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The Bucs must wait a little longer to clinch the division title.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published December 10, 2007
[Brian Cassella | Times]
HOUSTON - Cracks kept forming in Luke McCown's voice.
In his performance, too.
The Bucs' backup quarterback apologized for having to repeatedly clear his throat, which was hoarse throughout his postgame news conference after Sunday's 28-14 loss to the Texans.
"Excuse my voice," McCown said.
Come to think of it, McCown can be excused for a lot of things that kept failing the Bucs on Sunday.
One week after rallying Tampa Bay to a thrilling win at New Orleans, the magic wore off McCown. Making his second straight start for the injured Jeff Garcia, McCown was sacked four times, fumbled away a shotgun snap he wasn't ready for and missed two open receivers with throws that could have tied the score.
In fact, the Texans scored half of their points off a pair of Tampa Bay turnovers and got a 97-yard kickoff return by Andre Davis at the start of the second half to snap the Bucs' four-game win streak.
This day, it was Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels who stole the show, passing for 209 yards and three touchdowns as Houston converted 10 of 17 third downs.
The loss dropped the Bucs to 8-5 and prevented them from clinching the NFC South title. But thanks to Carolina's loss, they can do so tonight if New Orleans loses to Atlanta.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden said doctors informed him that Garcia's back bruise was a two-week injury, so he held him out of Sunday's game. But Garcia will definitely be under center next week against the Falcons, he said.
"When we walk in the building today, No. 7 will be back," Gruden said of Garcia.
As for blowing a chance to earn a playoff spot by losing to the 6-7 Texans, Gruden preferred not to focus on the postseason that the Bucs haven't qualified for despite a 21/2game lead with three to play.
"We're going to take care of all those scenarios later," Gruden said. "We didn't play well enough to win. The goal is not necessarily to qualify for the playoffs. The goal is to win the championship.
"We have to play better than (Sunday) to do that. We've won two of our last three games with our backup quarterbacks. I'm looking forward to Jeff returning next week against the Falcons."
For good reason.
McCown wasn't as sharp Sunday as he was last week in New Orleans, when he completed his first 15 attempts en route to passing for 313 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Texans, McCown was 25-of-38 for 266 yards. But he failed to handle a snap from center John Wade in the third quarter, setting up Rosenfels' 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels that gave Houston a two-touchdown lead.
It was a shame, really, because just a few plays earlier, Greg White sacked Rosenfels for the third time and forced his second fumble.
"He made some tight throws," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said of Rosenfels, a seventh-year player who won his second start of the season in place of the injured Matt Schaub. "He made some unbelievable tight throws. He looked like Joe Montana firing it in there. Jesus Crimony, Sage. You're not supposed to be that good."
McCown opened the game with a hot hand, driving the Bucs to the Texans 34 for a third and 2. But consecutive running plays by Earnest Graham failed to pick up a yard, the second of which McCown said he should have prevented by calling timeout.
"They brought a free safety off the weakside, and it was a weakside run. In my thinking, it was an inches situation where we needed a foot, a foot and a half," McCown said. "And I felt like we could hammer it up in there."
The Texans turned the fourth-down stand into a 66-yard, 12-play drive for a touchdown - capped by a 4-yard screen pass to Andre Johnson.
The Bucs capitalized on White's first sack and forced fumble of Rosenfels, which came at the Texans 25. Graham, who scored two touchdowns, capped the march with a 4-yard run.
The Texans' second score also came off a Bucs turnover, on which Ike Hilliard fumbled at the Tampa Bay 23 when he was hit by safety Will Demps after a catch. Hilliard sustained a shoulder injury and did not return.
The Bucs answered Davis' second-half kickoff return with their best drive of the game, 69 yards in four plays capped by Graham's 11-yard touchdown run.
In fact, McCown had a great chance to tie the score later in the third quarter with the ball at the Texans 39. But he overthrew Alex Smith on a bootleg and missed Joey Galloway for a certain touchdown when his pass fell a foot in front of the receiver.
"The play-action bootleg, Alex pops open and kind of surprises me," McCown said. "He's not our first or primary option. So it kind of surprised me, and I pushed (the throw) a little wide of him. We had Joey Galloway down the left side, and I was just 6 inches or a foot too long on that."
Gruden dismissed any notion the Bucs took the Texans lightly given their cushion in the standings.
"There's no drop-off in focus," he said. "We missed a couple of tackles. We missed a couple of open receivers. I'm not going to get into lack of focus. This team is working their tail off. I want to say that perfectly clear. If anyone deserves blame, it's me."Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bucs fell to 2-6 against teams from the AFC South since realignment:
Oct. 7 at Colts 33-14 L
Oct. 14 Titans 13-10 W
Oct. 28 Jaguars 24-23 L
Sunday at Texans 28-14 L
Oct. 6 Colts 38-35 L (OT)
Nov. 30 at Jaguars 17-10 L
Dec. 14 Texans 16-3 W
Dec. 28 at Titans 33-13 L
[Last modified December 9, 2007, 22:52:40]