For the most part, the third phase of the game has been a winning edge for the Buccaneers this season, with the team excelling in such special teams areas as kickoff touchbacks, field goal percentage and punting distance. However, a blocked field goal and another missed three-point attempt last Sunday in Oakland contributed to making a potential blowout a little too close to comfort, as the visiting Bucs sweated out a 42-32 victory on Doug Martin’s huge day.
In the first half of the Buccaneers’ Week 10 game against the San Diego Chargers, the kicking game has been, in contrast, a force for Tampa Bay once again.
Punter Michael Koenen started the game with yet another touchback; he has now forced a touchback on 28 of his last 31 kickoffs, amazingly. Koenen also hit his only punt of the first half for 42 yards, without a return.
K Connor Barth, who carried a team-record streak of 25 consecutive field goals made into October, was true on his only attempt of the first half, banging home a 40-yarder in the second quarter that cut San Diego’s lead to 14-10 at the time.
But the biggest play of the first half on special teams was still to come. With nine minutes left in the second period, Tampa Bay’s defense forced a punt and San Diego’s Mike Scifres came in to kick it away. However, LB Dekoda Watson broke through the right side of the Chargers’ blocking wall and blocked Scifres attempt. Watson was in so quick that he basically stopped Scifres’ leg from finishing the swing, and the ball fell almost directly to the turf. LB Adam Hayward was the first to locate it, and he picked it up and scored easily on a 29-yard return.
The Bucs trailed at halftime, 21-17, but they’ll get the ball back to start the second half. Perhaps a strong kickoff return will get them off to fast start in the third quarter, and in the process continue a strong outing by Tampa Bay’s specialists.