At the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Bucs-Redskins game, Tampa Bay had the ball at the Washington 33, trailing by two points and facing a second-and-nine. There were many things the Bucs hoped to accomplish at this point – kill some clock, protect the football, gain another set of downs, shorten a potential field goal attempt – but first and foremost, they had to score some points.
The Bucs succeeded in that primary task, as Connor Barth kicked a 47-yard field goal at the 1:42 mark to put Tampa Bay up, 22-21.
That put the game in the hands of the Bucs’ defense, and unfortunately Redskins QB Robert Griffin III was able to drive his team into position for a game-winning field goal with three seconds left. Billy Cundiff’s 42-yarder rendered the Bucs’ comeback from an 18-point deficit moot, and as was inevitable, led to second-guessing of the sequence of events around the two-minute warning. Ultimately, the Bucs’ point of view is that the go-ahead drive was successful and one win by the defense in a two-minute-drill scenario would have closed out a very satisfying win.
“You go out and play defense,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano. “That’s what you do. You run two-minute drills and you defend the two-minute drills…we just came up short this time.”
Still, Schiano did indicate that, with the advantage of hindsight – and, it should not be forgotten, that is an enormous advantage when formulating strategy – he would likely call a different set of plays in that critical juncture around the two-minute warning. In order not to tip off any future strategy, he declined to elaborate on what he would change, but it was apparently a matter of specific calls, not the overall approach.
“We went through every scenario pregame and then we went through every scenario right then and there and reviewed it,” he said on Monday. “Would I have changed it? I won’t say how but I would have changed that three play-sequence slightly. It’s not a drastic change, it’s just small.”
Here’s the sequence of events right before and after the two minute warning:
- Completion over the middle to Tiquan Underwood for 19 yards to the Washington 33
- Snap at 2:07, LeGarrette Blount runs for one yard
- Two-minute warning
- Pass attempt down the left sideline to Mike Williams, with Williams making an acrobatic play to prevent what looked like a sure interception by Josh Wilson
- Short pass on left side to Underwood for five yards to the Washington 29
Again, the sequence worked in that it set up the team’s nearly infallible kicker for a 47-yard go-ahead field goal. But the specific combination of where the ball was and how much time was left set up some very delicate decision-making parameters. Schiano implied that if the ball was a little closer, the strategy would clearly call for a series of running plays to either get another first down or at least kill the clock. However, even with such an accomplished kicker, having the ball just on the edge of normal field goal range made every call almost a do-or-die situation.
“That’s a tricky one,” explained Schiano. “If you’re on the 24-yard line, there’s no trick to it. Now, Connor’s kicking the daylights out of the ball but still over 50 yards is over 50 yards, so you want to get it closer. If you hand it off and it gets stoned, you do eat clock but it’s still a 50-something-yarder. That’s not an easy one. If you make the play, you’re right, and if that thing gets intercepted, you’re deadly wrong. If it’s incomplete and stops the clock then you’re wrong, but if its complete then you’re not only right but you’re eating a whole other set of clock because it’s a first down. That is one of the tougher spots on the field, especially when you have a good kicker like we do.
“I wish it were a little more clear-cut situation. It’s easy in retrospect to say we should have handed it off but if those are two stuffs and you miss a 52-yarder, then [the question is], ‘Why didn’t you throw it?’ So that’s not an easy one. We’ll get it right though.”