Everyone knows that Bruce Arians loves an aggressive offense. He loves to take shots down the field and he likes the risky throws in tight windows, because anything can happen if you’re making those types of plays.
But being aggressive and taking risks isn’t always reserved for calling plays or an offensive philosophy. Sometimes, it’s about decision-making.
That was on full display for Arians and the Bucs during Sunday’s NFC Championship matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Arians’ decisions in the final minute of the first half would not only pay off in the form of late first-half touchdown, but they would be the difference in the game.
The Packers had just received the ball after a Tampa Bay punt. With just over 2:00 before halftime, Green Bay was in an ideal situation. There was a great chance Aaron Rodgers and the offense could get some points before halftime, but what made the situation even more wonderful for the Packers was the fact that they would start the second half with the ball. They had a chance to open the second half with a 24-14 lead if everything went according to plan.
But Arians wasn’t having it.
Rodgers was sacked by Jason Pierre-Paul on first down without :38 left until halftime and the packers seemed content with just running the clock out at that point. Arians had other plans, however, and he called timeout in hopes of getting the ball back.
The thought of giving Rodgers extra time —which also meant extra chances— would usually cause any coach to go the conservative route. This wasn’t the case for Arians and the Bucs on Sunday.
Sean Murphy-Bunting immediately proved Arians’ decision to be the correct one on the very next play. He was able to intercept Rodgers’ pass and gave the Bucs the ball back at midfield.
“Sean played that thing perfectly,” Arians said after the game. “I thought he was going to get another one later when they hit that same ball on him. Sean has been playing outstanding. He’s got all his confidence back – the whole secondary does, and should, because they’re playing really, really well.
Now it was the Bucs’ turn to try to get some points. It took just two plays for the Bucs to face a 3rd and 4 at the Packers’ 45-yard line. The offense couldn’t convert and naturally, Arians sent the Bradley Pinion and the rest of Tampa Bay’s punting unit onto the field.
Then something changed. Arians called timeout and then Brady and the offense came back out onto the field.
“I sent the punt team out [and then] I went through a couple scenarios in my mind,” Arians said. “The clock was stopped and I said, ‘No, we’re going back out. We’ve got a good play. We’re going back out and trying to get some points.’”
Brady hit Fournette for the conversion and the Bucs called their final timeout of the first half. There was just enough time for one play, so Byron Leftwich dialed up a shot to Scotty Miller.
It paid off. Miller roasted cornerback Kevin King en route to a 39-yard touchdown to give the Bucs a 21-10 lead going into halftime.
“We just got a great matchup,” Arians explained. “I think they were playing for us trying to get into field goal range and Scotty just ran right by [Kevin] King. When we lined up, you could tell it was going to be a touchdown. Just had to protect and throw the ball.”
This sequence is the epitome of everything that Arians has stood for during his career. His “no risk it, no biscuit” mantra is no longer a catchy phrase. He showed that it is indeed a championship formula on Sunday. He decided to deploy the strategy when he needed it most and it paid off.
Now, he gets a chance to win a Super Bowl for the first time ever as a head coach and the Bucs get a shot at winning the second Super Bowl in franchise history.
“Yeah, the coaches told us, Byron [Leftwich] told us all week we’re going to be aggressive – we were going to go at them,” Miller told reporters after the game. “We’re going to take chances with the guys we’ve got. That’s what we do. We’ve got so many playmakers. We’ve got Tom [Brady] at the helm. It was a risk at the time, but there was only 13 seconds left, so if we ran a play and didn’t get it, we probably waste six [seconds]. Then they probably have to throw a Hail Mary as well, so why not us do it? It was just a great execution by the coaches.”
“I’m so happy for him [Arians] – absolutely,” Tom Brady said postgame. “It’s amazing. For me, I don’t think about what it means for me. I do think about what it means for everyone else. It’s an amazing achievement for B.A. I’m so happy for him and the staff he put together [with] Coach [Todd] Bowles, what Byron [Leftwich] has done, what Keith [Armstong] has done. The whole coaching staff has put us in a great position for us to go out there and do our jobs well. It’s taken a lot of different people over the course of the season on offense, defense [and] special teams to come through and that’s why we’re still playing. There’s going to be two teams left playing [and] we’re going to be one of them. Again, just an incredible journey for all of us [and I’m] just proud to be a part of it.”