Week 16 hasn’t been kind to the Buccaneers throughout this decade. In fact, they haven’t won in the penultimate week of their season since 2010 — the first year of the decade. Riding a four-game winning streak and having won five of their last six, they had a chance to break that odd Week 16 drought in a rare Saturday afternoon matchup with the Houston Texans.
Houston came into Raymond James Stadium with a chance to clinch the AFC South, while Tampa Bay was just looking to stick to its winning ways in hopes of finishing the season strong. Things were set up well for the Texans in this one, largely due to the health — or lack thereof — in the Buccaneer locker room.
The last few weeks have been great for winning, but they haven’t been great for hamstrings. Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Chris Godwin, and Jordan Whitehead have all gone down with hamstring injuries, making all of them inactive for Saturday’s game.
Houston came into the matchup as a three-point road favorite, while ESPN’s FPI surprisingly gave Tampa Bay a 54% chance to come away victorious. Could the Bucs really overcome their injuries and Week 16 nightmares to extend their win streak and head into Christmas on a happy note?
A pitiful start to the game for the Bucs that included four turnovers put them in a 17-3 hole, but they came storming back to end the first half. They scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to tie the game at 17-17. The second half was tightly contested, with the two teams trading field goals in the third quarter. The Texans took a 23-20 lead on another field goal midway through the fourth before their defense came up big. Another late turnover by Tampa Bay ended the game and its win streak. With the win, Houston clinched the AFC South.
The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to receive, sending the offense out there to start things off. After a Dare Ogunbowale return was stopped at the 17, they went to Ronald Jones II on the first play. He was stuffed for no gain, then on second down, Jameis Winston got his “good luck” first-drive interception out of the way. Except this time, Bradley Roby picked it off and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, it was 7-0 Houston.
After a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Tampa Bay was backed up to its own 12. On first down, Winston threw deep for Breshad Perriman, but it fell incomplete. Bruce Arians challenged for pass interference, but after review, the no-call stood. Two plays later, Winston was intercepted again, this time by Justin Reid. The ball was returned for a touchdown, but an illegal blindside block brought it back to the Tampa Bay 25. Regardless, the Texans had a chance to go up by two scores less than five minutes into the game.
The Buccaneer defense looked to have forced a field goal attempt after a 3rd & 8 incompletion, but what looked like a weak holding call on Jamel Dean gave the Texans a first down. But the defense didn’t let up from there, getting a stop at the 14 anyway. Ka’imi Fairbairn then came on to deliver a 32-yard field goal to put Houston up 10-0 with 11:29 left in the first quarter.
The Bucs started with poor field position yet again on their third drive, but it didn’t matter this time. Jones got the carry on first down and took it 49 yards, eluding tacklers and throwing them out of his way on what was the best run of his career.
Watch @Rojo go!— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2019
49-yard gain for the @Buccaneers running back. #GoBucs
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A few plays later, the Bucs went for it on 4th & 2 at the 28 and converted with a nice Peyton Barber run, but Ishmael Hyman was called for holding. After the ball was backed up, Matt Gay had his 54-yard field goal attempt blocked.
After a 19-yard return on the blocked kick, Houston once again started with good field position. But the Tampa Bay defense continued to step up, having to get two stops on the same drive thanks to another officiating disaster. Lavonte David knocked the ball loose on a second down play, but the officials had blown the play dead prematurely. Arians wasn’t allowed to challenge it, which certainly fired him up again. The Bucs ended up forcing a punt anyway, but they started at their own 10 instead of closer to midfield.
After a four-yard run by Jones on first down, Winston hit Perriman down the sideline for a 27-yard gain to the 41. From there, the offense continued to shoot itself in the foot. Jones dropped a screen pass, but it didn’t matter anyway due to a holding call on Ali Marpet. A five-yard run by Jones and a 13-yard catch by O.J. Howard set up a 3rd & 2, then Winston hit Ogunbowale for a gain of 19.
From the 32, Winston missed on three straight passes to set up a 50-yard field goal, which Gay connected on. That got Tampa Bay on the board, cutting the deficit to 10-3 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Texans started their next drive at the 25, picking up two yards on a Carlos Hyde first down run before a four-yard pass from Deshaun Watson to Will Fuller set up a 3rd & 4 on the other side of the quarter break. Somehow, the Bucs trailed just 10-3 after 15 minutes of game time (and about 45 minutes of real time).
Ndamukong Suh nearly sacked Watson to open the second quarter, but the former Clemson star escaped for a gain of nine. But on the next play, David once again knocked the ball loose. This time, the officials couldn’t blow it dead. Devin White scooped it up and returned it to the 31-yard line to set the Bucs up with great field position.
ILB Lavonte David forces his third fumble of the season and the 21st of his NFL career. His 21 forced fumbles since 2012 are the sixth-most in the NFL during that time.— Buccaneers Communications (@BuccaneersComms) December 21, 2019
ILB Devin White scooped up the fumble for his third fumble recovery of the season.
Buuuut... Winston threw an interception on first down — his third of the day. Houston regained possession at its own 14.
Yet again, the Tampa Bay defense stepped up. The Texans went nowhere before having to punt it away. Starting from their own 30, the Bucs went back to the ground. But they also went back to turning the ball over, as Barber fumbled it away at the 42.
The @HoustonTexans have their fourth takeaway of the first half! #WeAreTexans— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2019
: #HOUvsTB on @NFLNetwork
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This time, the Tampa Bay defense couldn’t bail the offense out. On a 3rd & 7 from the 11, Watson hit Darren Fells for a first down inside the 1. On the next play, Hyde found the end zone. After the Fairbairn PAT, Houston had a 17-3 lead with 9:22 left in the first half.
The Buccaneer offense continued to sputter on its next drive. Winston found Howard for an 18-yard gain to start it, but there was no movement after that. On 3rd & 7 at the 46, Winston escaped the pocket and looked to run, but a missed block by Ogunbowale prevented any shot at a first down. Bradley Pinion’s punt was returned 10 yards to the Houston 20 to set the Texans up with 7:08 left in the second quarter.
For its part, the Tampa Bay defense kept playing hard. After a short run by Hyde on first down, Jason Pierre-Paul got to Watson for the team’s first sack of the day. The Texans then came up one yard short on 3rd & 13, forcing them to punt from their own 29.
Winston continued to find Howard to start the next offensive drive, hitting him for a gain of 15. Then, facing a 3rd & 10 a few plays later, he found Justin Watson for a gain of 12 yards to the 46. A big 32-yard pass to Perriman followed, but it was overturned after a Houston challenge. But the offense responded, with Winston picking up a first down with throws to Watson and Perriman.
Just before the two-minute warning, Winston found newcomer Codey McElroy for a 30-yard gain to the Texans’ 4-yard line.
On the next play, Jones took the handoff and went off-tackle for a touchdown. With Gay’s extra point, the deficit was down to just 17-10 with 1:57 left in the half.
Rojo slashes in for touchdown No. 6️⃣ of the season. pic.twitter.com/PePSaO7wC1— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 21, 2019
The Texans picked up a first down early on their next drive before the defense came through once again. Watson looked for Kenny Stills deep down the field, but Jamel Dean jumped up and picked the ball off. He returned it 31 yards to the Houston 39 to give the Bucs a shot to tie the game late in the first half.
A wild first half continues!— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2019
Jamel Dean picks off Watson on the deep pass! #GoBucs
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The offense took advantage, with Winston and Hyman linked up for a gain of 31 yards to the 8 before Winston rolled to his right and found Justin Watson in traffic for a touchdown a few plays later. Gay’s PAT tied the game at 17-17 with 13 seconds left in the first half.
┳┻|— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 21, 2019
┻┳| •.•) Tie ballgame.
The Texans went ahead and took a knee to head to the locker room in a 17-17 tie.
Houston started the second half with the ball at its own 25 after a touchback. Deshaun Watson found Stills for a gain of 12 on first down to get the offense moving, then found DeAndre Hopkins for seven more. He went back to Stills on the next play for a gain of 21, getting the ball to the Tampa Bay 35.
Tampa Bay’s defense eventually buckled down to force a 4th & 1, but Watson converted it with a two-yard run to the 24. However, he followed the conversion with back-to-back completions before a delay of game penalty pushed the Texans back to a 3rd & 15 at the 29. The pass rush nearly got to Watson on third down, but he wiggled out and ran for 19 yards to the 10. To Tampa Bay’s credit, it didn’t crumble. A three-yard run and two incompletions brought Fairbairn on for a 25-yard field goal. His kick was good, giving the Texans a 20-17 lead with 9:30 left in the third.
Ogunbowale returned the ensuing kickoff to the 20 to set up Winston and the offense, who had scored on back-to-back drives to end the first half. A quick 3rd & 8 didn’t stop the Bucs, as Winston connected with Brate for a 12-yard gain to the 34. The drive nearly stalled there, with a sack and a drop by Jones setting up a 3rd & 13. But Winston took matters into his own hands on the next play, escaping the pocket and taking off for a gain of 14 and a first down.
After another first down into Texans territory, the Bucs kept rolling. A six-yard catch and a one-yard run by Jones set up a 3rd & 3 at the 38, which Winston converted with a six-yard pass to Ogunbowale. First down at the 32. A nine-yard pass to Watson on 2nd & 10 then brought up a 3rd & 1, which Jones couldn’t convert. That brought Matt Gay out for a 41-yard field goal attempt, which he made to tie the game at 20-20. The scoring drive for Tampa Bay consisted of 16 plays for 57 yards in 8:17.
The next Texans drive started with an illegal use of hands to the face penalty on the offense, which pushed them back to a 1st & 20 at their own 15. After Watson escaped pressure for a one-yard run on first down, Pierre-Paul picked up his second sack of the day to bring up a 3rd & 23 on the other side of the quarter break. Through three, we had a 20-20 tie.
The Bucs finished off the stop to start the fourth quarter, leading to a punt that was returned to the 32 by Spencer Schnell. On first down, Winston and Perriman linked up for a 16-yard gain to the 48. But the drive fell apart there, leading to a Pinion punt that went out of bounds at the Houston 12.
After a quick first down for the Texans on their next drive, they picked up their biggest play of the game — a 39-yard pass from Watson to DeAndre Carter. A couple of plays later, Carlton Davis was flagged for holding to give the Texans another first down at the Tampa Bay 20.
The Bucs’ red zone defense stepped up from there, eventually forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt by Fairbairn. He nailed it to give Houston a 23-20 lead with 7:11 to go in the game.
After Ogunbowale dropped the kickoff, his return was stopped at the 17-yard line. With under seven minutes left and the Houston offense showing it’s plenty capable of burning some clock, the drive was an important one for the Bucs. It started off slow, with Jones picking up three yards on back-to-back plays to set up a third down. But Winston picked it up with a seven-yard pass to Justin Watson near the sideline.
On the next play, Winston found Jones over the middle for a 23-yard gain to the Texans’ 47. A nine-yard pass to Perriman later set up a 3rd & 1, but Jones was dropped for a loss of two on the play. With the clock under four minutes, Tampa Bay had to go for it. Winston had Brate for an easy first down, but the ball went in and out of the tight end’s hands for a rare drop.
That put the pressure back on the defense, with the Texans taking over at their own 40 needing to burn only 3:34 to win the game. The Bucs did have all three of their timeouts remaining, but it felt like they had just missed their biggest chance at stealing the game.
Pierre-Paul continued his big day with a first-down sack of Watson, his third of the day. Then, after an 11-yard pass to Stills and a five-yard pass to Carter, the Texans faced a 4th & 1 at the 49. After the offense initially stayed on the field, the Bucs called a timeout. After the timeout, Houston elected to punt.
Pinned at its own 10, the Tampa Bay offense took the field with 2:21 left. After a first-down incompletion, Winston found Perriman for a 19-yard gain to the 29. Perriman took a shot to the head on the play and he had to come off the field, but no flag was thrown. That brought up the two-minute warning.
Perriman came back onto the field after the two-minute warning and almost immediately made an impact. After Winston was sacked on first down, he looked to Perriman on second down and the de-facto top receiver brought in a nice catch near the sideline. But on the next play, Jahleel Addae made a diving interception to close out the game.
The Texans ran out the clock from there to finish off a 23-20 win, clinching the AFC South and ending the Bucs’ four-game winning streak.
Quick Notes & Stats
- The first half was an absolutely wild one, with the Bucs outgaining the Texans 281-83. They still faced a 14-point deficit at one point thanks to four turnovers. The Tampa Bay defense forced two of its own turnovers to keep the team in it, making for six total turnovers between the two teams through 30 minutes of play.
- Jameis Winston was 12-of-26 for 198 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the first half. He finished the day 25-of-48 for 335 yards, one touchdown and four picks.
- O.J. Howard had a nice first half, catching three passes for 46 yards. He disappeared in the second half, getting held without a catch.
- Breshad Perriman was once again Winston’s go-to receiver, catching seven passes for 102 yards. It was his second straight 100-yard game.
- Ronald Jones II’s big run early in the game pumped up his stat line, as he finished the game with 77 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He also caught three passes for 32 yards.
- Justin Watson stepped up with a nice game, bringing in five passes for 43 yards and a score.
- With Jamel Dean’s second-quarter interception, the Bucs became the only team in the NFL to have two rookies with multiple on the season. Dean has two, while Sean Murphy-Bunting has three.
- Speaking of Murphy-Bunting, his sack-fumble of Watson in the second quarter made for the first sack and first forced fumble of his career.
- DeAndre Hopkins, one of the league’s top receivers, finished the first half with three catches for 10 yards on six targets.
- Lavonte David’s forced fumble — the one that counted (though the first one should have...) — was the 21st of his career. He is now three away from tying Derrick Brooks’ franchise record.
- David finished as Tampa Bay’s leading tackler, tallying 10 (eight solo), with one quarterback hit.
- Jason Pierre-Paul added three sacks to his 2019 total, bringing him to 6.5 in nine games.
- The Bucs finished the game with 435 to the Texans’ 229, but their five turnovers made the big difference.
- With the loss, Tampa Bay has now lost nine straight Week 16 games. Its last Week 16 win was a 38-15 win over Seattle in 2010.
The Buccaneers (7-8) will wrap up the 2019 regular season next Sunday (Dec. 29) at Raymond James Stadium, playing host to the Atlanta Falcons (5-9).