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Los Angeles Chargers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Turning The Tide: Breaking down the two plays that determined the Bucs-Chargers game

O.J. Howard had a very good game.
| Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Turning The Tide is a weekly segment where Evan will pick the offensive and defensive play that turned the game for the Bucs. Whether it was for good or for bad, we will break it all down and tell you what went wrong or what went right.


O.J. Howard’s 28-yard reception

Pour one out for the Bucs’ fourth-year tight end. You hate to see another season end early for Howard, but on the bright side, at least he went out with a bang.

Howard was having a nice game before he went down with an Achilles injury and none of his plays were bigger than his 28-yard touchdown with 8:22 left in the third quarter.

The Bucs come out in 13 personnel with Justin Watson split out wide to the top of the screen and Ronald Jones II in the backfield. The Chargers stack the box, indicating that they’re expecting the Bucs to run the ball. The fact that Tampa Bay is in 13 personnel doesn’t hurt, either.

As it turns out, it’s play-action. However, the Chargers don’t really bite. Cameron Brate (at the bottom of the screen) runs a wheel route down the sideline, Howard wins outside leverage and runs a go, and Rob Gronkowski and Watson both run go routes, as well.

It’s really hard to tell what coverage the Chargers are running on this play, but it looks like Cover 6, which is essentially Cover 2 on one side and Cover 4 (quarters) on the other. A lot of folks also refer to it as ‘quarter quarter half’ coverage.

It looks like Cover 2 to the boundary side of the field since safety Reyshawn Jenkins (No. 23) covers the deep half of the field and leaves the middle of the field open. Casey Hayward Jr. (No. 26) would usually take the flat in Cover 2, which kind of complicates things, but there are instances in Cover 2 where the corner doesn’t stay in the flat. On the other side, safety Nassir Adderly (No. 24) and cornerback Michael Davis (No. 43) look to be in Cover 4, or the quarters section of the field.

This is the only reason why I imagine Jenkins would take Brate over Howard in terms of an assignment. As you can see, Jenkins leaves linebacker Kyzir White (No. 44) on Howard, which is an obvious mismatch.

There’s no way White can keep up with Howard and Brady knows this. He launches a perfect pass and Howard makes a beautiful grab to bring the Bucs within a score, 24-21.

This play turned the tide for the Bucs because it ignited a 24-point second half that saw the Bucs score on four straight drives. Three of those four drives ended in touchdowns, with this being the first one.

It also represented a major turn of events in terms of the Bucs’ play in the third quarter. Up until this point, the Bucs had not played well coming out of halftime. They averaged just 78 yards, had one touchdown compared to two interceptions, owned the league’s fourth-lowest first down percentage (15.3%) and fourth-highest turnover percentage (3.4%), scored 13 total points, were tied for the league lead in punts with five, and averaged the most yards-to-go per play with 9.1 yards per play through Week Three.

Howard’s touchdown was the exclamation point on an eight-play, 69 yard drive. The Bucs matched their entire season’s touchdown production and almost surpassed their weekly yardage average in the third quarter on this drive, alone. It also put the Chargers under pressure to score some points and there’s a really good chance that pressure came into play on Michael Badgley’s missed 47-yard field goal attempt on the Chargers’ next drive.

What would’ve happened if the Bucs came out flat and didn’t score, especially after the big fumble recovery that led to the touchdown right before halftime? I’m not sure, but something tells me that without this play, things could’ve turned out much differently.


Ndamukong Suh’s “forced fumble”

You have to be impressed with Suh so far this year. He’s really stepped it up in terms of big plays on the defensive line and the game against the Chargers was no different.

The Bucs had just punted the ball back to the Chargers and there was under a minute left before halftime. Tampa Bay only had one timeout, but the Chargers had two timeouts, so maybe they wanted to see if they could add to their lead before the half instead of running out the clock.

It didn’t work out so well. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and rookie running back Joshua Kelley screwed up the exchange on a first-down handoff and Suh knocked the ball out of Kelley’s hands, forcing the fumble. Devin White landed on the ball and the Bucs took over at the LA6.

Suh explained what happened after the game. “They had timeouts if I remember correctly, and they got into a formation that we’ve seen before, so I anticipated just getting off the ball,” he said. “Obviously, the back was off set to me, so I knew majority of the run was going to go toward Vita [Vea] and he was going to set the edge, so I jumped the gap and saw an opportunity to make a play.”

The Chargers’ decision to try and run the ball instead of taking a knee was a curious one; one that even surprised the Bucs, themselves.

“I was a bit surprised that they didn’t just take a knee,” Mike Evans told reporters. “I think there was fifty-something seconds left. I thought they were going to take a knee. It was 24-7. They had a great first half and they made a mistake. We capitalized on it, got a touchdown, and had momentum going into the second half and we ran with it.”

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Anthony Lynn called the fumbled exchange “inexcusable”.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t even think the Chargers fully agree about what happened on the play — or at least they didn’t after the game. Head coach Anthony Lynn and Herbert both had different takes on what happened during the play.

“Those two guys, they have to make that exchange,” Lynn said. “[It’s] something we work [on] every day. If you can’t hand the ball off cleanly then something’s wrong, you know?”

“I think that’s just one of those plays where the D-lineman made a great play and knocked it out,” Herbert said. He later added that the exchange “felt normal”.

Whatever happened, it was a huge play that really helped turned the tide in the Bucs’ favor.

Suh’s fumble recovery was followed up with a touchdown pass from Brady to Evans that made it a 24-14 game at half instead of 24-7 and gave the Bucs major momentum heading into halftime.

“That was huge what Suh did right there at the end of the half – to go down 10 instead of 17 is a big deal because that’s a big deficit to overcome,” Todd Bowles said on Monday. “That was one of the plays of the game.”

Which play turned the tide in favor of the Bucs the most? Let us know via the poll/comment section below!


Which play turned the tide in favor of Tampa Bay the most?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    O.J. Howard’s 28-yard touchdown reception
    (15 votes)
  • 87%
    Ndamukong Suh’s "forced fumble"
    (105 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now
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