TAMPA, Fla. -- All along, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers insisted they'd never give up on their season.
"We could have mailed it in a long time ago," receiver Keenan McCardell said Sunday after the Super Bowl champions beat the Houston Texans 16-3 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. "We lost three straight. Everybody was writing us off. But we've hung in there."
The victory gave the Bucs (7-7) their first two-game winning streak and lifted the defending champs to .500 for the first time in six weeks.
To earn one of two NFC wild-card berths, though, they'll likely have to win remaining games against Atlanta and Tennessee, plus get lots of outside help.
"Our job is to keep winning," safety John Lynch said. "We need some help, but we're doing our part, and that's big."
Thomas Jones ran for 134 yards and a touchdown in his second start for the Bucs, who have won three of four since ending a three-game skid that left them in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Jones, who's trying to jumpstart his career after three disappointing seasons in Arizona, scored on an 18-yard run in the first quarter. Martin Gramatica added field goals of 36, 23 and 26 yards.
The Bucs defense played without All-Pro tackle Warren Sapp, but Houston (5-9) wasn't able to take advantage and gained just 107 yards. The Texans avoided being shut out for the second straight game with Kris Brown's 38-yard field goal in the third quarter.
The win capped another tumultuous week for the Bucs, who are on the verge of losing general manager Rich McKay because of his differences with coach Jon Gruden, who has grown tired of questions about his relationship with the GM.
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank said Sunday he plans to meet with McKay about becoming the Falcons' GM.
"There's a lot of unnamed sources, quoting our people about who my player is and his player was. Hey, these players are our players, and we like every one of them. I want to reiterate that to everybody," Gruden said.
"It's unfortunate that there is some unsettled business right now. I'll just finish on record as saying I've got great respect for Rich McKay, tremendous respect. I've said that since I've been here."
Houston played for the second straight week without injured quarterback David Carr and is still looking for its first touchdown with rookie Dave Ragone running the offense. The Texans were held to 124 yards in a 27-0 loss at Jacksonville.
Ragone completed 9 of 17 passes for just 64 yards and was sacked five times. Domanick Davis returned to Houston's lineup after sitting out the previous week, but was held to 56 yards rushing on 16 carries.
The Texans were outgained 210-46 in the first half, although Houston might have been able to make a game of it if rookie Andre Johnson had been able to hang onto three passes that could have made a difference.
"That's the nature of this game," Ragone said. "We're not going to sit here and say those three plays changed the game because the 60 other plays we were out there we could've done something different. As young players, we all made mistakes."
A former first-round draft pick who was a bust with the Cardinals, Jones has been impressive since replacing Michael Pittman as the Bucs' starting tailback. He ran for 89 yards in last week's 14-7 victory at New Orleans, and carried 34 times to help dominate time of possession against the Texans.
Jones is one of several young players whose playing time has increased because of injuries, the deactivation of Keyshawn Johnson and Gruden's desire to do some evaluating for next season.
"As I've said all along, we're trying to discover juts what kind of back this is," Gruden said. "The only way to truly find out is you give him an opportunity."
Brad Johnson completed 17 of 28 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions for Tampa Bay. McCardell had five receptions for 59 yards, including a 14-yarder that put him over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career.
- McKay, who has been given permission to talk to other teams about becoming their GM, did not attend the game.
- Jones' TD was Tampa Bay's longest scoring run in two seasons.
- Bucs DE Greg Spires, who didn't have a sack in Tampa Bay's first 12 games, has three in the last two games.
- Houston's 107 yards of total offense was the second-lowest all-time for a Bucs opponent. Tampa Bay limited Kansas
- Tampa Bay's takeaway streak -- longest in the NFL -- ended at 54 games.
The Associated Press News Service
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