Why attempt a 51-yard field goal and fake punt in the fourth quarter when the Buccaneers had a 17-13 lead? On Monday, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris attempted to answer those questions, which typically come after losses, especially for a 1-10 football team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a disappointing 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Losing certainly isn't anything new to the Bucs, who are 1-10 on the 2009 season with five games left to play. However, the way in which the Bucs lost has caused head coach Raheem Morris to field criticism and questions regarding his decision making process and aggressive playcalling during the fourth quarter of Sunday's contest in Atlanta.
Despite falling behind Atlanta 10-0 in the first half, Tampa Bay battled back to take a 17-13 lead into the fourth quarter. With 12:39 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bucs facing a fourth-and-8 situation from Atlanta's 39-yard line, Morris opted to all a fake punt.
Unfortunately, P Dirk Johnson's pass attempt to tight end John Gilmore fell incomplete, giving the Falcons favorable field position. Luckily for Morris and the Bucs, Falcons kicker Jason Elam's 35-yard field goal attempt on that drive missed, which kept the score at 17-13 in favor of the Bucs.
Morris attempted to explain his decision to call the fake punt, which failed and resulted in a season-ending hamstring injury for Johnson
"We talk about that stuff long before we get into a football game," said Morris. "We knew we had two fakes up for a couple of different situations. It was a situation in the game where I felt they might come after us and our punter, so I figured if they come after our punter they might leave somebody open. They didn't. They were in a punt return formation."
With 2:34 remaining in the game and the Bucs facing a fourth-and-4 situation from Atlanta's 33-yard line, Morris elected to kick a field goal instead of punting.
Bucs K Connor Barth made three field goals of over 50 yards a few weeks earlier vs. the Dolphins and would have had to punt for the second time in the game had that decision been made due to Johnson's leg injury.
Barth's 51-yard field goal missed wide right, which gave the Falcons the ball at their own 41-yard line. The Falcons used that favorable field position to orchestrate the game-winning, 15-play, 59-yard drive that ended with a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Redman to wide receiver Roddy White with just 23 seconds remaining to give the Falcons a 20-17 victory of the Bucs.
Morris, whose defense showed improvement with him taking over as Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, didn't apologize for the decision to kick the 51-yard field goal and attempted to explain it Monday.
"No, it's just been difficult for you guys because you're the one second-guessing it," said Morris. "If you make it you win. If you don't you lose. We haven't been making them so we've been losing. Those are decisions made each game and we have to make them."
Some also questioned why Morris didn't elect to have the Bucs offense throw the ball on third-and-7 before the fourth down field goal attempt as opposed to running it. Freeman had 19-of-28 passes for 240 yards and tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions up to that point. Ward gained just three yards on the play.
While Morris was impressed with Freeman's performance in Atlanta, he suggested the confidence to put the ball in the first-round pick's hands in those types of situations would come with more experience and success.
"That's going to build naturally," Morris said of Freeman. "Yesterday, I kind of felt the Connor Barth love. I wasn't asking him to kick three 50-yard field goals this game. You go make kick this one, we kick the ball off and put them inside their 20. We go out there and play defense the way we've been playing all day - fast, hard and physical together - we get out of there with a win. It just didn't work out that way.
"Those decisions will come with [Freeman]. I think he's starting to develop into what we think he can be. That will come in time."
Sunday's game didn't feature Morris' first controversial decisions as the league's youngest head coach at just 33. Morris said he and his team were prepared for the situations that came up in Atlanta, and would be if and when they come up again.
"You set them up in practice," said Morris. "We have things called Sudden Change drills in the offseason where you blow the horn out of nowhere and come up there in a situation you want to practice, whether it's a fake punt or going for it on fourth-and-1. All of those situations come up, so you just go out there and do it. They haven't been good because we've lost a lot of them.
"You always second guess yourself the next morning. During the game, no. Right now it didn't work, so yes. I am second guessing myself. If it worked I wouldn't be. If it worked, we would run the clock out, game over. Bucs win."
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