When the Buccaneers’ offense has smelled blood in 2012 it has almost always gone in for the kill.
Tampa Bay’s offensive numbers in “scoring territory” are outstanding this year. The Buccaneers rank third in the NFL in red zone efficiency, which is sorted by touchdown percentage. The Bucs have had 33 drives that traveled inside their opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, and 22 of them have found the end zone, for a red zone percentage of 66.7%. Only the Saints (73.5%) and Patriots (67.3%) have been better, and only eight NFL teams are even over 60.0%.
The Bucs rank a little lower, but still quite high, when considering goal-to-go situations. In that category, Tampa Bay is eighth in the NFL in touchdown percentage, having punched it in on 14 of 18 opportunities. That’s an excellent TD rate of 77.8%, which ranks just above their Sunday opponent, Denver (75.0%).
And yet any Buccaneer fan who has been following this tremendously entertaining season closely can remember at least two goal-to-goal instances that didn’t go the Buccaneers way and ended up being quite significant. In a 35-28 shootout loss to the Saints, the Bucs had a first-and-goal at the one after a 95-yard catch by Vincent Jackson, but they tried four times and couldn’t punch it in. Last Sunday in a one-point loss to the Falcons, Tampa Bay settled for a field goal in the second quarter after a Jackson catch made it first-and-goal at the three.
Again, the Bucs have been excellent around the goal line in 2012, and no team achieves perfection in that category. Also, there is no guarantee that the Saints and Falcons games would have unfolded in the exact same way had the Bucs succeeded on those two drives, so one cannot say unequivocally that a yard here or a yard there would make the Bucs 8-3 instead of 6-5. Still, goal-to-go proficiency has made a big mark on the Bucs’ 2012 season, both good and bad, and it will likely be important again on Sunday in Denver.
“It’s execution, always, and things happen exponentially faster the closer you get to the goal line,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano on Sunday at Sports Authority Field. “We need to be able to do that, because in the situations where we haven’t done that, it’s cost us dearly. So that’s a critical part of today’s game.”