The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their fourth and final preseason game of the year to the Houston Texans on Thursday night, 16-13.
The Bucs, who are coming off an 11-5 regular season record and are attempting to defend their 2005 NFC South championship, finish the preseason with three straight losses and a 1-3 record. That losing record is Jon Gruden's first in five preseasons with Tampa Bay.
Bucs Rest Plenty of Starters The Bucs took the field for their fourth and final preseason game of the year in Houston without several starters.
The offense was without running back Cadillac Williams, wide receivers Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, tight end Alex Smith, right tackle Kenyatta Walker and fullback Mike Alstott.
Bucs starting quarterback Chris Simms played just one offensive series before being given the rest of the night off.
The defense was without defensive ends Simeon Rice, Greg Spires and Dewayne White, defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan, linebackers Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece, cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden, and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen.
Most of the players were held out as a precaution. Bucs wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones was held out of the game due to a sore ankle.
Buenning Injures Ankle Even on a night when it rested most of its starters, Tampa Bay didn't escape its fourth and final preseason game of the year without suffering a significant injury.
On Tampa Bay's first offensive series of the game, Bucs starting left guard Dan Buenning, who started all 16 regular season games as a rookie in 2005, suffered an injured ankle. He did not return to the game and was replaced by Jeb Terry.
The Buccaneers have not yet disclosed the severity of Buenning's ankle injury.
Gradkowski Ends Preseason On Strong Note Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski finished the preseason the same way he started it. Strong.
Gradkowski, who played behind Chris Simms and Tim Rattay on Thursday night, completed 13-of-17 passes for 90 yards and tossed one touchdown to tight end Tim Massaquoi while rushing for 43 yards on three carries vs. the Texans.
Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick out of Toledo, had an impressive preseason, completing 45-of-61 (73.7 percent) of his passes for 511 yards and tossing five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Rattay completed 12-of-27 (44.4 percent) passes and tossed no touchdowns and two interceptions in preseason.
The Bucs have yet to decide which player will serve as Simms' backup quarterback in Week 1.
Bryant Perfect On Field Goal Attempts Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant drilled both of his field goal attempts vs. Houston on Thursday evening. His first attempt, a 28-yarder, came in the second quarter. Bryant's second field goal try was a 24-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of field goal attempts, Bucs rookie defensive end Charles Bennett blocked a 34-yard attempt by Houston during the first half of Thursday's preseason game.
Third Down Woes Continue Just one week after converting just 2-of-14 (14.2 percent) of their third down attempts vs. Jacksonville, the Buccaneers struggled on third downs again in Houston, converting just 3-of-12 (25 percent) of their tries.
Before rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski entered the lineup, the Bucs offense struggled overall. In fact, the Bucs produced just 281 yards of offense vs. the Texans.
Texans Run Wild On Bucs Houston produced 327 yards of offense vs. Tampa Bay, and 153 of those yards came via the ground game. The Texans rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries (5.3 avg.) on Thursday night.
Roster Cuts Coming Tampa Bay must trim its roster from 75 to 53 players on Saturday . The Bucs will announce the 22 roster cuts sometime Saturday evening.
The Bucs kick off the 2006 regular season against the Baltimore Ravens in Tampa on Sunday, Sept. 10.