Texans' offense dismal in loss to Bucs
The Houston Chronicle, published 15 December 2003

Questions about the Texans' struggling offense were met with blank stares, which seemed appropriate considering blanks are all they've been shooting over the past nine quarters, equaling the longest touchdown drought in their brief history. Including Sunday's 16-3 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Texans haven't ventured into the end zone since Domanick Davis' touchdown run in the third quarter of their come-from-behind victory over Atlanta on Nov. 30.

Not surprisingly, that's the last time quarterback David Carr was on the field, coming off the bench despite a bum shoulder to rescue the Texans after Tony Banks broke his right hand. Carr seemingly hoped against hope that he would be in the starting lineup against the Bucs, but after watching him struggle to throw across his body at a walk-through, Texans coach Dom Capers decided to stick with rookie Dave Ragone.

Pinning the loss or the ineffectiveness of the offense on Ragone would be unfair on a day when several Texans left plays on the field. Andre Johnson turned a potential big play -- and possibly a touchdown -- into a dropped pass and missed an opportunity to make an exceptional catch on another near long-gainer. The offensive line continued to struggle, Davis was shut down in the second half and a gritty effort by the defense was wasted on a dreary day at Raymond James Stadium.

"I don't have the answers," said Texans receiver Jabar Gaffney, who didn't catch a pass Sunday and has just two receptions in the last two games. "Obviously, we're struggling and we have to turn this around. I don't care who you are. If you don't score touchdowns, you're not going to win. The frustrating thing is that we know we can do so much better than this, because we were doing it earlier in the season. Three points isn't going to get it done."

The Texans (5-9) were in danger of being shut out for the second time in their 30 games and the second time in as many weeks before Kris Brown's 38-yard field goal in the third quarter. It came at the end of their only drive that ended in Bucs territory. Three of the Texans' nine possessions produced negative yards, and four ended without a first down. "Not to take anything away from (the Bucs) because they are a good defense, but I think a big majority of it was our not executing," Texans center Steve McKinney said. "There were plays there to be made. We missed some big plays we could have had, and things like that change the landscape of the game. "It really could have changed things up. It's frustrating, but next week we're going to get it rolling. We'll get all of our guys back, get (Carr) back; get everybody back and we'll turn this thing around to end the season."

Ragone, who likely will return to the bench next week when Carr is expected to start against Tennessee, guided the offense to just seven first downs and 107 yards. The Texans had minus-2 net passing yards at halftime. Ragone completed nine of 17 passes for 64 yards and was sacked five times, but his performance was an improvement over last week's debut and his numbers would have been better if he could have connected on at least one of his three long passes to Johnson. "To be honest, we had respect for them, but we felt we had an opportunity to have a dominating defensive effort," John Lynch said. "That's what we really expected out of ourselves."

The Bucs, who rolled up 398 yards of total offense and kept their playoff hopes alive by improving to 7-7, scored on four of their first six possessions, including an 18-yard touchdown run by Thomas Jones to cap their first drive. The final score would have been more lopsided if not for the Texans' stingy defense. After Jones' touchdown, five other Tampa Bay drives ended inside the Texans' 25 but produced just nine points on three field goals by Martin Gramatica. Eric Brown blocked a field goal to snuff one of the other two deep penetrations, and the other ended with the final gun. Even then, the Bucs appeared to be trying to put more points on the board, which peeved Texans guard Todd Washington but didn't surprise him. "Nothing he does surprises me," Washington said of Jon Gruden, who cut Washington after five seasons with the organization. "But everything comes around in due time."

Washington and the Texans can only hope the same is true for an offense that looked much improved during the first half of the season but has been reminiscent of the not-so-good old days of 2002 in recent weeks. "We have to go back to work and figure out a way to make more plays and execute better," Capers said. "The credibility of the team this time of the year is based on the effort they give. We battled our tails off defensively in the second half. We fought to the last of the game, and as long as we have that effort, our day will come."

Unfortunately for the Texans, who close the season with home games against Tennessee and Indianapolis, Sunday was not that day.