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.
Ronald Jones II’s 98-yard touchdown run
I jumped off my couch when this play happened. I haven’t done that in years. It was such a great feeling to chant “ROJO! ROJO! ROJO! ROJO!” as Jones scampered from coast to coast.
Personal anecdotes aside, this was amazing to watch. These runs don’t happen often. In fact, there were just three touchdown runs of 98 yards or longer in NFL history before Jones etched his name in the record books.
It’s also the longest play in franchise history, period. No matter how you slice it, this is an objectively great play.
The Bucs had pulled ahead, 20-17, in the third quarter, but found themselves starting their sixth drive of the game at their own two-yard line. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the Bucs, but it was a good spot for the Panthers. A three-and-out or a quick defensive stop would’ve given the Panthers good field position on their next drive, pending the punt, of course.
But Jones quickly silenced that thought. Tampa Bay came out in 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) with just Jones in the backfield. Teams usually run the ball when they deploy three tight ends, however, the Bucs have guys in Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate who can make plays in the passing game, so you have to respect the pass just a tiny bit, here. That could be why the Panthers came out with two deep safeties, but we don’t for sure. Regardless, that wasn’t the best of decisions by defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
The Panthers come out with five defensive backs, however three are safeties so the “Big Nickel” designation works. Safety Jeremy Chinn —who is in the box on the right side of the defense— is likely considered the hybrid guy, but I digress.
Tom Brady sends Chris Godwin in motion and you can see linebacker Tahir Whitehead (No. 52) follow him. Why is that so important? Well, it officially gives the right side of the offensive line three extra blockers in Antony Auclair, Gronkowski, and Godwin, which in return lends the defense to believe the run will be to the right side. Whitehead’s shadowing of Godwin also takes him out of the play, as you’ll see below.
RoJo begins to the right to sell the run, then cuts back as soon as he sees the daylight in front of left guard Ryan Jensen. Without Godwin’s motion, Whitehead likely would’ve been there to fill the gap, but he’s lost in the shuffle to the right. Regardless of who messed up, the motion completely screwed up what the Panthers were trying to do on defense.
“Yeah, I saw the blitz on the replay,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said after the game. “We slanted off the right, so we blitzed off the right side. One of our defensive players was supposed to slant with it and didn’t run the slant. Ball hit in that gap. Couldn’t get the ball down. Couldn’t run him down. We are in a stage right now where we have to do our job and everyone has to be right to be successful and if someone doesn’t do their assignment, then you need someone to make a play on it for you and we weren’t able to get him down. Obviously, that’s was tremendously disappointing and very similar to the first game – same run play, their duo run that they popped at the end of the game for a 68-yard touchdown.”
Donovan Smith does an excellent job of sealing off assignment and the rest of the Bucs hold their blocks very well. Jensen proceeds to smother safety Juston Burris on the second level. Now, it’s up to RoJo to make the last man miss. And he does just that. He leaps out of Tre Boston’s attempted tackle and takes it to the house.
Not only is this play just a gut punch in general, but it came at a very inopportune time for the Panthers, who had a serious chance at getting the ball back in a favorable position to put points on the board.
“I watched the momentum kind of like shift for us,” Panthers cornerback Rasul Douglas said postgame. “We get a great punt and then touchdown, and it’s just like, [expletive]. Kind of looking at everybody, it was like damn, like we knew what play was coming, so I think that kind of like sucked the energy out of us again. We can’t let that happen, not on the first play.”
And of all the people on the field to see it coming, it was Bucs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
“We saw the defense and Blaine said, ‘This is going to the house.’ I said, ‘We’ve got a chance to split them.’ [And then] there he goes,” Bruce Arians told reporters after the game on Sunday.
He couldn’t have been more right. Is there room for Gabbert as run game coordinator in the future?
Jason Pierre-Paul’s third quarter interception
The Bucs are learning how to close games out in 2020 and JPP’s interception right after Jones’ touchdown is further proof of this.
Carolina trotted back onto the field after Jones’ touchdown run looking to pick up whatever pieces it could in order to try and mount a comeback. After leading for pretty much the entire first half, the Panthers now found themselves down, 26-17, in the third quarter.
The Panthers come out in a 3x1 set, but send wide receiver Curtis Samuel (No. 10) in motion to create a 2x2 look. The blocking scheme is max protection, meaning the Panthers leave in extra guys to handle the Bucs’ pass rush. Seven guys stay in to block, including tight end Ian Thomas and running back Rodney Smith.
The Bucs drop JPP back into coverage, but send cornerback Jamel Dean after Teddy Bridgewater. Carolina had slid it’s protection to the offensive right and didn’t anticipate Dean blitzing from the offensive left, based off of Thomas’ and Smith’s reaction(s).
Both Dean and William Gholston bring pressure off the edge, which forces Bridgewater to step up into a crowded pocket occupied by Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Shaquil Barrett. There’s so much going on in this moment that Bridgewater simply doesn’t see (and probably doesn’t anticipate) JPP in the throwing lane.
You can see Bridgewater look to the left when they play first starts, so my guess is that once he saw Samuel covered up and Devin White running with the slot receiver, he knew he had to try something to make a play. The added pressure ramped up the desperation and the end result was JPP’s third interception of his career.
“This week, I was like, ‘I’m going to catch it this week if I ever drop in coverage and I actually get another chance.’ I did [and] it feels good,” JPP said after the game.
The Bucs would end up with a field goal as a result of the turnover, which pushed their lead to 29-17 late in the third quarter. This play officially put the game out of reach and was the perfect follow-up to the RoJo touchdown run.
Which play do YOU think turned the tide in favor of the Bucs? Let us know via the poll/comment section below!
Which play turned the tide in favor of the Bucs the most?
This poll is closed
Ronald Jones II’s touchdown run