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Takeaways from Buccaneers-Texans | Week 9 

Top observations from the Buccaneers 39-37 loss to the Texans in Week Nine on the road


The Houston Texans' drove 75 yards with 46 seconds left in regulation to score, handing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their fourth straight loss. Rookie C.J. Stroud threw for 470 passing yards and five touchdowns, including the last one with six seconds left to ice the win. Tank Dell, the beneficiary, exploited the dead zone between the cornerback and safety, hauling in the 15-yard strike. Houston outlasted Tampa Bay, 39-37 on Sunday at NRG Stadium and the visiting team dropped to 3-5 on the season.

Down by three with 1:55 on the clock, the Bucs overcame third-and-23 to keep the drive alive. Tampa Bay opted to go for it on fourth-and-two and Baker Mayfield showcased his grit, scrambling five yards for the first down. Mike Evans recovered a fumble with three Texans' jerseys in the area to give the team a chance at the end zone. With 49 seconds on the clock and taunts from a sea of blue, Cade Otton lined up in the slot and after the snap, was given a free release with the Texans in off coverage. Otton quickly bypassed Henry To'oTo'o, who had his back turned towards Mayfield in catchup mode. Mayfield dropped the ball perfectly in front of Otton and over-the-top of To'oTo'o for the second-year tight end to make the catch. The Bucs took a 37-33 lead, but the Texans answered with the aforementioned score, securing the victory.

"It's a devastating loss, no doubt about it," said Head Coach Todd 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."

Second-Half Defensive Lull

The Bucs recorded the only takeaway of the first half as Lavonte David punched the ball out of Dalton Schultz' hands and Antoine Winfield Jr. recovered it. That play led to three points for the Bucs and both Devin White and Calijah Kancey notched sacks in the second quarter. From second-and-one, Kancey shot past the left guard, and Stroud hesitated in the pocket with tight coverage on the back end from the Bucs. Kancey continued working into the backfield and took down Stroud for a 13-yard loss, which set up third-and-14 for Houston. Before the half mark, Devin White flew unblocked with lethal short-area quickness and brought down Stroud for a loss, which resulted in second-and-18 for the Texans. Everyone along the line was accounted for, providing White with a free runway at the opposing quarterback. Shaq Barrett's sack in the fourth quarter set up Houston's only punt of the second half. Barrett knocked out the football, but Texans' George Fant recovered.

Houston's offense finished with 496 total yards as C.J. Stroud broke the single-game rookie passing yardage record (470). Stroud methodically layered the football and commanded the pocket with poise. The Bucs did not dial up a blitz-heavy attack, predominately using a four-man rush. However, Tampa Bay was not able to consistently get pressure, which allowed Stroud to extend plays and find playmakers to exploit voids in zone against Tampa Bay's Cover Two look. The Bucs held the lead 17-10 heading into the half and things quickly unraveled in the second slate. During the second half, the Bucs' defense gave up 352 yards and four touchdowns. Out of halftime, the Texans' had six possessions and four ended in touchdowns, with one culminating in a field goal. Most notably in the third quarter, the Texans held a 208-19-yard advantage over the Bucs. For Houston, receiver Noah Brown and tight end Dalton Schultz served as the catalysts. Brown (153 yards) and Schultz (130 yards) spearheaded the aerial pounding by consistently picking up yards after the catch and working the underneath area of the field as the Bucs' defenders struggled with effective pursuit angles and missed tackles, which led to explosive gains.

"The communication is not very good, coverage has not been very good from a zone concept," described Bowles. "[The] understanding taking from the game to practice or practice to the game has not been there. The effort is there, they want to win, they work hard, [and] they understand what to do. Coach communication to player has been there all the way throughout, we've just got to play better. We've got to coach better, and we've got to play better on Sunday, and we understand that. The last four weeks, we have not, whatsoever. We own that. We've got to look in the mirror. Players have got to look in the mirror, and coaches have got to look in the mirror. We're one game out of first place. We haven't won in it feels like quite a while, and it probably has been quite a while, and we have to do it better. We have nobody coming to save us. We have got to stay together in this building, we have to go out and work, and we have to put in on paper on Sunday."

Offensive Surge

On the offensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers got off to a fast start and produced their best scoring output of the 2023 season. Mayfield completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (119.4 passer rating). Both running back Rachaad White and Cade Otton accumulated two touchdowns, each. White finished with 73 rushing yards on 20 totes as the Bucs' ground attack improved. The Arizona State product made a significant impact in the run game, quickly hitting holes with burst and in the passing game, making the initial defender miss. Most notably, White plowed into the secondary for a 33-yard gain off a catch-and run, evading a tackler to hit second gear in the open field. Otton posted 70 yards on six receptions, using his frame to box out defenders. He hit a 24-yarder in the first quarter as Mayfield eluded pressure from the backside rusher and Otton picked up yards post-catch with physicality. Otton took advantage in the underneath-to-intermediate area of the field and the ascension of the Bucs' running game allowed the Bucs to run more stretch plays and bootlegs to accentuate Mayfield's skillset.

Mike Evans led the unit with 87 yards on four catches, largely due to a 53-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Evans ate up cushion with long strides and bypassed the Texans' defensive back on a go route and was ruled down at the one-yard line. That play set up White's game-tying touchdown rush. With his total, Evans became the first Buccaneer and only the 39th player in NFL history to eclipse the 11,000-yard receiving marker. In addition, kicker Chase McLaughlin made attempts from 35, 49 and 55 yards in Week Nine.

"We should have been in better positions to go into the red zone and score more touchdowns," said Mayfield. "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."

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