Tampa Bay’s preseason concluded in Houston with a 16-6 victory over the Texans in a battle of the backups. The Buccaneers rested every started and had nothing but backups and third-stringers in the game the entire night.

The Bucs, who finished the preseason 3-1, had some questions answered on Thursday night, but a few questions remain heading into the season opener next Sunday at New Orleans.

Second-round draft pick Dexter Jackson scored the game’s only touchdown on an electrifying 83-yard punt return and locked down the return man role after a previously quiet preseason.

Tight end Ben Troupe shook off a foot injury and was the game’s leading receiver with 52 yards on four catches, including a 29-yarder. The Bucs will need Troupe, who had not made much of an impact in the preseason prior to Thursday’s game, due to the fact that tight end Jerramy Stevens will be suspended for the first two games of the year.

Tampa Bay’s questions start at kicker where Matt Bryant finished the preseason 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) and started off the Houston game with misses from 54 and 36 yards. Bryant rebounded to hit three straight field goals, but head coach Jon Gruden has to be concerned about what has happened to his kicker this August. Do the Bucs bring in a free agent kicker for a tryout this week? The thought has had to cross the mind of general manager Bruce Allen.

The other big question centers around the play of Tampa Bay’s two offensive stars – quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Joey Galloway – heading into the season opener at New Orleans. Garcia looked very rusty coming off a calf strain last week against Jacksonville, throwing two interceptions and one touchdown, while Galloway didn’t play a single down in the preseason due to a groin injury. Will the two have the chemistry to make big plays downfield in New Orleans? We’ll see on September 7.

One thing that can be questioned is the play of Tampa Bay’s defense this preseason. The Bucs held Houston without a touchdown and under 200 yards of total offense. That’s the third time the Bucs defense has accomplished that feat this preseason.

Quarterback Sage Rosenfels started off hot for Houston, with first down throws to receivers Jacoby Jones and David Anderson for gains of 19 and 13 yards, respectively. That helped push the Texans into Buccaneers territory where Houston’s drive stalled on third-and-6 at the Tampa Bay 34 and kicker Kris Brown was called upon to hit a 53-yard field goal to give the home team an early 3-0 lead with 11:11 left in the first quarter after a nine-play, 47-yard drive.

On Tampa Bay’s first drive, Jackson’s 13-yard gain on a reverse on the second play brought the ball out to midfield. Luke McCown got the start while Garcia and Brian Griese sat, and his 10-yard pass to Michael Bennett picked up another first down. But the Bucs would only advance to the Texans’ 36-yard line where on fourth-and-6 kicker, Bryant’s 54-yard field goal attempt fell short with 6:40 left in the first quarter.

The Bucs’ second drive fizzled after a promising start. McCown, who finished the game 5-of-5 for 52 yards, called an audible on third-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 25 and found receiver Cortez Hankton with a 28-yard pass into Houston territory. Kenneth Darby ripped off a 10-yard run on the next snap, but two plays later, a costly 10-yard tripping penalty on right tackle Dennis Roland wound up costing the Bucs on this drive. On fourth-and-2 at the Texans’ 27, Bennett was stuffed for no gain, forcing a turnover on downs.

After two offensive drives failed to produce points, the Bucs turned to their special teams as Jackson returned a punt untouched down the left sidelines 83 yards for a touchdown. With 13:49 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay took a 7-3 lead over Houston.

Micheal Spurlock was attempting to follow up Jackson’s touchdown with one of his own on the next punt return, but he took his eyes off the ball before securing it and fumbled the muffed the punt. Spurlock was fortunate that defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, who has been a preseason stud this August, recovered the ball for Tampa Bay. That was Wilkerson’s second fumble recovery of the preseason.

Chris Simms was inserted at quarterback for the Buccaneers early in the second quarter, replacing McCown. Simms helped drive Tampa Bay down into Houston territory with a 12-yard throw to Troupe and a 13-yard screen pass to rookie running back Clifton Smith. Darby also contributed another 10-yard run on the drive, but on fourth-and-5 from the Houston 18, Bryant missed his second straight field goal of the night, pushing a 36-yard attempt wide right. Bryant has missed three field goals to the right during the preseason and is 4-of-9.

Houston was able to rally before halftime with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 43-yard field goal from Brown to trim the Bucs’ lead to 7-6.

Simms continued to see action at quarterback in the second half and suffered a turnover when his pass hit center Dan Buenning in the back of the helmet, bounced up in the air and landed in the arms of defensive tackle Anthony Maddox, who picked off the pass at the Tampa Bay 43.

Quarterback Josh Johnson entered the game late in the third quarter and engineered three field goal drives to increase Tampa Bay’s lead. On his first drive, a 30-yard strike from Johnson to Troupe led to a 40-yard field goal by Bryant to put Tampa Bay ahead 10-6.

On his second Drive, Johnson tried to hit Jackson down the left sidelines with a deep pass, but Texans cornerback Antwan Molden was flagged for a 31-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Johnson hit tight end Daniel Fells with a 13-yard gain down to the Houston 12. The drive stalled at the 11 three plays later and Bryant came out to connect on a 29-yard field goal to increase Tampa Bay’s lead to 13-6 with 9:10 left in the game.

Bryant finished the evening with three straight field goals after Houston turned the ball over on downs and Johnson helped guide the Bucs down the field with a seven-play, 22-yard drive that was capped off by a 31-yard field goal. With 1:01 left in the game, Tampa Bay’s lead swelled to 16-6.

Johnson finished the game 8-of-13 for 85 yards.

After a very quiet preseason, the Buccaneers were expecting rookie receiver and return man Dexter Jackson to step against Houston and the second-round pick didn’t disappoint. His biggest play was an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Jackson fielded the ball at the Tampa Bay 17 and hit full speed by his third step as he motored untouched down the left sidelines for a score that gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead. The last preseason punt return for a touchdown was a 91-yarder in 1996 by Nilo Silvan against Miami. The last time the Bucs returned a punt for a touchdown in the regular season was by Joey Galloway in 2004 against New Orleans. Jackson also had a 13-yard reverse and two catches for 17 yards against Houston.

Tampa Bay was clinging to a six-point lead with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter when Houston failed to convert a fourth down from its own 35-yard line thanks to the Bucs’ stingy defense. Tampa Bay took over from there and moved down the field to allow Matt Bryant to drill a 31-yard field goal to put his team up 16-6 with 1:01 left in the game.

Quarterback Chris Simms threw his first interception of the preseason and finished 9-of-15 for 71 yards. … Rookie linebacker Geno Hayes picked off his first pass of the preseason in the fourth quarter. … Tampa Bay’s defense has been strong all preseason allowing only one opponent to gain more than 200 yards of total offense. That opponent was Jacksonville, which gained 201 yards last week. Houston only had 195 yards of total offense on Thursday night … Tampa Bay’s offensive line only gave up one sack (Simms). … Bucs cornerback Eugene Wilson led the team with five tackles and one sack – the lone sack of the night for Tampa Bay. … Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah led the Bucs with three special teams tackles. … Tampa Bay converted 44 percent (8-of-18) of its third downs, while Houston only converted 17 percent (2-of-12). … The Bucs outgained the Texans 330-195 in total yards. … Tampa Bay outrushed Houston 129-58, led by Kenneth Darby’s 55 yards on 16 carries (3.4 avg.). Michael Bennett had 48 yards on 13 carries (3.7 avg.). … Tight end Ben Troupe had 52 yards on four catches, including a long of 29.

With Tampa Bay missing some of its starters, the announced starting lineup for the Texans game was as follows:

WR Brian Clark
TE Daniel Fells
LT Anthony Davis
LG Brian Johnson
C Dan Buenning
RG Chris Denman
RT Dennis Roland
TE Ben Troupe
WR Maurice Stovall
RB Michael Bennett
QB Luke McCown

LE Charles Bennett
NT Dre Moore
UT Greg Peterson
RE Patrick Chukwurah
SLB Quincy Black
MLB Adam Hayward
WLB Geno Hayes
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Eugene Wilson
FS Will Allen
SS Sabby Piscitelli

Tampa Bay was holding all of its starters, in addition to backup quarterback Brian Griese, backup receivers Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant, and backup linebacker Matt McCoy, out of action on Thursday night.

Tampa Bay’s most significant injury was to second-year safety Sabby Piscitelli, who sprained his right knee on defense in the third quarter. He was seen icing his knee on the bench afterwards and did not return to the game.

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Texans game at Reliant Stadium was 70,011 but the stadium was only two-thirds full. The game was played with the retractable roof closed.

The Buccaneers finished their 2008 preseason with a 3-1 record and will travel to New Orleans to kickoff the regular season on September 7 against the Saints, who finished the preseason 2-2. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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