocked 32-yard catch-and-run.

That turnover masked some deficiencies for the Buccaneers in the first half. One recurring issue was penalty flags; the Bucs were penalized five times in the first half, and several of them were critical. In fact the defense lost a second turnover when D.J. Swearinger's defensive holding penalty negated a sack and forced fumble by Gerald McCoy. The Bucs also hamstrung their own first possession with three penalties among the first 10 snaps.

Winston was sharp early, throwing a string of medium-range touch passes to Vincent Jackson and Evans. However, one long gain to Evans was erased on an offensive pass-interference call, and the running game did little to support the young quarterback. Tampa Bay ran for just eight yards before halftime and converted only one of six third-down tries.

The Bucs deferred after winning the opening toss but the advantage of first possession in the second half didn't last long. S Quintin Demps intercepted a pass deep over the middle intended for Evans, giving Houston possession near midfield. The Bucs held just outside the red zone but Houston still took the lead on a 39-yard field goal by Bullock.

The Texans put the game away in the fourth quarter with two long drives, one ending in Blue's 20-yard touchdown run. Those two marches helped the home team hold the football for over 36 of the game's 60 minutes.

**

Additional notes and in-game details:

  • WR Vincent Jackson's 19-yard catch on the Bucs' first drive was the 500th reception of his career. Jackson finished the game with two catches for 40 yards.
  • K Kyle Brindza's 58-yard field goal early in the second quarter was the second-longest field goal in franchise history. The team record remains Matt Bryant's 62-yard game-winner over Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 2006. Brindza surpassed a pair of 57-yarders by Connor Barth and Michael Husted. Brindza also hit a 55-yard field goal last week in New Orleans and now owns two of the 10 longest field goals in franchise history. Brindza is the first kicker in franchise history with field goals of 55 yards or longer in consecutive games.
  • The first turnover of the game was Kwon Alexander's diving interception in the second quarter. The Buccaneers turned that into a score on Charles Sims' 32-yard touchdown catch. That was the fifth takeaway of the season for the Buccaneers' defense and the fifth straight time that the offense had turned it into points.
  • Houston definitely wanted to establish the run early. Blue's ran on the first two plays and got nine yards, setting up an easy third-down conversion on a short pass to Hopkins. However, runs on the next two plays only got three yards and Mallett's second third-down pass was incomplete. Shane Lechler blasted a 61-yard punt and Rainey muffed it at the other end. Rainey managed to pick up the loose ball but got only four yards back to the 12.
  • Winston's first two passes were impressive touch throws downfield, the first to Jackson for 19 yards and the second to Evans for what would have been an even bigger gain. Unfortunately, that one came back on an offensive pass interference flag on the receiver. Despite a weaving 10-yard run by Martin, the offense couldn't dig out of that hole and had to punt.
  • Mallett found a groove on the Texans' second drive, completing four straight passes, including a 17-yarder to Hopkins to get to the Bucs' 29. Two Blue runs then got the ball down to Tampa Bay's nine, though the Texans subsequently faced a third-and-three at the 10. Mallett had a long time to throw on third down and eventually hit Grimes over the middle at the five. Two plays later, Hopkins ran a quick slant from the right side and was wide open for an easy touchdown.
  • A 20-yard sideline pass to Evans got the Bucs close to midfield on the next drive but Johnathan Joseph made an outstanding play to break up another downfield hookup between those two on third down. A short punt by Jacob Schum allowed the Texans to get the ball back at their own 28.
  • The Texans got across midfield on the next drive but faced a long third down. That play seemed to go the Bucs way when McCoy sacked Mallett and forced a fumble that Jacquies Smith recovered. However, a flag landed far away in the secondary as S D.J. Swearinger was called for defensive holding, giving the Texans a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, however, Alterraun Verner made a great third-down pass breakup of a throw deep downfield to Hopkins. The Texans punted and got only an 18-yard net on a ball that bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

Winston started the next drive with consecutive completions to Evans for 16 and 18 yards, getting across midfield. The drive stalled at the 40 but that was still close enough for the Bucs to give Brindza a try, and he nailed it from 58 yards out to make it a 7-3 game.

The Texans got into Buccaneer territory on the ensuing drive, gaining a first down at the 34, but the Bucs turned them away. Consecutive TFLs by William Gholston and Lavonte David followed by a holding penalty put Houston into a third-and-24 and a short pass to Cecil Shorts was dropped, leading to a punt. However, Tampa Bay's offense failed to gain a first down on the next possession and the Texans got it back at their own 27 with five minutes left in the half.

Two plays into the drive, Lansanah leaped to bat a pass in the air at the line of scrimmage and Alexander reacted quickly, rushing up and diving to pick it off at the Houston 26. Two plays later, Sims caught a short pass in the left flat, followed some excellent downfield blocks and made it all the way to the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. Brindza's extra point attempt hit the right upright and was no good.

The Texans got another scoring chance on the next drive but came up empty when K Randy Bullock hit the right upright from 43 yards out. That gave the Buccaneers another shot and Winston converted a long third down with a 21-yard sideline strike to Jackson, getting across midfield. Winston bought time three plays later to find Evans over the middle on third down but Evans couldn't hold on as he went to the ground. The Bucs punted down to the Houston 11 and the Texans ran out the first-half clock.

Tampa Bay got the ball first to start the second half but gave it up on their first turnover. Winston hit Evans for 18 yards to start the drive but then looked for him deep over the middle on third down and had it intercepted by Demps. Houston turned that takeaway into a 34-yard drive and a 39-yard field goal for a one-point lead.

The Bucs had to punt after a short drive and Schum hit it down to the Houston four, where it was fielded by Chandler Worthy. Worthy started out to his right but was hit at the nine by Lansanah. Worthy fumbled and the ball bounced to Martin, who couldn't hold on. Houston eventually recovered the ball near the sideline at the six. The Bucs defense forced a quick three-and-out and Rainey's 13-yard return of Lechler's 53-yard punt made it first down at the Houston 44.

Martin's 17-yard on first down put the Bucs into scoring range, and the Bucs nearly found the end zone on a third-and-six throw from the 23. Jackson made a leaping catch over Joseph near the sideline in the end zone. It was originally ruled a catch but replay showed that Joseph's shove kept Jackson from getting his second foot down. Brindza came in to try a 41-yard field goal but missed it wide to the right.

A 14-yard catch by Hopkins got the ball to midfield but a big TFL by Gholston and a hustling tackle for another loss on a bubble screen by Tim Jennings forced another punt. Rainey's 23-yard return of the ensuing punt kept the ball away from the Bucs' goal line and made it first down at the 26 with four minutes left in the third quarter.

Houston forced a three-and-out and a punt and then got to the midfield stripe on Hopkins' shoestring catch for 12 yards. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, Mallett hit Grimes over the middle but Grimes was stopped four yards short by Sterling Moore. The third quarter ended on that play and the Texans punted to open the final period.

Winston's 33-yard downfield strike to Murphy got the Bucs across midfield and to the Houston 41, and two plays later Murphy made an impressive catch of a pass just inches off the turf for 19 more to the 18. Winston tried to hit Evans on a quick slant on third down from the 15 but threw it behind him to force fourth down. Brindza came in to try a 33-yarder and again missed to the right.

The Texans quickly flipped the field when Mallett threw down the middle to Hopkins for 33 yards and a facemask call on Conte tacked on 15 more. Blue capped the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run to give the Texans a seven-point lead with nine minutes to play. Houston missed the extra point.

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