Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Houston Texans: Tampa Bay Grades, Notes & Quotes
The loss drops the Bucs to 1-2 on the year, while the Texans grab their first win of the 2015 NFL season.
Missed field goals were the most glaring source of frustration for Tampa Bay, as new kicker Kyle Brindza missed three attempts and bounced an extra-point try off the upright. Despite hitting a 58-yard field goal early in the game, Brindza's misses cost the Bucs 10 points, which would have left the game tied at the end of regulation.
Despite allowing no sacks and holding J.J. Watt and the Houston defense at bay for most of the afternoon, the Bucs simply couldn't capitalize on offense, converting just one of their 12 third-down attempts.
Despite averaging nearly a full yard more per play than the Texans, Tampa Bay was outgained by the home team 413-318, as Houston beat the Bucs in time of possession by nearly 13 minutes.
Houston started the scoring in the first quarter, as Ryan Mallett hit DeAndre Hopkins on a quick slant from five yards out to give the Texans a 7-0 lead after the extra point was converted. But the Bucs would bounce back with the next two scores, as Charles Sims followed up Brindza's long field goal with a dazzling 32-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
But that was the last the Bucs would see of the scoreboard, as the Texans slowly wore down a Tampa Bay defense that was forced to stay on the field for too long. A pair of Randy Bullock field goals and a 20-yard touchdown run from Alfred Blue gave the Texans a lead they would never relinquish.
Alfred Blue carried the ball 31 times for 139 yards, while Hopkins hauled in eight passes for 101 yards. Mike Evans led the Bucs with seven receptions for 101 yards, while Doug Martin led the visitors in rushing with 46 yards on 14 carries.
Jameis Winston was inconsistent all afternoon, completing just 17 of his 36 passes for 261 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The rookie quarterback wasn't helped by a handful of drops from his receivers, including multiple head-scratchers from Evans.
Position Grades for Bucs
Tampa Bay's defense got the job done for most of the afternoon, but the offense just couldn't take advantage of the opportunities they were given to take over the game.
Winston made a few quality throws, but he was erratic all afternoon, struggling with ball placement and consistency. He wasn't helped much by his receiving corps, a unit that was plagued by multiple drops. Mike Evans looked particularly rusty, though he did top 100 yards receiving after not registering a reception last week.
Tampa Bay's offensive line performed admirably considering the talent they were facing, especially in pass protection. The Bucs didn't surrender a single sack, and even though J.J. Watt and company made a handful of tackles for loss against the run, it was clearly an over-achieving effort from Tampa Bay up front.
The running backs didn't have a ton of running room, but there were flashes from both Doug Martin and Charles Sims, including a 32-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Sims for Tampa Bay's only end-zone trip of the day.
On defense, Tampa Bay simply couldn't replicate the pressure or big plays it was able to generate last week. After notching four sacks and three takeaways against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, the Bucs managed just one of each against the Texans.
Special teams played a huge role in Sunday's loss for Tampa Bay, particularly in the kicking game. After booming a 58-yard field goal to get the Bucs on the scoreboard, Kyle Brindza would miss two manageable field goals and an extra point. Brindza would miss from 57 yards late in the game, as well. In all, missed kicks left 10 points on the field for Tampa Bay, the exact number it would have needed to tie the game.
Coaching continues to get a poor grade due to a laundry list of penalties, many of them coming at particularly inopportune times, extending drives for their opponent and costing them yardage.
Penalties, 3rd Downs Still a Struggle for Bucs
The Bucs continue to shoot themselves in the foot in many ways, none more painful than a boatload of penalties and a horrible conversion rate on third downs.
Tampa Bay was penalized 10 times for 84 yards, costing itself valuable yardage and showing a lack of discipline that simply must be corrected by the coaching staff. Multiple defensive holding penalties extended drives for the Texans, keeping the Tampa Bay defense on the field and contributing to their lack of energy and effectiveness in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs also couldn't sustain drives by converting on third downs, going just 1-for-12 in such situations. Poor accuracy from Jameis Winston and multiple drops from his receivers contributed to an awful day for the Tampa Bay offense when it came to making plays in the most important situations.
Kicking Woes Cost Bucs Big
After beating out both Patrick Murray and Connor Barth at the end of the preseason, Brindza had looked solid through the first two regular-season games as Tampa Bay's new kicker.
But after hitting a 58-yarder to open the scoring for the Bucs on Sunday, the newcomer took a huge step back, missing four straight kicks—three field goals and an extra point—three of which were from extremely manageable distances.
Brindza's missed kicks left 10 points on the field for Tampa Bay, which hurts even worse considering the Bucs lost by the same margin. Brindza has proven he has impressive power and distance, but he'll have to show more consistency if he wants to keep the job moving forward.
Bucs Offensive Line Holds Watt Sackless, Breaks Streak
There was plenty of talk about how the Bucs would handle J.J. Watt this week, but despite their recent struggles, Tampa Bay's offensive line held him in check for most of the game.
Watt made a few plays in the run game, but went without a sack for the first time in eight games.
Nobody else in a Texans jersey brought down Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston behind the line of scrimmage either, as the Bucs performed admirably up front all afternoon. Even in a losing effort, one of the weakest units on the entire Tampa Bay team turned in a promising performance against a defense that features arguably the best defensive player in the NFL.
The Bucs won't face a tougher individual challenge at the line of scrimmage for the rest of the season, so Tampa Bay fans should be encouraged by the play of a unit that is breaking in two rookie starters.
QB Jameis Winston on Offensive Line's Impressive Play
Most expected the Texans defensive line to dominate the Bucs up front, leading to plenty of pressure and sacks on Winston.
But Houston was unable to tally a single sack all game long on Sunday, and Winston says he failed to take advantage, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
The positive thing is that our offensive line did amazing. I've got to take the blame for that. I've got to be able to convert on third downs; that's a big thing. Situational football is me being able to make throws on third down. They have a great defense powered by their defensive line, but our offensive line did amazing. I just have to make some plays for us to win the game.
Winston's accuracy and decision-making was all over the place, as the offense struggled to seize the opportunities provided by a strong performance up front and by the defense. Winston's still just a rookie with three NFL starts under his belt, so Bucs fans will have to hope he only gets better from here.
Head Coach Lovie Smith on Kicking Struggles
After a strong performance in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints, Bucs kicker Kyle Brindza missed four of his six kicks on Sunday, leaving too many points on the table for a Tampa Bay team that desperately needed them.
But asked after the game about Brindza's job being in jeopardy, head coach Lovie Smith reiterated his confidence in the young Notre Dame product, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:
No. Kyle is our kicker. He, like a lot of us, had a disappointing day (Sunday). That hasn't been the case. You're going to have off days, and this was an off day. When a player has an off day, we need to rally around him in other ways, and that's what we weren't able to do (Sunday).
Brindza showed off his huge leg by booming a 58-yard field goal early in the game, but he clearly lost confidence over the course of the game with each missed kick. Bucs fans will be hoping he bounces back at home next week in a key division matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
WR Mike Evans on Not Making Enough Plays
After missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury and failing to register a reception last week, Mike Evans led the Bucs with seven catches for 101 yards on Sunday, but he clearly showed some rust.
Evans had multiple drops in key situations, and he knows he missed too many opportunities that could have helped the offense, per Stroud:
I put this on me. There were a lot of plays I should've made on third downs that I didn't come up with. The offense played great. It was up to me to make a couple of plays. That could've put us over the hump. There were a couple of tough catches I could've made. If I want to be the best, I've got to make those plays, and I didn't make most of them.
Evans was targeted a staggering 17 times, but Winston was 0-for-7 when throwing Evans' way on third downs. He'll need to shake off the rust quickly if he wants to live up to the high expectations following his impressive rookie season in 2014.