BUCS 17, TEXANS 9: The first unit again doesn't score a TD, and Martin Gramatica misses a field goal. The defense stays strong, though.
By RICK STROUD
Published September 3, 2004
HOUSTON - Just when, baby?
When will the Bucs' first-team offense under quarterback Brad Johnson score a touchdown? Not in the preseason.
The Bucs completed their preseason with a 17-9 win over the Texans on Thursday, but they will carry two troubling trends into the opener at Washington on Sept. 12.
The Bucs starters not only haven't found the end zone, their kicker still has trouble locating the goal posts.
Martin Gramatica continued his struggles by missing a 47-yard field goal wide right. It was the fourth miss in nine attempts during the preseason, spoiling another promising drive. In seven series under Johnson this preseason, the Bucs gained 247 yards on 53 plays, a respectable 4.7 yards per play. But they have no touchdowns, one interception, two punts and two field goals. Johnson, however, pronounced the Bucs ready for the Redskins.
"I feel very sharp," Johnson said. "All through training camp, all through the preseason games, I played just enough to be ready for the opener."
The Bucs offense has played short-handed for much of the preseason.
In fact, Thursday marked the first time three of the starting offensive linemen - tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie and guard Matt Stinchcomb - were in the lineup together.
Deese, who missed the first three games recovering from foot surgery, looked rusty. He gave up a pressure in the first series to linebacker Kailee Wong that prevented the Bucs from converting a third down.
"It was nice to see us get healthy and Deese finally get some playing time and get him ready for the opener against Washington," Johnson said. "I think we did a great job of converting on some third-down plays, taking the drives downfield."
All of the Bucs' points in the first half came after Brian Griese relieved Johnson in the first quarter.
Griese made his best case for being the No. 2 quarterback, driving the Bucs to a field goal and touchdown on his first two series against the Texans' starting defense.
But the biggest ovation of the night was reserved for Chris Simms, the former University of Texas quarterback. Simms continued to have the hot hand. On his first possession, he completed 4 of 6 passes for 34 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown to tight end Will Heller. He also threw his only interception of the preseason, forcing a ball deep to Charles Lee.
As a result, coach Jon Gruden might have a tough time deciding the No. 2 quarterback.
Griese looked sharp. He completed passes for first downs to Bill Schroeder and rookie Mark Clayton before a holding penalty on cornerback Aaron Glenn made it first and goal at the 2. But Earnest Graham was stuffed for no gain on two carries, and Griese's completion to Clayton went nowhere.
This time, Gramatica made a 20-yard field goal, the same distance as an extra point.
The Bucs defense got the ball right back when nose tackle Oliver Gibson recovered a fumble by quarterback Tony Banks at the Texans 12. Three plays later, Griese hit tight end Rickey Dudley for a 1-yard touchdown and 10-0 lead. Griese finished 12-of-16 for 110 yards and a touchdown.
"He's a good player," Gruden said. "He helped us score tonight.
"We played a lot of guys. I love what we're doing offensively. We threw the ball very, very good."
As much as the Bucs first-team offense has struggled to score a touchdown, their No. 1 defense has been stingy. Thursday, the Texans were limited to three field goals by Chris Brown.
"It was a good outing for us," defensive end Simeon Rice said. "We expect a lot out of this year, and it was a good showing tonight. We didn't go out and show the dominant performance that we wanted to, the three-and-outs.
"We made a turnover to get off the field. I think we are moving the ship in the right direction."
Thursday, the defense was at its best. It limited David Carr to 4-of-6 passing for 35 yards, including an interception by cornerback Mario Edwards.
Banks fared worse, losing a fumble then watching cornerback Ronyell Whitaker intercept a pass that went through the hands of receiver Sloan Thomas.
All and all, it was a successful preseason finale for the Bucs. They did not sustain any serious injuries, won their third game and evaluated some players.
Now they have to trim their roster by 18 players to the NFL limit of 53 for the regular season by 4 p.m. Sunday.