Texans dominate Bucs 37-9 for fourth straight win
Explosive on offense, stingy on defense and solid on special teams, too.
The Houston Texans have embraced a total team concept in climbing to the top of the AFC South standings and are confident they're good enough to stay there.
''I've been here five years, and team has a whole different attitude,'' receiver Jacoby Jones said after Sunday's 37-9 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers extended the team's winning streak to four games and Houston (7-3) to its best record through 10 games heading into the club's bye.
''I always say the offense rolls, the defense holds and the special teams stay special,'' Jones added. ''All three phases stick together.''
Jones scored on an 80-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage, Arian Foster scored a TD rushing and also turned a short pass into his second 78-yard TD catch of the season, and the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense made Matt Schaub's job easier with four sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The Texans' winning streak matches a franchise record set 2009, and they've done it without star receiver Andre Johnson, who sat out for the sixth straight week because of a right hamstring injury.
''There's a sense of confidence. There's a hunger that we're never satisfied. I think that's the biggest thing. Every week when we come into practice, we always want to be better,'' defensive end J.J. Watt said.
''It's a lot of fun. Guys getting sacks, guys getting fumble recoveries, guys getting interceptions,'' Watt added. ''I imagine it's fun to watch for the fan because I'm loving it as a player.''
The Texans lead their division by 1 1/2 games over second-place Tennessee and may get Johnson back when they travel to Jacksonville in two weeks. After losing two straight without Schaub's favorite target, Houston has put together an impressive winning streak by getting contributions from a lot of different players.
''It will be exciting to get him back in the huddle. After missing some time, our guys have really stepped up and when we get him back at full strength it will be full speed ahead,'' Schaub said. ''It will be a boost of energy and enthusiasm for everybody when we get him back out on the field.''
The bye figures to give others a chance to get healthy, too.
''It was important today that we got to this point,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ''We've been working really hard. ... We had five or six players that missed a whole week of practice, and they lined up and played. `We've got a good team thing going on right now.''
The Bucs (4-5), meanwhile, have lost three straight and four of five following a 3-1 start.
Josh Freeman threw three interceptions and was sacked four times before being replaced by Josh Johnson. Tampa Bay's offense didn't get into the end zone until the fourth quarter, and the struggling Bucs defense tackled poorly and yielded 268 yards in the first half and 420 overall.
''Terrible game. Completely, put the blame on me for this one. ... We started the game just like we finished it,'' Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said. ''Poor job by myself. I'll take complete responsibility for that. I refuse to believe that our guys are that bad, so it has to be my fault.''
Houston, which is ranked No. 1 in total defense for the first time, has limited opponents to just more than 10 points per game during its winning streak. After holding the Titans, Jaguars and Browns to fewer than 175 yards the previous three weeks, the Texans allowed Tampa Bay to get 231.
Foster and Tate each ran for more than 100 yards to key last week's 30-12 victory over Cleveland. They weren't as successful running this time, however the Texans did finish with 185 yards on the ground. Foster gained 84 on 17 carries and Tate wound up with 63 on 13 carries, including an 11-yard TD burst in the closing minutes.
''It feels great to be 7-3 going into the break, but 7-3 doesn't win you anything,'' Watt said. ''We have a lot more games to play, and we have a lot more goals to accomplish.''
Tampa Bay scored on Connor Barth's 55-yard field goal on the final play of the first half and Freeman's 9-yard TD pass to Preston Parker early in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made his debut for the Bucs, blocking an extra point after Houston's first touchdown and finishing with five tackles.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection was released by New England on Tuesday, claimed off waivers Wednesday and practiced with his new team for the first time on Thursday. Gerald McCoy's season-ending injury left the Bucs thin on the offensive line, and with backup Frank Okam still sidelined by a sore calf, the 350-pound Haynesworth moved into the starting lineup.
Houston's first three scoring drives covered 80, 80 and 90 yards. Foster had four receptions for 102 yards, and missed topping 100 yards rushing when he had a 39-yard gain wiped out by a penalty in the fourth quarter.
Schaub only attempted three passes after halftime, finishing 11 of 15 for 242 yards and no interceptions.
Freeman completed 15 of 35 passes for 170 yards. The Texans limited LeGarrette Blount to 34 yards rushing on 10 attempts.
''The last three weeks have been tough. We haven't won in about a month,'' Morris said. ''The guys right now are not playing well, and we've got to find a way to get better.''