In a game Tampa Bay needed in order to stay above .500 and remain in the NFC playoff race, the Buccaneers were crushed at home by the Houston Texans, 37-9. Led by the versatility of running back Arian Foster, who amassed 84 yards and a touchdown rushing and added 102 yards and another score receiving, the Texans offense proved to be unstoppable against the league’s 29th-ranked defense.
Wary of a Houston ground attack that went for 260 yards last week with both Foster and Ben Tate topping the century mark, Tampa Bay was focused on shutting down that aspect of the Texans offense. Doing so allowed Houston quarterback Matt Schaub to use play-action to find Jacoby Jones wide open for an 80-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. Safety Sean Jones bit on the play-action and also whiffed on the tackle attempt downfield. The extra point was blocked, but the Bucs trailed 6-0 just 12 seconds into the game.
The quick strike was a precursor of Houston’s overall dominance Sunday afternoon and one from which Tampa Bay could not recover. Outgaining the Bucs by nearly 200 yards (420-231) the Texans took advantage of another sloppy defensive day by the Buccaneers and displayed little trouble with either marching downfield for points or making big plays.
Quarterback Josh Freeman was unable to lead his team with similar efficiency, turning in one of his poorer performances through nine games. The third-year signal caller finished with a 31.8 passer rating, completed only 15 icked off three more times. The Houston defense got to Freeman for four sacks.
Tampa Bay didn’t get on the scoreboard until the final play of the first half when Connor Barth’s 55-yard field goal attempt snuck over the north end zone crossbar. That kick, Barth’s 17th converted field goal in 19 tries, made the score 16-3 Texans heading into the locker room.
Houston scored on three of its first four possessions to go up 16-0. Tampa Bay never truly threatened to make it a game, but did suffer from some controversial refereeing in the first 30 minutes.
The first of those plays came during Houston’s second time with the ball. After pushing forward with a long, commanding drive, Schaub’s poorly thrown pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason on third-and-5 was intercepted by Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib at the 1. Rather than becoming Talib’s second pick of the season, though, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak won a challenge and the play was ruled an incompletion. Houston took advantage by going up 9-0 on Neil Rackers’ 22-yard field goal.
With Tampa Bay’s offense unable to get out of its own side of the field on its next two drives, Houston struck again early in the second period. Schaub (11 of 15 for 242 yards passing and two touchdowns) dumped off a short pass to a wide-open Foster and the third-year back took care of the rest. Foster first juked Talib to the ground, then made strong safety Sean Jones fly right past en route to a 78-yard touchdown reception and 16-0 lead.
“The first play of the game was bad execution,” said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. “The other long pass to Foster in the flat was just a terrible missed tackle and a terrible secondary-level tackle. The hustle, I’ll be grading that on tape for you tomorrow [and] letting you know who was there. It should have been a 40-yard gain, not an 80-yard gain, and you’ve got to eliminate those things and that’s my fault. Again, all of that stuff, put it all on me.”
Tampa Bay suffered from another questionable officiating decision on the play. Playing in his first game as a Buccaneer after being picked up on Wednesday from New England, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth appeared to be held before he could disrupt Schaub’s pass to Foster. No flag was thrown and the touchdown remained on the board.
“We’ve got to execute better and we have to have [a greater] sense of urgency,” said Jones postgame from the locker room. “If you don’t play with passion and go out there and play like it’s your last play, it’s not going to work. We didn’t do that [today].”
Haynesworth came to Tampa Bay this past week to fill a void left when Gerald McCoy went down with a season-ending biceps injury. The 10th-year veteran recorded five tackles and was given credit for blocking Rackers’ first-quarter extra point.
“I felt fine,” Haynesworth said afterward. “I was a little bit tired, but that was the most plays I’ve played all year. When I was in New England it was hard. You play like three or four plays and then you sit for a quarter, quarter-and-a-half and have to go back out and play. It was hard to get into a rhythm. The more I played the better I got.”
Haynesworth added that while he feels he was playing alongside quality, young athletes today, they need to learn to move on from bad plays and mistakes.
“I think we’ve got a good team. I see the way we practice and see the talent we have. We’re a young team and instead of letting a bad play go and wiping it out of your mind and going and playing football, we let it pile on and kept thinking about it. … We can’t let one bad play keep us down.”
While Haynesworth was seen getting penetration into Houston’s backfield at times, the only sack Tampa Bay managed came from defensive tackle Brian Price in the second quarter. It was the Bucs’ first sack since defensive end Adrian Clayborn took down Chicago’s Jay Cutler in London three weeks ago.
Freeman and Tampa Bay’s day unraveled further in the second half. All three of Freeman’s interceptions came in the final two quarters, as well as three of his four sacks. A persistent thorn in Freeman’s side was Houston’s Brian Cushing. The third-year inside linebacker tied Bucs’ linebacker Adam Hayward with a game-high eight tackles and he both sacked and intercepted Freeman.
The early, growing deficit again rendered running back LeGarrette Blount to be little more than a spectator all day. The second-year back out of Oregon took only 10 handoffs from Freeman for 34 yards.
Freeman, while saying that the young team has not played to its potential, said he feels like he’s “a better quarterback this year” than he was last year.
“It’s just that we have not played nearly up to our potential,” he said about the team’s struggles. “We are a young team and as a young team you have to understand that this is the NFL. You see some success and you can’t rest on that. You have to continue to prepare and go out and give it all you’ve got every week because even when you have a great week of preparation, you’re not guaranteed to win if you’re not making plays in the game.
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Freeman continued. “I feel like I’m a better quarterback this year than I was last year. As crazy as that may sound, looking at the numbers, I feel like I continue to get better in preparation and execution. I feel like I’m throwing the ball as well as I ever have; it’s just things aren’t going my way.”
The Bucs totaled 90 yards on 18 rushing attempts. In stark contrast, Houston put the game on the legs of Foster, Tate and former Buccaneer Derrick Ward. The Texans battered Tampa Bay’s much-maligned rush defense all afternoon, running the ball 44 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay’s lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter and with the game well out of hand. The Bucs made it 30-9 with just over 11 minutes remaining on Freeman’s 9-yard pass to wide receiver Preston Parker over the middle. The catch was reviewed in the booth but the call was upheld, giving Parker his team-leading third touchdown catch.
The Bucs drove deeply into Houston territory on only one other occasion on Sunday. That came with under 2 minutes left in the first half. That nine-play drive ended on the Texans’ 5-yard line when Freeman’s fade to the right side of the end zone failed to connect with wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson’s tight coverage took away virtually any opportunity for Briscoe to catch the pass.
Tampa Bay’s loss dropped it under .500 for the first time since opening the season with a loss against Detroit. The Bucs are now 3-3 at home, including the London loss against Chicago. Combined with New Orleans’ 26-23 win over Atlanta, Tampa Bay is now 2 1/2 games out of first place.
In his postgame press conference, Morris shouldered virtually all the blame for his team’s poor performance.
“The last three weeks have been tough,” said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. “You know, we haven’t won in about a month. The guys right now are not playing well and we’ve got to find a way to get better. Again, any regression, you’ve got to put that right on my shoulders, because I got it. It was my fault – my fault, guys.”
Sunday’s game was played in front of 56,037 fans at Raymond James Stadium under partly cloudy skies. The game-time temperature was listed at 77 degrees and there was a slight wind of 9 miles per hour out of the southeast.
Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Michael Bennett, DT Albert Haynesworth, DT Brian Price, RE Adrian Clayborn, SLB Adam Hayward, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Quincy Black, LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones, FS Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Freeman.