If Thursday night's preseason finale in Houston was all about making a good last impression, then Rudy Carpenter, Corey Lynch and Arrelious Benn can count the night as a success. As can Preston Parker, Myron Lewis and George Johnson.
As a whole, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a very good first impression in their 24-17 win over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Thursday night. Riding Lynch's two interceptions, including one that was returned 91 yards for a touchdown, the Buccaneers built a 17-0 lead by halftime, with mostly second-string players contesting the action on both sides of the ball. Houston rallied behind QB John David Booty in the second half as both teams emptied out their benches but the second of Benn's two touchdown catches allowed the Bucs to hold on to the victory.
In the end, Houston's rotating reserves produced 417 yards to the Bucs' 267, but Tampa Bay Head Coach Raheem Morris was pleased with his team's production in the first half behind Lynch and second-year QB Rudy Carpenter.
"That was a good outing by the team out there," said Morris. "Coming up big and getting two balls back for our offense and then two scoring drives. We were able to move the ball down the field effectively and efficiently. It was a good look by some of our young guys in the first half."
With the start of the regular season just ahead, neither team exposed its usual starters to too much risk on Thursday night. The Buccaneers kept only seven of their usual starters in for the first snap, all on defense. That included the entire four-man defensive line, three of whom are either rookies or second-year players. Young linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black also opened the game. The Texans' changes were even more sweeping; only right guard Antoine Caldwell kept his starting post for the game.
On offense, the Buccaneers devoted most of the game to Carpenter, who had performed well in a lengthy stint against Kansas City in the second week of the preseason before struggling the next week against Jacksonville. His performance in Houston was encouraging and may have locked down the third quarterback job: 15 of 22 passing for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. After a nearly flawless first half, a very poised Carpenter added a 90-yard touchdown drive and finished with a passer rating of 127.7.
Lynch's second interception set up Carpenter's three-yard scoring pass to Benn, who had his most productive game of the preseason. Benn caught three passes for 35 yards, the most impressive of which was his second touchdown of the game, a leaping 21-yarder that gave the Bucs a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. Benn had just one preseason reception coming into the finale and had been overshadowed by fellow 2010 draft pick Mike Williams.
"Opportunities come and so I have to go out and take it," said Benn, who fought through an injury to his ribs in the second half to stay in the game. "I know my ability, I just have to go out there and do it. Right now it is a learning process for me and there is a long season ahead and I am just taking one game at a time and one practice at a time."
Parker, Lewis and Johnson were other young Buccaneers who, like Benn, seized the opportunity to add to their resumes with the final roster cuts looming on Saturday. Parker caught two passes for 45 yards on the Bucs' fourth-quarter touchdown drive, both of them producing first downs, and also picked up 46 yards on two kickoff returns. Lewis turned in five solo tackles and knocked away two passes, including one at the goal line on a deep bomb. Johnson had three solo tackles, all of them behind the line of scrimmage with the Bucs' only sack and two tackles for loss.
The Bucs scored first as Carpenter directed an efficient game-opening drive keyed by his precise 19-yard out pass to WR Micheal Spurlock on third-and-eight. Carpenter completed three of five passes for 47 yards on the drive but the Bucs settled for Barth's 38-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's reserve-heavy defense allowed the Texans to counter with a long drive to start the second half but Lynch's interception turned that scoring threat into a 10-0 lead for the visitors. Lynch obviously read Orlovsky's pass over the middle perfectly because he cut in front of WR David Anderson on a dead run and within seconds had only Orlovsky to beat on the way to his 91-yard score.
Lynch's second interception was snared at the Buccaneers' 44 and returned 28 yards to the Houston 16. Four plays later, Carpenter threw a low fade pass to Benn near the right edge of the end zone and the rookie receiver fought off CB Sherrick McManus just enough to haul it into his chest for his first NFL score.
Former Detroit Lion Dan Orlovsky got the start for the Texans under center and was able to complete 11 of 16 passes for 113 yards. However, he was victimized twice by Lynch and was also unable to convert any of four third-down tries in the first half. First-year QB John David Booty took over for Orlovsky in the second half and produced the Texans' first points on a 64-yard drive, half of it coming on a 32-yard TD pass under pressure to first-year WR Bobby Williams. The Texans scored again in the fourth quarter on a one-handed catch by TE Derek Fine following Houston's third straight successful conversion on fourth down. The Texans drove into Buccaneers territory one more time, converting a fourth fourth-down try before finally failing on the fifth one with less than two minutes to play.
Click here for a detailed report of the game's first half.
Booty relieved Orlovsky to start the second half and drove the Texans into Buccaneers territory after a short kickoff as both teams dug even deeper into their benches. Lewis turned in a big play on the drive, knocking a potential touchdown pass away from WR Dorin Dickerson on a fly route. George Johnson dropped RB Chris Henry in the backfield for a loss of two on the next snap, but on the next play Booty got off a 32-yard touchdown pass to Williams just as he was hit.
Carpenter continued on into the second half and started the next drive with a four-yard scramble up the middle. Two runs by RB Clifton Smith produced a first down, but the running back was dropped in the backfield by DT DelJuan Robinson two plays later to produce a third-and-13 from the Tampa Bay 28. A dumpoff to Smith on third down was not enough to produce a new set of downs and the Bucs had to punt.
Booty remained sharp on the Texans' next possession, hitting TE James Casey twice for a total of 25 yards. Lewis nearly picked off Booty's next pass, helping the Bucs' defense stiffen near midfield to force a fourth-and-three. However, Houston went for it and Casey held on to a short pass over the middle to keep the drive going. Two more third-down conversions in Buccaneers territory produced a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Two runs by Chris Henry took the ball down to the three, but a third-down pass attempt to Casey missed and the Texans settled for a 21-yard field goal by Neil Rackers.
The Bucs started their next drive at their own 20 and got a quick 12 yards on a dash off left tackle by Brown. A holding penalty on C Donovan Raiola took most of that back on the next snap, and a deep pass attempt to Benn two snaps later was knocked away by McManis. After a Buccaneers punt, Dickerson took an end-around into open field for 19 yards and Johnson was flagged for roughing the passer to move the ball to the Bucs' 31. Johnson atoned with a six-yard sack on the next play and rookie LB Dekoda Watson broke up a pass over the middle to force third-and-long. DE Michael Bennett nearly sacked Booty on third down, forcing a quick incompletion and a punt.
The Bucs had to start at their own 10 after a penalty on the kick but Preston Parker's 29-yard catch under tight coverage gave them some breathing room. A perfect lob pass from Carpenter to TE Ryan Purvis produced 21 more yards and pushed the Bucs into Houston territory. Facing a third-and-12 at the Houston 37, Carpenter threw over the middle to Parker and a nice seal-off block by Spurlock allowed Parker to picked up 16 yards. On the next play, Carpenter threw up a lob down the sideline to Benn, who out-leaped seventh-year CB Jacques Reeves, snatched the ball over the defender's shoulder and clutched it to his chest as he landed in the end zone.
Booty drove the Texans back into Buccaneers territory on the ensuing possession, helped greatly by Dickerson's one-handed highlight-reel catch down the right sideline, a 27-yard gain to the Bucs' 26. Three straight incompletions put the Texans into a fourth-and-10 but they chose to go for it with just 5:10 remaining in the game. TE Garrett Graham somehow managed to extend the ball over the yard marker on his fourth-down catch, and Fine made a spinning one-handed catch on the next play to score on a 17-yard pass.
Snead came in to lead the next drive but two handoffs to Brown and a rollout incompletion ended that one quickly. The Bucs punted away and the Texans got the ball back one more time with 3:30 to play at their own 37. Rookie DT Carlton Powell's leaping breakup caused Booty's first pass to be incomplete, and the next two fell harmlessly as well. However, Fine made another impressive catch on fourth down to get 11 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Graham got open over the middle for a 21-yard gain to the Bucs' 31.
The Texans faced yet another fourth down with 1:40 left, needing five yards at the Bucs' 26. This time, they went for it all, as Booty threw a fade to Dickerson in the end zone. The pass was just a little too far outside, however, and Dickerson couldn't haul it in.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers now hold a 7-2 lead in the all-time preseason series with the Texans. The two teams have also split a pair of regular-season meetings. The Bucs have won four of the five preseason games they have played at Reliant Stadium. Tampa Bay and Houston have now met in their respective preseason finales for nine straight years. … During the teams' warm-up time prior to Thursday's game, QB Josh Freeman threw a variety of passes to Buccaneer receivers, though he had already been ruled out for the game. Freeman hasn't played since fracturing the tip of his right thumb on the opening possession of the second preseason game, but he is expected to return in time for the regular-season opener against Cleveland on September 12. His throwing session at Reliant Field was an encouraging sign that his recovery is on target.
Inactives: There are no official inactives during the offseason and the Buccaneers sat quite a few starters who were healthy. However, there were five Bucs who did not travel with the team to Houston: G Davin Joseph, S Sabby Piscitelli, WR Maurice Stovall, G Keydrick Vincent and TE Kellen Winslow.
The Texans listed 26 players who did not dress for the game, but that included many usual starters who were held out due to a coach's decision rather than injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, LB Niko Koutouvides sustained a right shoulder injury in the first quarter and did not return. In the third quarter, WR Arrelious Benn suffered a ribs injury but did re-enter the game. T Demar Dotson injured a knee and FB Chris Pressley sustained a thigh injury in the third quarter as well, but neither returned to the game. LB Lee Robinson suffered a head injury in the third quarter and did not return.
For the Texans, RB Jeremiah Johnson sustained a toe injury in the first quarter and did not return.