As you’ve probably heard, Sunday’s game in Charlotte marked the first in the Buccaneers’ 37-season history that they have won an overtime game with a touchdown. Doug Martin, Josh Freeman and Dallas Clark were the main heroes on the final march, but there were actually two other factors that were to the Bucs’ getting that first OT TD:
1. The NFL’s new overtime rules, and;
2. The Carolina Panthers’ logo.
Allow us to explain.
First, there are the new rules that have changed the league’s long-running “sudden death” overtime format into something a little different. Now, a team can still win by scoring on its opening possession, but only if that score is a touchdown. If the team with the first possession kicks a field goal or fails to score at all, the other team gets a single possession to either match that output or win the game with its own touchdown. If the game is tied after both teams have had a possession, then it goes to sudden death.
Prior to the change in overtime rules, there weren’t too many occasions on which a team would win a sudden death game in any other way than a field goal. Leery of the risk of a turnover, teams would often elect to kick as soon as they felt they were within a comfortable distance. Perfect example: On Dec. 2, 2001, the Buccaneers were in overtime in Cincinnati when John Lynch stripped the ball from Corey Dillon at the Bengals’ three-yard line, with Tampa Bay recovering. The Bucs didn’t even consider trying to run it in, instead sending out Martin Gramatica to win the game with a 21-yard field goal on the very next play.
For a game to be won on a touchdown in overtime, it usually had to be a single breakout play (such as Eric Dickerson’s 42-yard scoring run in a Rams 26-20 win over the Bucs in 1986), a kick, punt or interception return (think Al Harris for Green Bay against Seattle in the 2003 playoffs) or something even flukier (a near blocked punt that turns into a zero-yard interception in the end zone for New Orleans against Tampa Bay in 2002).
Now, however, there is real incentive to keep trying for a touchdown, even at the risk of a turnover, because it is the only way to ensure that your opponent won’t trump you on the next drive. The rule was tweaked, first for the playoffs and now for the regular season, largely to reduce the importance of the overtime-opening coin flip, for those who found a short field goal drive to start and end overtime to be distasteful.
Still, the flip remains important, and the Bucs felt it was particularly so on Sunday afternoon, because their offense had settled into a serious groove in the final six minutes of regulation. So before long-snapper Andrew Economos went out to midfield to make the call for the Bucs, he checked with the team’s coin flip guru, 16th-year veteran Ronde Barber.
“I asked around, and I especially asked Ronde because he’s been getting them right all year,” said Economos. “He told me, ‘The heads side of the coin has the Carolina logo on it, so you can’t pick that.’ So we went with tails and it worked out in our favor, for sure.”
Economos was the only one of the Bucs’ six captains to go out for the overtime flip because the other five were all huddled with coaches, getting in some frenzied preparation for overtime in respective offensive and defensive groups (fellow Special Teams Captain Adam Hayward is now a defensive starter, too). Economos trusted Barber’s advice, but truth is he would have gone in that direction anyway.
“He’s been at it ever since I’ve been here and he wins most of them,” said Economos. “So of course I asked him, and it worked out. But I’m a tails guy, always.”
Barber makes the team’s coin flip calls before the opening kickoff, and he has truly been on a roll this year. Tampa Bay also won the flip at the beginning of Sunday’s game, which means, including that overtime toss, the team has won 10 of its 11 flips this year. If that’s not amazing enough, the snake-bitten Panthers have stunningly lost all 11 of their flips in 2012.
The Bucs rarely start the game on offense because their approach is to defer their decision to the second half when they win the flip. That means the Bucs have started the third quarter on offense in almost every game this year. But by far the most important coin toss of the year so far was Economos’ last one, in which he superstitiously shunned the Carolina logo. This time, the Bucs took the ball (of course), and the defense never had to take the field.
“We felt good about it because our offense made two great drives at the end of the game and they had the momentum,” he said. “To get the ball at the beginning of overtime obviously worked out in our favor.”