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Houston's Andre Johnson celebrates his 4-yard touchdown with Texan fans in the first quarter.
[Brian Cassella | Times]
Earnest Graham tied a team record with a rushing touchdown in his fifth straight game.
HOUSTON - One week after overcoming a slew of mistakes on the road against the Saints, the Bucs weren't so lucky Sunday. They got stopped on fourth and 2. They allowed a first-possession touchdown. They turned the ball over twice inside their 40and, on one of those, lost their most reliable possession receiver in the process. On the positive side, running back Earnest Graham scored a rushing touchdown for the fifth straight game. Here are five plays worth another look.
Fourth and stuffed
Rather than attempt a long field goal on the Bucs' opening possession, coach Jon Gruden elected to go for it on fourth and 2 from the Texans 34. But running back Earnest Graham was stopped for no gain for the second straight play, hit in the hole by safety Will Demps (not shown). "That's one of the toughest (decisions) in football, the 34-yard-line," Gruden said. "We had two shots. We felt pretty good about our short-yardage play selection. We didn't get it on third down, and we didn't get it on fourth down. I don't believe I would do it any differently. We were not going to punt. We chose to go with two runs in succession that we thought would get it done."
Texans set the tone
The Bucs had allowed only 34 first-quarter points entering Sunday. Only three teams had scored on their first possessions, and only Indianapolis scored a touchdown. But after the offense was stopped on fourth down, the defense gave up a 12-play, 66-yard drive capped by a 4-yard pass from Sage Rosenfels to Andre Johnson. In a three-receiver formation, Johnson went in motion from left to right and Rosenfels hit him with a quick screen pass. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon was blocked on the outside, and cornerback Ronde Barber, who followed Johnson in motion, was unable to stop it. The Bucs were in a zone defense, the worst possible scheme for the play, cornerback Brian Kelly said. "If you were ever caught in a situation where you'd want to change the coverage, that was it," he said. "If we knew they were going to run that play, we might change that coverage."
Graham runs for the score - again
Earnest Graham tied a team record with a rushing touchdown in his fifth straight game. He made it 7-7 early in the second from 4 yards with the Bucs' tried-and-true run play, 96 Power King. The play, on which Graham converted a late fourth down last week against the Saints, employs two tight ends and about a ton of blockers. "On crucial third- and fourth-down plays, down on the goal line, we have to be able to cap off drives," said Graham, who matched Errict Rhett, Reggie Cobb and Gary Anderson. "Just get a body on a body."
With the score tied at 7 midway through the second quarter, the Bucs converted on third and 7 from their 16 with a 12-yard pass from Luke McCown to Ike Hilliard. But Hilliard was hit hard under the chin by safety Will Demps and fumbled. The Texans converted the turnover into a touchdown. But the greater loss was Hilliard, an 11-year pro out of Florida who did not return. That elevated Michael Clayton to No. 2 receiver and Maurice Stovall to No. 3. Without Hilliard, McCown was 1-for-6 on third-down passes. "We lost Ike Hilliard, and it really compromised us," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's a clutch go-to guy for us, in third downs especially."
The shotgun snap
Center John Wade wasn't sure what happened and declined to offer an explanation until he reviewed the play. But for the first time this season, the Bucs botched a shotgun snap. Trailing 21-14 late in the third quarter, the Bucs faced third and 6 at their 38. Quarterback Luke McCown made several signals to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Suddenly, Wade's snap hit McCown in the hands and bounced away. The Texans' C.C. Brown recovered and returned it to the Bucs 17, setting up a touchdown. "I don't know, really. I don't know," Wade said. "It's me. It's (McCown). It's both of us. It doesn't make a difference who it is. It's wrong, and it needs to be fixed."