The Houston Texans needed just 12 seconds to take the lead Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. They never gave it back.
The visiting Texans gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their third straight loss, and their fourth in the last five games after a 3-1 start, with a 37-9 decision that was never close. Houston opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Jacoby Jones, then added a 78-yard catch-and-run by Arian Foster in the second quarter to build a 16-3 halftime lead.
The Texans' defense, ranked first in the league coming into the game, put the game away in the second half with the game's only three takeaways. Houston won the overall yardage battle, 420 to 231, and the Bucs once again struggled to convert scoring opportunities into seven points.
Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman completed 15 of 33 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. He was picked off three times, although two of them came off passes that were on target but bounced off receivers' hands. He scrambled effectively at times, rushing three times for 25 yards, but was also sacked a season-high four times by the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Tampa Bay's lone touchdown was a nine-yard scoring catch by WR Preston Parker in the fourth quarter after Houston had taken a 30-3 lead. The Bucs got on the scoreboard just before halftime with a career-long 55-yard field goal by Connor Barth.
RB LeGarrette Blount ran 10 times for 34 yards, though he once again looked as if he would have a big day in the game's early minutes. Unfortunately, the Texans' early lead marginalized the Bucs' rushing attack, as has often been the case this season. As a team, the Bucs ran 18 times for 90 yards.
Houston also brought the NFL's second-ranked rushing attack to Raymond James Stadium, and Houston finished the game with 185 yards on 44 carries, rotating between Foster 84 yards), Ben Tate (63) and Derrick Ward (36). Early on, however, it was the threat of that rushing prowess that stung the Bucs' defense, as Schaub repeatedly rolled out after faking handoffs to Foster. In the end, Schaub threw only 15 passes but completed 11 of them for 242 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a near-perfect 154.9 passer rating.
Newly-acquired DT Albert Haynesworth started for the Bucs' defense just five days after being claimed off waivers. He finished the game with five tackles. Haynesworth started next to DT Brian Price, who notched seven tackles, two tackles for loss and the Bucs' only sack of Schaub.
The Bucs fell to 4-5 with the loss. Houston, leading the AFC South, improved to 7-3.
The game could hardly have started worse for the Buccaneers. After a touchback on the opening kickoff by Koenen, the Texans needed just one play to score from 80 yards out. The Texans used the threat of their second-ranked rushing attack to great gain, running a play-action with Foster to the left, with Schaub keeping the ball and rolling right. The Bucs' defense reacted strongly to the left, and when it recovered several defenders rushed towards TE Owen Daniels underneath. That left Jones open down the right numbers, where he caught it near the Bucs' 40. Safeties Sean Jones and Tanard Jackson converged after the catch but Jones split them and found open field to the end zone and a score just 12 seconds into the game. The extra point was missed, making it 6-0.
The Bucs moved into Texans territory on the next drive but stalled near the 40. Freeman's 23-yard strike to Williams was the big-gainer, but Cushing sacked Freeman for a loss of eight on third-and-five and the Bucs had to punt. Houston then put together a more methodical march that reached the Bucs' 10-yard line. Schaub continued to make good use of the rollout with an assortment of short passes to Daniels and others, but the Bucs' defense did manage to hold in the red zone. Jackson broke up a third-down pass into the end zone but DE Adrian Clayborn was flagged for being offside. On the redo, Talib appeared to intercept Schaub's pass over the middle, then fumbled it and recovered it himself. The Texans challenged the play and it was eventually ruled incomplete, allowing Rackers to come on and hit a 22-yard field goal.
The teams then traded punts into the middle of the second quarter, when the Texans broke out with another long-distance touchdown. Foster took a short pass in the left flat and made several sharp cuts along the left sideline to run the distance almost untouched on a 78-yard score.
Tampa Bay's offense did mount a sustained drive before halftime, helped by two heady Freeman scrambles for 23 yards. Freeman's 20-yard fade to Williams put the ball at the Texans' 13, but two incompletions made it third-and-10. After an eight-yard out to WR Dezmon Briscoe, the Bucs elected to go for it on fourth-and-two but Briscoe couldn't quite haul in Freeman's fade to the right side of the end zone. The Bucs' defense managed to stop Houston quickly on the ensuing possession and got the ball back with enough time for Barth to hit his 55-yard field goal as the first half ended.
(Click here for a detailed report on the first half of Sunday's game.)
The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half after a touchback and gave it to Blount on the first two plays, getting four and seven yards and a quick first down. However, Freeman then took consecutive sacks at the hands of Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin, and his third-down pass was batted down at the line.
Foster got the Texans back into Buccaneers territory with runs of 13 and 17 yards, and Tate came in to tack on 13 yards on the drive's third play. The Texans advanced to a first down at the Bucs' six, and two plays later Foster ran it in around right end to put the visitors up by 20, 23-3.
A nine-yard run by Blount on second-and-10 left the Bucs in a third-and-one to start the next drive, and Freeman's QB sneak moved the chains. However, a hurried throw-away and a sack made it third-and-17 at the Tampa Bay 28. Freeman hit Winslow down the right numbers on third down but a hard hit at the moment the ball arrived sent it spinning in the air, where it was grabbed for an interception by Cushing at the Bucs' 39.
The Texans turned that turnover, the game's first, into seven points, mainly keeping it on the ground. Schaub did convert a third-and-six in the red zone with a screen to Foster that worked for 13 yards, and former Buccaneer Derrick Ward capped it with a four-yard touchdown run over right tackle to make it 30-3.
Things went from bad to worse one play later when Freeman tried to hit Parker on an out to the right on the first play of the next drive and it was intercepted by McCain. The Texans thus had the ball back at the Bucs' 14, though an impressive tackle by Michael Bennett cost Foster six yards on the ensuing first down. On third-and-12 from the 16, Tate tried the middle but was bottled up for a loss of three by Brian Price on the last play of the third quarter. Rackers missed the 37-yard field goal attempt that followed.
The Bucs' offense started the fourth quarter on a good note, with Freeman hitting Benn for 18 yards and Lumpkin for 14 to get the ball close to midfield. A draw play to Lumpkin worked to the tune of another 19 yards, putting the ball at the Houston 32. A pass-interference penalty gave Tampa Bay another first down at the Houston 23, and Lumpkin ran for seven. After an incompletion, Lumpkin took a draw to get within a yard of the sticks and Freeman induced an offside flag to get a new first down. Two plays later, Parker made an impressive catch on a low pass as he crossed the goal line for the Bucs' first touchdown of the day. The play was reviewed, as all scoring plays are, but upheld as replays showed Parker double-clutching the ball but never letting it hit the ground. Tampa Bay went for two after the score but failed on a quick pass left to Williams.
The Bucs tried an onside kick but Houston got to the loose ball first. The Bucs' defense forced a quick punt but Freeman's second pass on the ensuing drive went through Arrelious Benn's hands and was intercepted by S Quintin Demps.
Houston converted that pick into points on a four-play drive. Tate finished it with an 11-yard touchdown run, weaving between tacklers on the right sideline.
Josh Johnson came in at quarterback to start the next drive but fumbled an attempted handoff to the running back, with Houston recovering at the Bucs' 20. The Texans ran the ball four times and gave it back on downs. Johnson came in for another drive but the Bucs failed to get a first down and punted it away just before the two-minute warning. The Texans were able to run out the clock without giving it back.
Game Notes: The Texans took a 2-1 lead in the all-time Houston-Tampa Bay series with Sunday's victory. The Bucs' three games against Houston, which entered the NFL as the league's 32nd team in 2002, are their fewest against any team. … It was a day of participation milestones for the Buccaneers' starting secondary. S Sean Jones played in the 100th game of his NFL career on Sunday, 25 of which have come with the Buccaneers. He previously played for Cleveland and Philadelphia. In addition, both CB Aqib Talib and S Tanard Jackson played in their 50th career games. … K Connor Barth hit a 55-yard field goal just before halftime, the longest of his career. It tied for the third-longest in team history, matching 55-yarders by Martin Gramatica (vs. Detroit, 10/19/00) and Donald Igwebuike (at Minnesota, 11/30/86). Barth's kick was the longest successful field goal for the Bucs since Matt Bryant's team-record 62-yarder against Philadelphia on October 22, 2006. … WR Sammie Stroughter was active on Sunday for the first time since suffering a foot injury that required surgery on a 78-yard kickoff return in the season opener. Stroughter returned three kickoffs for 77 yards, with a long of 33.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive prior to Sunday's game: CB Anthony Gaitor, LB Derek Watson, T Derek Hardman, T James Lee, WR Micheal Spurlock, DE Tim Crowder and DT Frank Okam. Watson and Okam are out due to injury.
The Texans declared these seven inactives: QB T.J. Yates, CB Sherrick McManis, S Danieal Manning, G Thomas Austin, T Andrew Gardner, WR Andre Johnson and TE Garrett Graham. Manning and Johnson were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, DE George Johnson suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return.
The Texans did not report an injury from the sideline during the game.