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NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

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Turning The Tide: Breaking down the two plays that determined the Bucs-Saints Divisional Round matchup

Two rookies —of all players— are responsible for Sunday’s biggest plays.

Antoine Winfield Jr. made another huge play on Sunday.
| Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

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.


Tyler Johnson’s amazing grab on 3rd and 11 in the fourth quarter

It’s common to expect some type of big play to be the one that’s featured in this type of post. A touchdown, an amazing catch, a long run, etc. are all usually the main culprits when it comes to game-changing plays, anyway.

That won’t be the case with this example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a highlight-reel worthy play nor does it mean it’s undeserving of the description “clutch”.

Before we begin, it’s important to know how the Bucs arrived at this situation. Ronald Jones II had just broken off a 44-yard run on 3rd and 1 that would’ve set the Bucs up at New Orleans’ 26-yard line. The game was tied at 20 at this point in time, so it would’ve been a huge play.

Instead, Tristan Wirfs gets called for holding and Tampa Bay is set up with a 3rd and 11 at its own 20-yard line. That one penalty completely swung the game back in New Orleans’ favor.

A 3rd and 11 is an obvious passing down. Therefore, Tampa Bay comes out in a 3x1 set using 10 personnel. Leonard Fournette is to Tom Brady’s right in the shotgun. New Orleans responds by lining up nine defenders on the line of scrimmage. The Saints are just one down lineman away from deploying a Radar look, so the idea here is to confuse the Bucs’ offense.

The defensive backs are lined up tight on the receivers, which signals man coverage, but it’s not a guarantee. One thing is certain, however, and that’s the fact that Johnson is alone on an island with P.J. Johnson.

The ball is snapped and Brady doesn’t even look over toward the strong side of the formation. He knows it’s man coverage once he sees Johnson’s back turn, which means he has to put the ball on the outside shoulder and toward the sideline. Brady times it perfectly and lets it rip.

You can’t time this any better. Brady is letting go of the ball six yards before Johnson makes his break. The frame below shows a still shot of where Johnson is the moment Brady lets go of the ball. Be sure to watch for the pause and you’ll see:

But it’s the catch that really highlights the play. Johnson runs a good route and makes a difficult, off-balance catch while adjusting on the fly. There are NFL vets who have yet to make this type of catch and here is Johnson, a rookie, making it look routine.

This play also represents the amount of trust Brady has in his teammates and that it doesn’t matter who you are: If you’re open, Brady is going to throw it.

“He [Brady] sees those guys work so hard on the practice field and he’s got a great rapport with all of them – especially Scotty,” Bruce Arians told reporters on Monday. “Tyler – very few guys can twist and turn and make that catch. Tom put it out there and he knew Tyler could make that catch. He’s got a great, great future.”

Per ESPN’s Win Probability Rate, the Bucs’ chances of winning the game dropped from 53% in their favor to 55.6% in favor of the #Saints after Wirfs’ holding penalty on 3rd and 1. Johnson’s reception put the game back at 55.5% in favor of the Bucs. That’s how much this play meant to the Bucs.

This play turned the tide in the favor of the Bucs because it was an absolute gut-shot to the Saints and would eventually lead to Ryan Succop’s go-ahead field goal that put the Bucs up, 23-20.

The Saints had the Bucs dead to rights in this situation, but good teams make plays when it matters the most and that’s exactly what Johnson and the Bucs did.


Antoine Winfield Jr.’s forced fumble in the third quarter

This defense continues to make my life difficult in terms of having to choose which defensive play matters the most, but hey, I’m sure the Bucs have no issue with that.

Just like last week, the defensive play of the game came down to two plays and I don’t really think you could go wrong in choosing either one. But as I’ve said before, draws are for soccer fans. And this ain’t soccer.

The Saints came out of halftime and immediately scored to make it a 20-13 game. The Bucs eventually punted on their first drive of the second half, which left them in a precarious position of possibly going down two scores in the third quarter.

New Orleans started the drive at their own 15-yard line, but a DPI call on Sean Murphy-Bunting moved the ball out to the NO37. Emmanuel Sanders caught an eight-yard pass on 2 and 10, leaving the Saints with a 3rd and 2 at their own 45-yard line.

The Saints come out in a 3x1 set using 21 personnel. It’s not your typical 21 personnel, however. Drew Brees is lined up in shotgun with fullback Michael Burton on his left hip. Alvin Kamara is the inside slot receiver on the strong side of the formation and Jared Cook is at the bottom of the screen on the outside of the formation. The Bucs come out in their base defense and are giving a Cover 1/Cover 3 presnap look. The Bucs also crowd the line of scrimmage in order to disguise their pressure, much like the Saints in the previous example.

Tampa Bay blitzes and sends five guys, which leaves the coverage defenders in man coverage. New Orleans has a man-beater dialed up and you can tell that this ball is specifically designed to get to Cook. The giveaway is Tre’Quan Smith’s “route”. It’s a rub that moves Jamel Dean out of the throwing window and allows Cook to get separation from Winfield Jr.

But you can also tell that this is a schemed-up play because Brees is looking Cook’s way the entire time and is ready to throw as soon as his back foot hits:

The rest is just Winfield Jr. making an excellent play. He hustles after Cook and is able to not only catch up, but he’s able to force the fumble by punching the ball out. This is what coaches and players mean when they talk about never giving up on a play. You never know what can happen.

“I can’t say enough about him [Winfield],” Arians said after Sunday’s win. “To me, he’s the Defensive Rookie of the Year. 7.5 sacks isn’t anything [compared] to what he’s done.”

Some plays take scheme and execution in order to make great things happen and then some plays are just all about hustle, heart, and desire. The latter is what this play is about and is what represents Winfield Jr.’s game to a T.

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


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

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Tyler Johnson’s fourth quarter grab
    (21 votes)
  • 87%
    Antoine Winfield Jr.’s forced fumble
    (178 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (comments)
    (4 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now

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