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Wild Card Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team

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Turning The Tide: Breaking down the two plays that determined the Tampa Bay-Washington Wild Card matchup

Things could have turned out very differently if the Bucs didn’t make these plays.

A calm and collected Tom Brady led the Bucs to their first playoff win since 2002.
| Photo by Patrick Smith/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.


Offense

Tom Brady’s 35-yard bomb to Mike Evans in the fourth quarter

Brady threw for the most yards in a single playoff game in Bucs postseason history (381) and tied for the most passing touchdowns in a single playoff game (2), but no throw was more important than this one.

Washington had just scored a touchdown to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to five points with a little over 4:00 left in the game. The Bucs soon faced a 2nd and 8 from their own 25-yard line. An incomplete pass or a minimal run would’ve had the Bucs in a 3rd and long situation, which wouldn’t have been ideal at this point in the game.

Tampa Bay comes out in a 3x1 set using 11 personnel. Including the corners, Washington has eight guys on the line of scrimmage and are in what looks to be either Cover 3 or Cover 1 due to the single-high safety. Brady sends both Mike Evans and Cameron Brate in motion in order to get a sneak peek at what the defense is doing.

Watch Evans go in motion at the very beginning, followed by Brate’s motion. A specific defender follows both players, which indicates that Washington is in man coverage:

The ball is snapped, but it’s low, off-balance, and to the left. Washington sends five guys, so it’s a blitz. A blitz also means (most of the time) that the secondary is in man coverage, but Brady already knows this due to the presnap motion.

On top of the blitz, Jonathan Allen smokes Ali Marpet, which obviously isn’t good. Brady has immediate pressure in his face, but despite the pressure, he drops back and unloads a perfect pass to Evans.

This is an excellent example of good fundamentals, good timing, and the ability to stay calm and collected under heavy pressure. This is why Brady is considered the best of all-time. He makes this play look routine and somewhat easy, when it’s actually the complete opposite.

It’s also an excellent example of the trust Brady has in Evans to go up and make the play. Let’s not forget Evans made this play just six days after hyperextending his knee, as well.

The Bucs would end up kicking a field goal to go up, 31-23, after this play. That would end up being the final score of the game, too.

If the Bucs don’t make this play, then there’s no telling what happens from here on out. There was so much on the line under dire circumstances. The focus and concentration by both Brady and Evans were key and both players are the reason why Tampa Bay won this game.

Defense

Kevin Minter’s tipped pass resulting in Sean Murphy-Bunting’s first quarter interception

Trust me, I thought long and hard about this one.

You can make an excellent case for Lavonte David’s sack on Washington’s final drive as the defensive play of the game, but give me a chance to explain why SMB’s interception is what turned the tide on defense for the Bucs.

Tampa Bay was up, 3-0, early in the first quarter, but Washington’s defense was holding its own. The defense was able to stall Tampa Bay’s first drive in the red zone and it forced a punt on the next drive.

Washington’s offense was beginning to find some rhythm on this drive after a 36-yard completion to Cam Sims took the Football Team to the TB46. All Washington needed was a couple of more plays before it could move into field goal range and tie the game. Or, of course, it could score a touchdown to take the lead.

Antonio Gibson was stuffed for a loss on the next play, which forces Washington into a passing situation. So, Taylor Heinicke and co. come out in a 3x1 set using 11 personnel. Tampa Bay responds with its nickel package. It’s not your typical nickel package, however, due to the fact that Tampa Bay has only two down linemen with three guys standing up at the line of scrimmage. Are the Bucs sending pressure? If they do, where will it come from?

That’s the beauty of Todd Bowles defense. It’s normal if a quarterback has a tough time of figuring out defensive responsibilities. I mean, can you tell who’s going to blitz from this alignment?

Regardless, Minter blitzes the A gap, but it’s simulated pressure. Shaquil Barrett and David —who are initially lined up out wide on the LOS— both drop into coverage while the quartet of Minter, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and William Gholston go after Heinicke.

Minter’s blitz works. He’s able to get to Heinicke for the pressure, but he’s also able to make a great play on the ball by tipping it. The ball wobbles in the air and SMB is able to make the diving interception.

It’s a great play by both players and the fact that complementary football is involved is one reason why this play is the defensive play of the game. But there are other factors to consider, as well.

Watch the All-22 angle on this play. The Bucs are playing Cover 3 and SMB is the flat defender. He’s put into a bad spot, however, due to Washington’s scheme on this play.

Terry McLaurin takes advantage of Jamel Dean’s soft coverage and Heinicke sees it. SMB, meanwhile, has to take his assignment, which is the slot receiver. You obviously can’t guard two guys at once in football, so naturally, SMB “does his job” and sticks with his guy.

There’s little doubt in my mind that this is a completion and likely a first down if Minter doesn’t tip this pass. As you can see below, Heinicke times the pass perfectly. The ball is already coming out as McLaurin breaks off his route. If this pass is completed, then the Bucs would either face a 3rd and short situation or McLaurin would’ve done enough after the catch to get the first down:

Here’s a still shot showing just how far away SMB and Dean were at the time of Heinicke’s release. SMB is much closer, however, the contact with the slot receiver gives enough resistance to keep him from getting to McLaurin in time:

While David’s sack sealed the deal late in the game, this play turned the tide in favor of the Bucs because Brady is able to find Antonio Brown for a 36-yard touchdown pass on the subsequent drive. That touchdown allowed the Bucs to play with lead —a decent-sized lead, at that— for most of the game. There’s no telling how this drive ends nor how the game would go from here on out if Minter doesn’t tip the pass and SMB doesn’t pick it off.

“I believe we scored the possession after, so we went up early in the game. It was just the spark that we needed,” SMB said after the game. “We started off kind of slow [on] both sides of the ball, really, and that spark got us points on the board and kind of got us some momentum going into the half. That’s what we really needed – big, spark plays and consistency.”


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

Poll

Which play turned the tide in favor of the Bucs the most?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    Tom Brady’s 35-yard completion to Mike Evans
    (112 votes)
  • 26%
    Minter’s deflection/SMB’s interception in the first quarter
    (40 votes)
152 votes total Vote Now

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