Head Coach Bruce Arians had mentioned earlier in the week that he would likely have the Buccaneer starters play the first half in Houston on Saturday night, provided he saw what he needed to see out of them in that time. Or, he joked, they'd be playing into the third quarter.
Well, he apparently didn't even need the entire half because after three drives, two of which were extremely productive, Arians pulled quarterback Tom Brady and most of the Bucs' first team, giving way to quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who would finish out the half.
The Bucs had a 13-2 lead going into the half, the shutout sullied by a safety following a bad snap with Tampa Bay backed up against their own goal. Gabbert fell on the errant snap from rookie Robert Hainsey, who was seeing his first NFL game action of his career at a position he had never played prior to January of this year, and unfortunately couldn't get out of the end zone in the process.
Following the break, it was rookie quarterback Kyle Trask's show. The Texas native played the entirety of the second half and managed to score his first NFL touchdown in that time period. It was a 20-yard pass to tight end Codey McElroy, capping off a six-play, 78-yard drive, that gave the Bucs their third touchdown of the night. Tack on a field goal from Jose Borregales and the Bucs finished with 23 points to Houston's 16.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's preseason matchup vs. the Texans.
Here are a couple major things that stood out from the night overall:
1. Offensive concerns should have been alleviated.
Brady and Co. had scored the previous two touchdowns on the night, putting 13 points on the board in the three drives they were on the field. The first series started slow for the Bucs' offense, carrying over from an early-season trend last year, but given the chance to redeem themselves, they took advantage big time. Brady hit wide receiver Chris Godwin for a 24-yard touchdown pass, following a drive that saw Godwin make a prior 28-yard catch to get the Bucs down the field. Brady overall was an absolute technician, going a perfect seven completions on seven passes for 91 yards on the drive.
The next touchdown came at the end of the following drive thanks to a quick bounce outside by running back Ronald Jones, who took it in from 13 yards out. In all Brady went 11-of-14 for 154 yards and a touchdown for a 136.3 passer rating on the night. He, at one point, threw 10-straight completions between his second and third drive.
Prior to Saturday, the Bucs' starting offense had only seen six total game snaps when they started the first drive of the Bucs' preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was not a fruitful one but they were pulled, anyway. Now, with another shot at it, Brady settled in and so did his receivers.
"I think every time you play you learn something and I've been doing this a long time, but I don't think you ever take anything for granted and I think you have to get the real reps, you have to get the real crowd noise, you have to get the real game clock," Brady said. "You have to get the real situations and the more you deal as a team the better you're going to be as the pressure mounts. It was good to be able to get some things done tonight and certainly not a finished product. We have a long way to go."
During his time under center against the Texans, Brady hit five different receivers as the Bucs mixed in a few run plays, including a chunk play by Texas' own Ronald Jones on a 10-yard run. It looked like exactly what you'd expect from an offense that has Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and O.J. Howard (tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't really get in on the action on the night).
The Bucs' offense was essentially back to scoring at-will and looks to be picking up where they left off last year. That's good news considering they put up 30 or more points in every postseason game at the 2020 season. Any rumblings of offensive concern judging by (mostly) the second and third teams in the preseason should be quieted at this point. Turns out, after 21 years in the NFL, Tom Brady knows a thing or two about how to command an offense.
2. Defensive players stepped up with takeaways.
Perhaps helped by the fact that Houston seemed allergic to punting by the second half, the second and third team defense managed a few impressive takeaways. Since 2019, the Bucs have the fourth most takeaways in the league and it's good to see that it doesn't stop with the starters.
It was rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka who got the ball rolling (literally) as he sacked Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor and forced the ball out in the process. It was recovered by defensive lineman Khalil Davis for the Bucs' first takeaway of the night in the second quarter.
Cornerback Herb Miller was the next to step up just before the half, picking off quarterback Davis Mills with under five minutes before the half.
The Bucs then managed three more takeaways in the second half, including not one but two interceptions by cornerback Dee Delaney. His head coach took notice.
"The only one that really stood out was Dee Delaney," Arians said Sunday, after having the chance to review the tape. "He really helped himself. We're still in the process of evaluating those last five spots, but he helped his cause."
The last takeaway came on yet another forced fumble, this one on another strip sack by safety Javon Hagan on Mills. The production of the defensive depth likely made the battle for the last few roster spots that much harder.
3. An ode to an excellent special teams play.
In the second quarter, Bradley Pinion punted the ball 55 yards into the Texans' end zone but it was safety Chris Cooper that made the special teams play of the preseason from there. Cooper leapt up in the end zone, caught the ball and then threw it back out before his feet touched the ground. The ball was then kept out by inside linebacker Joe Jones and then downed at the five-yard line by Khalil Davis. The referees initially ruled it a touchback, thinking Jones' feet were in the end zone while he touched the ball. The ruling was reversed upon a Bruce Arians Preseason Challenge.
Ah, preseason. Next time, it'll be the real thing.