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Turning The Tide: Breaking down the two plays that determined the Bucs-Packers NFC Championship matchup

This is what championship football is all about.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services LLC

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

Scotty Miller’s 39-yard touchdown reception right before halftime

The playoffs are a heightened experience. Everything that happens during the postseason is magnified by tenfold at minimum. It’s how a player can go from the twilight to the starlight in a moment’s notice.

Scotty Miller’s touchdown reception before halftime is one of the moments that will be forever remembered in Buccaneers lore. Not only was it just a great play, but what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and when it happened are all crucial aspects when remember and detailing everything that went on.

For starters, the Bucs offense was on the field because Bruce Arians decided to call timeout after Jason Pierre-Paul was able to get to Aaron Rodgers for a sack on first down. The Packers seemed content with running out the clock after the sack, but the timeout forced them to run another a play. As a result, Sean Muphy-Bunting came up with his third interception in his third straight playoff game.

Then, Tampa Bay decided to go for it on 4th and 4 after failing to register a first down. Leonard Fournette’s six-yard reception brought the Bucs down to the Green Bay 39-yard line and the rest is history.

With just six seconds left on the clock, the Bucs know this is a do-or-die play. Therefore, they come out in a 3x1 set using 11 personnel. Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, and Miller comprise the bunch set on the three-man side.

The Packers respond with a single-high look, so Brady already knows that he’s going to have 1-v-1 matchups on the outside.

The Bucs snap the ball. Miller, Godwin, and Mike Evans (at the bottom of the screen) all take off toward the end zone since this is a last-ditch play. Tampa Bay leaves Gronkowski and Fournette in to block, making it a seven-man protection. Green Bay rushes four, so the numbers are definitely in the Bucs’ favor.

The Packers appear to be in Cover 3 Robber, which means the middle of the field is closed. That works just fine for the Bucs, because Godwin’s seam route will hold the safety and create the aforementioned 1-v-1 matchup.

Miller (top of the screen) just blows by Kevin King, who gets caught looking into the backfield. He never fully adjusts to Miller —who has 4.3 speed— and the end result is a disaster. The first thing cornerbacks are taught in this situation is to never, ever let a receiver get behind you. This is why.

It’s just awful technique/discipline from King and the Bucs took full advantage of it. But, it’s also a great play by Miller and Brady.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this, either. You have to give big props to Fournette on this play, who picks up a free-rushing Preston Smith. Smith (No. 91) is able to get by Gronkowski with ease and Donovan Smith can’t pick him up. There’s a chance this play doesn’t happen if Fournette misses out on Smith. That gave Brady enough time to load up, step up, and deliver an accurate ball. It also prevented Brady from getting planted into the dirt.

The whole sequence from calling the timeout after the sack to the touchdown was just pure aggression from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff and you have to love that mindset. Especially in this type of game.

“We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game,” Arians told reporters after the game. “With the timeout and then the interception, I wanted to come out of there with points [instead of] punting it. I loved the play we had – got a great matchup and got the touchdown. I thought it was huge.”

This play turned the tide on offense for the Bucs because not only was it a ballsy call that increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 21-10, but stealing these points turned out to be the difference in a 31-26 game. Let’s not forget about the gut-punch that it delivered to the Packers, either.

Defense

Shaquil Barrett’s third down sack in the fourth quarter

SMB’s interception was the catalyst to Miller’s touchdown which makes it one of the biggest plays of the game, however, I don’t think it tops Barrett’s third down sack in the fourth quarter. Barrett’s sack is the highlight, but this entire play is beautifully executed on all levels, which is what gives it the edge.

Allow me to explain.

The Bucs were able to jump out to a 28-10 lead after halftime, but found themselves up just 28-23 one quarter later thanks to a Packers offense that scored back-to-back touchdowns. To make things worse, Brady threw a horribly-timed interception on a pass attempt to Evans that cost the Bucs at least three points.

The interception gave the Packers the ball at their own 19. Jordan Whitehead, one of Tampa Bay’s starting safeties, had also exited the game at this point, so the Bucs were in dire need of a big play.

Green Bay found itself in a 3rd and 5 just two plays after the interception. The Packers decide to come out in a 3x1 formation using 11 personnel, but Aaron Rodgers sends Allen Lazard (No. 13) in motion to create a 2x2 set.

Jamel Dean follows Lazard, signaling man coverage. When you include the two deep safeties, the Bucs are giving a Cover 2 Man pre-snap look.

It does turn out to be C2 Man, but the Bucs add a wrinkle into the equation. This play is considered a “man-beater”. Green Bay has Robert Tonyan (No.85) run upfield and Lazard then runs the shallow crosser behind him, which is supposed to create space for Lazard and a throwing lane for Rodgers. Dean is supposed to get caught in the crossfire and then Devin White is supposed to be out of range to make the tackle on Lazard because he’s on Jamaal Williams, who is releasing into the flat.

That’s not how it works out, though.

Todd Bowles had his guys ready for this. Watch safety Andrew Adams (No.26) point out Lazard’s motion (it’s likely some type of check) and then watch how Adams comes down on Lazard. Dean then sinks back as the safety, replacing Adams. The rest of the secondary matches up perfectly with their assignments, too.

The secondary has done its job, so now it’s time for the pass rush to get home.

Tampa Bay does just that, but what makes it really impressive that Bowles’ defensive line is able to get to Rodgers with four guys. Barrett absolutely wrecks right tackle Rick Wagner and Vita Vea comes around on the stunt to keep Rodgers in the pocket. Rodgers can’t go anywhere and becomes the meat in the Gravedigger Sandwich. The drive ends here and the Packers punt on the next play.

You can also see Lavonte David and JPP communicate in regard to Lazard’s motion.

There’s no other way to put it: This is championship-level execution by the Bucs defense. This play turned the tide because not only did it allow the Bucs to recover from a nearly-devastating interception, but it also set the tone for the defense in the fourth quarter. The Packers offense looked like it found its footing in the third quarter, but this play killed any momentum that fell into Green Bay’s laps.


Which play do YOU think turned the tide in favor of the Bucs the most? 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

  • 77%
    Scotty Miller’s 39-yard touchdown reception before halftime
    (222 votes)
  • 22%
    Shaquil Barrett’s third down sack in the fourth quarter
    (66 votes)
288 votes total Vote Now
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