The Bucs seized control of last week's game against the Saints when they scored a touchdown to close out the first half and scored another to begin the second half.
They had the same opportunity Sunday against the Texans. This time, though, they punted and then turned the ball over for a grand total of … zero points. Safety Quintin Demps' interception of Jameis Winston one minute into the third quarter not only kept the Bucs off the scoreboard but also swung the game firmly in the Texans' favor. The Bucs' offense never walked onto the field with the lead again.
Winston threw the interception on third down, a situation in which the Bucs struggled all afternoon, converting just one of 12 into first downs in the 19-9 loss.
"I've got to execute on third downs," he said after the game. "That's situational football that we work on every day in practice. I have to come through in those situations."
As you might expect from a rookie quarterback starting in his third NFL game, Winston was as uneven as his stat line (17-for-36, 261 yards, one touchdown, one interception) suggests. At times, he was accurate under pressure — in the second quarter, he delivered an 18-yard strike to Mike Evans just ahead of a possible hit from linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. Other times, he lacked touch, his passes glancing off his target's fingertips and nearly into a defender's arms.
The interception, though, was a head-scratcher, perhaps a case of relying too heavily on Evans, who missed Week 1 and was limited last week because of a hamstring injury. On a similar play three snaps earlier, he hit Evans on the outside as he cut in toward the middle for an 18-yard pickup.
After a Doug Martin run for 3 yards, Winston, looking to take advantage of the cushion cornerback Johnathan Joseph was giving Evans, hit the second-year receiver on a hitch route. But Evans dropped the pass, and instead of third-and-2 or so, the Bucs faced third-and-7. (Normally sure-handed — he dropped just four passes last season — Evans also dropped a 17-yard pass on third down that would have put the Bucs inside the Houston 30-yard line with about a minute left in the first half.)
On the third-and-7, there's a key difference in the Texans' alignment: Demps' positioning. Let's take a closer look.
On the first play of the drive, the Bucs come to the line with three receiving options — Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy and Luke Stocker — to Winston's left. The Texans counter with one safety deep. The other safety — Demps — is in the box and in front of Stocker. Upon the snap, he blitzes and linebacker Justin Tuggle assumes responsibility for Stocker.
On second-and-7, the Bucs again come to the line with three receiving options to Winston's left. This time, Demps is responsible for covering Stocker.
On third-and-7, tight end Brandon Myers replaces Stocker, and safety Eddie Pleasant will cover him if he runs a route. Joseph still gives Evans a cushion. Demps slides to the left side of the defense.
He drops into coverage and never takes his eyes off Evans. As soon as Evans cuts, Demps turns his head around. Winston throws the pass slightly behind Evans instead of in front of him, leading to an easy pick for Demps.
On the Texans' ensuing possession, the Bucs reinforced the themes of the day. On first down, Alfred Blue, on his way to 139 rushing yards, slashed through the defense for a 14-yard gain. Safety Chris Conte's face mask penalty tacked on 15 more and put the Texans deep inside Tampa Bay territory. The Bucs' 10 penalties cost them 84 yards, 36 more than Blue's season rushing total before Sunday's game.
Two plays later, William Gholston almost had his first sack of the season and Kwon Alexander almost picked off his second pass of the game. The Texans, thanks to excellent field position after the interception, still managed a field goal to secure a 10-9 lead, which turned out to be the only points they needed.
Almost: It's the difference between a losing team and a winning team.
"When you lose, you have too many penalties at the worst possible time, you drop balls, you don't intercept the ball, you let teams run the ball against you," coach Lovie Smith said. "All of these things normally lead to you losing the game."
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tometrics.