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For their own good
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HOUSTON - When a team trails at halftime, there is almost nothing like the chance for redemption that accompanies the start of the second half.
Suddenly, all things are possible again. It's a chance to correct the first-half mistakes. There is no better time to turn things around.
But all that promise disappeared for the Bucs on Sunday when Houston's Andre Davis returned the opening kickoff of the second half 97 yards for a touchdown, a development that proved a significant setback for a Tampa Bay team searching for a big play of its own.
"It was huge," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We talked about it at halftime. '... Nothing would be bigger than a return to start the third quarter. Let's give him a chance.' That play was huge."
It was not the play that finished off the Bucs. There were other contributing factors to the defeat - defensive breakdowns and turnovers among them. But the kick return increased the Texans' lead to 21-7, requiring the Bucs to alter their offensive approach.
The Bucs had not allowed a kick or punt return for a touchdown since Reggie Bush scored on a decisive 65-yard punt return at New Orleans in November 2006. Although there haven't been many special-teams letdowns recently, there will be plenty of regrets after this one.
The Texans used a four-man wedge in front of Davis, who stealthily tiptoed behind his blockers as Tampa Bay's coverage team approached. At the last possible moment, Davis broke to his right, took advantage of a block and turned the corner. From there, it seemed he scored untouched. Jermaine Phillips pursued the receiver down the sideline to no avail.
It came down to the Bucs breaking a basic principle of kick coverage: They lost containment.
"We've seen other teams try to run that wedge against us, and we've been able to shut it down," linebacker Ryan Nece said. But, "it's difficult to defend when you guess. If you try to anticipate what they're going to do, you put yourself in a bad position."
Especially when the guesses turn out wrong.
"I think we thought they were going to the middle," linebacker Adam Hayward said. "(Davis) was just smart to bounce outside and make a play."
Even still, there remained a chance to salvage the play. But Maurice Stovall got locked up with a blocker, allowing Davis to skirt him and turn up the field. Making the tackle would have been something of a feat for Stovall, but the second-year player who has become a star on special teams expects to make such plays.
"It's definitely realistic for me to make that play," he said. "I have to keep containment and keep my outside arm free. But the defender got a good block on me, and the returner did a good job tightroping the sideline. That's a play I have to make."