When the Bucs offense remained on the field after Tyler Johnson’s incredible third down stretch left him one yard short of a first down with 11:54 remaining in the second quarter of a game Tampa Bay was already leading 10-0, my heart leapt into my throat.

To this point in the game, the Bucs had seemed in complete control. Bears quarterback Nick Foles was missing passes left and right, the Bucs had already scored on two of three drives and the Tampa defense was flying high after a nifty interception by Carlton Davis. Even though it appeared the Bucs second three-and-out of the game had just occurred, it still felt like the Bears’ offense wasn’t going to be threat unless the Bucs put them in prime position to score.

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo by: Getty Images

So you can understand my immense hesitation when Brady stepped under center and the ball was actually snapped, as a 4th down stop for the Bears defense would not only give them renewed hope of winning the game, but would also give them the ball just 19 yards from the end zone.

It felt like an unnecessary risk given the time, score, state of the game and nature of the opponent, and 95 percent of me knew this with complete certainty. This was not a risk worth taking at this point in the game.

But five percent of me…oh, five percent of me LOVED it. I loved that head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich were tired of seeing an offense that would march the length of the field one drive and then go three-and-out the next. I loved that the Bucs wanted to go for the jugular on that drive; crush the Bears soul with a third score in four attempts and put Foles and a struggling Chicago offense in a position where they had to be one dimensional all game.

But mostly, part of me loved it because it was a sign that Arians and Leftwich were embracing the type of offense they can be. Not a ball-control, run-heavy, just-don’t-turn-it-over group, but one that took chances, lived with a few mistakes and never stopped coming all game long. We’ve seen the team inching in the direction of a more aggressive through every week of the season so far, but this was a clear statement about who the coaches believed this team could be if they got out of their own way.

So…what the heck happened after that?

First, we had the completely bizarre approach to the end of halftime, as the Bucs took over at their own 25-yard line down 14-13 with 36 seconds left in the first half and two timeouts. You’re an aggressive offense with tons of weapons, an elite quarterback and an offensive line that had just posted an exceptional first half…you’re going for points here, right? You just went for it on 4th-and-1 from your own 19 with a ten-point lead! Surely you’re going for points now that you’re trailing by one and the game has completely swung against you, right?

No. Or maybe, yes? Regardless of Arians and Leftwich’s intentions, a first down run call to Ronald Jones basically eliminated any chance of scoring on the drive. Jones gained six yards, and the clock wound to 20 seconds before the ball was snapped again.

And the Bucs went hurry-up to snap it and then passed the ball!

What is the approach here? If Arians and Leftwich simply wanted to run out the clock on the half, get to the break and make adjustments from there, ok. I would have completely disagreed with their decision, and there would be almost no analytical logic to it, but at least their intentions would have been clear and decisive.

Instead they opted to run the ball in what was clearly a conservative decision that flew completely in the face of the identity they had just tried to develop earlier in the same quarter. After that approach netted only six yards, the team then tried to go hurry-up and throw the football? Why? If you were going to be aggressive, why not do it when the chance of success was greatest?

After an eight-yard pass to Jones, the Bucs decided to call their second timeout with eight seconds left in the half. So they didn’t call a timeout after a bizarre first down run call, allowing 16 seconds to run off the clock before your next snap, but then did decide to call timeout with eight seconds left, and the ball at your own 39-yard line? There’s no logic to this approach.

Brady’s next pass attempt fell incomplete, and the quarterback knelt on the following play to run the final three seconds off the clock before halftime.

The conservative coaching approach was almost as strange in the second half, with the Bucs trailing 17-16, but in position to re-take the lead with a first-and-ten at the Bears 16-yard line with around five minutes left in the game. After a first down sack (thanks, Donovan Smith) and a second down incompletion, Brady threaded the needle between two defenders to Rob Gronkowski on 3rd-and-17, picking up almost 16 yards to set up a 4th and about one-and-a-half to go for a first down, with the ball at the Bears 7-yard line.

With 4:52 remaining in the game and the Bucs trailing by one with three timeouts left, this was the situation in which going for it made complete sense. Outside of all the data we have that tells us the percentages are heavily in favor of going for it on 4th-and-short, especially from deep in enemy territory, the Bucs also would have had a chance to get the ball back just outside of field goal range if their defense could force a Bears’ punt.

If the Bucs coaching staff trusted their defense to hold a two-point lead with just under five minutes left in the game, they should have trusted them even more to hold a Bears offense to minimal yardage if the Bucs offense couldn’t convert the fourth down. Yes, there’s an element of risk involved, but it’s substantially less risk than going for it on a 4th down you’re likely to get, and then getting four cracks at the end zone from six yards out.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles

Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Asking the Bears offense to score a touchdown rather than kick a field goal would have made it an extremely difficult task for the opposition. The Bears had driven the field for a touchdown just once in the game, and they needed two terrible calls from the officials to even do that. Their second touchdown came on a 27-yard drive after the Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumble.

If the Bucs could have scored a touchdown there, it would have delivered a deadly blow to Chicago’s hopes of victory. Instead they settled for three and took the conservative approach, once again flying in the face of the agenda they had prescribed to earlier in the game. The rest is history.

Who is this team? The Bucs coaching staff had multiple opportunities to solidify their identity as an aggressive football team that would “risk it for the biscuit”, as Arians’ loves to say. At best they sent mixed messages in that regard, and at worst they defied it completely. With ten days to prepare before playing the Green Bay Packers in a huge showdown, this team needs to decide who they are and then operate consistently out of that identity.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Dman
9 months ago

Really tired of he hype around Byron Leftwich becoming a hot HC prospect. Reality is he’s a very green OC and has done a fair to poor job with the Bucs. Bowles is legit and the top HC prospect on the staff and in my view the heir apparent to BA at this point.

RayJayinTBay
Reply to  Dman
9 months ago

Agree 100%. Leftwich very well in the long run may be good but I haven’t seen anything to say he even ranks in the top half of the league. Bruce Arians May be done after next season and if Bowles or Leftwich we’re to inherit this team I without question favor Bowles due to experience, regardless of what Leftwich does between now and end of next season. Heck we could win the super bowl this season and next season and I would still side with Bowles.

IDGABuc
Reply to  Dman
9 months ago

You’d think as a former starting QB for a good while in the NFL and one who supposedly knows both the offense and what BA would do better than anyone, he’d already know the best play calls for this team and their QB, AKA the one’s he would want in each situation! An aggressive one, preferably, but something, some identity! Although that 4th down play was big time risky from inside their own 20, I could’ve got behind that. It was smart in many ways, as Brady has been great on QB sneaks in short yardage throughout his career, which… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by IDGABuc
Donkey_Hunter
9 months ago

Another great article, Jon.
Not sure as to why Byron isn’t evolving as an OC.

bucballer
9 months ago

It’s an offensive coordinator’s dream job to call plays for the GOAT. Not sure why BL is finding it so difficult to find some consistentcy in calling plays. For God’s sake man, pull it together. These are remarkable times for the Bucs. The window is small. Make it happen!

twspin
Reply to  bucballer
9 months ago

Yep. That window is indeed small. brady might..have another year left in him.And then we gotta search for another QB. I have no doubt had we had our full complement we could have wipe out them Bears. But football is..Play with what you got and next man up. Bucs fans got a chance to see a great D line in the Bears. Surprised we did not scheme better for the mack.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  twspin
9 months ago

Yeah I wouldn’t rule out Brady being good for two more years but sure wouldn’t count on it. He’s in alien territory right now in terms of his age and performance. I wasn’t too worried about this year because I didn’t see much drop off last year (besides the drop in efficiency under pressure). Every year more grain falls in that hour glass though.

BigSombrero
9 months ago

Great article.

The decision to go for it on their own 20 with a 10 point lead was shocking. The sneak is a Brady signature play, but he barely got the inches needed for the first down. That seemed to influence their decision in the end.

surferdudes
9 months ago

Jon, couldn’t agree more. That had to be a big boost to the bears when we settled for that FG knowing they only needed one of their own to win. I’ve been scratching my head all season with some of these play calls. No, I don’t want Bowles or Byron as coach. If we don’t win the SB this year or next, it’s time to move in a new direction

BigSombrero
9 months ago

As far as identity goes…

They aren’t a smash mouth team with stingy defense that forces takeaways.

They aren’t an offensive juggernaut built to shoot it out with anyone.

Brady seems to be trying to balance his instinct to throw short safe passes that are wide open vs letting plays develop and taking deep shots like Winston/Luck/Palmer/Ben did in this offense.

Donkey_Hunter
Reply to  BigSombrero
9 months ago

That last part is simply not true, no matter how many times you say it.

BigSombrero
Reply to  Donkey_Hunter
9 months ago

We will agree to disagree on his current capabilities.

This year with elite weapons he is 0-2 against good teams. Against Green Bay next week, he will be an underdog at home with good reason.

He has a handful of easy games left, but he is supposed to be the GOAT against contenders.

So far, he’s been miserable in big games.

BigSombrero
Reply to  BigSombrero
9 months ago

And while it’s a different team, last year he was 3-4 vs teams with a winning record. He beat the Bills twice and the Cowboys.

Titans(playoffs), Texans, Chiefs and Ravens all stopped him.

Donkey_Hunter
Reply to  BigSombrero
9 months ago

I didn’t make an argument about his abilities, or lack there of. That was you moving the goalposts.

I was simply commenting on your continuous false narrative that he never pushes the ball downfield.

GrayBalls
Reply to  Donkey_Hunter
9 months ago

That’s not at all how that reads. It seems you’ve predefined the narrative for someone else’s words before they’ve even said them. The objective word in his above statement is “balance”, yet you automatically assumed he said Brady doesn’t take deep shots. As opposed to signing Brady as BS was and has been, I’m certain he sees the depth of sone of his throws to this point in the season. However, 20 years of running a safe, short, efficient offense would put aa lean on anyone’s instinctual predispositions

Dave
Reply to  BigSombrero
9 months ago

Elite weapons. Such as? Let’s go down the list of his offensive weapons shall we Evans: has been nowhere close to healthy for all 300 minutes of this season Godwin: has missed 3.5 out of the 5 games Miller: has played all 5 games, but clearly should not have played last game, and most likely wouldn’t have, if we weren’t already down Godwin, Howard, and Fournette OJ: has played 3.5 out of 5 games. Fournette: has missed 2 of the 5 games. Amount of games that Brady has had Evans, Godwin, Miller, OJ, Rojo, and Fournette on the field together:… Read more »

lambeau
9 months ago

Wonderful article. The talk in New England is that Belichik can be an A-hole, but when Brady left did he realize that to win he’d now have to overcome stupid? When the Patriots beat themselves, as they did Monday in KC, it is the exception; when tthe Bucs do iit it’s the rule–a feature of the system, not a bug.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  lambeau
9 months ago

The Patriots biggest issue is offensive personnel, same as it was last year. There is a reason Cam Newton had more designed runs through 3 weeks than any QB in NFL history. They don’t have the horses in the passing attack and the loss of Cam/OL starters spelled their doom.

Horse
9 months ago

Our offensive line couldn’t hold back their defensive line. It’s that simple.
Our Safeties didn’t help our corners; many passes were underthrown or were comebacks, and no one was there to help the cornerbacks. Everybody knows how to beat us now. We lost the mystique.

twspin
9 months ago

Penalties man..PENALTIES! we cannot get away from them. Gotta improve. And we need to get Goodwin back ASAP.

Spitfire
9 months ago

It’s true, the Bucs are still trying to figure out who they are. Arians likes to push it and Brady has always been good at managing and they need to work to find where they land together. Just like the Saints game this was a game that they hopefully learned a lot about themselves. A game they could have easily won, despite the crooked officials, they needed another lesson in keeping their cool and focus. If we get Godwin and Miller and Evans healthy for Green Bay we have every chance to beat the Packers and at the very least… Read more »

Captain Sly
9 months ago

Tom Brady wanted a stake in play calling duties before he signed, Why? Byron Leftwich…see 49ers game, Giants, and Bears. Can’t Win coaching scared, so if we hope to win Brady must increase while BA & Leftwich decrease. Cheers!

Bucco-Bruce
9 months ago

Yeah, I was completely lost as to what they were trying to achieve right before the half. Who cares if Succop had to try a 55 to 60 yard field goal, at least they put themselves in a position to score some points. So disappointed with the whole team from head coach to practice squad players!!

Horse
Reply to  Bucco-Bruce
9 months ago

Bucco-Bruce, it is just one game; tough to win every one of them. I think I was a little bit too optimistic that we could win 10 or 11 all games; not so sure now especially with all the injuries. I’m leaning now to 8 to 9 wins.

Ron Potter
9 months ago

Great article! They can’t pin a lot of the offense’s problems on Winston anymore and they certainly won’t pin it on Brady in his first year here… but he definitely warrants some criticism too. Funny how the problems of the last decade can be traced more specifically to our Offensive Coordinators but typically gets less attention. Glad you wrote this article.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ron Potter
Benjamin
9 months ago

Jon Ledyard I am as confused as you are about that damn game. There were so many play calls where I was left scratching my head wondering what the hell is going. I do not understand their lets go for it on our side of the field and then lets not when we are in the opposing teams red zone less than 10 yards from the goal line. It doesn’t make sense.

bucballer
9 months ago

I think what bothers us about the Bear’s game loss is… it was a game we should’ve/would’ve won. It’s a game where coaching failed us this time. Play calling and time management and just playing sound situational football. I’m convinced that going for it on 4th down to win the game was the call. Getting 3 was the safe/play not to lose move. It seems that coaching/couching decisions cost us 1-2 games a season. U put ur foot on their neck! It was the play of the game. No doubt. Convert that 4th and short and I like the Bucs… Read more »

seat26
9 months ago

This is not Leftwich’s fault. This is execution. We just were not good on Thursday. Offensive line, QB forgot what down it was, but thankfully we could run the ball, and our defense looked pretty good. I am going to miss Vea.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  seat26
9 months ago

It’s not Leftwich fault when the OL holds five times in a row but when the 4th ranked passing D says we won’t let you beat us deep and you keep trying to attack deep despite having a QB who feasts in the short passing game you are part of the problem. Look, it’s not all on the guy. This is a team sport. Brady bears blame. OL bears blame. Coaches bear blame. Injuries. The performance of the Bears defense. It’s cumulative.

Last edited 9 months ago by PatrioticChief
liquidmuse3
9 months ago

The mixed message is Bruce still being too checked out post-retirement, and Leftwich still too inexperienced.

43 Is Only Old in Human Years
9 months ago

Just a thought last year, after 5 games we were 3 and 2 A QB comparison over that time QB Yard TD INT QBR Winston 1,718 11 10 62.55 Brady 1,375 12 4 64.3 I know the first reaction is 6 less interceptions, but 4 of them games we won. I could mention the pick six’s but I won’t. Thing is Jamis was young, we brought in the “QB Whisperer” to coach him up something the great Ariens and his 100 person coaching staff couldn’t do. Brady is getting on in years and at this stage it is not likely… Read more »

Bucsfan1983
9 months ago

The Bucs need BA calling plays. They needed it last season, they need it this season.

Sam
Sam
9 months ago

Yep, should have gone for it. I had a feeling at the time they lost the game right there. Even if they don’t get the first, they would still have time at the end to win.

plopes808
9 months ago

I was and am still as confused as everyone else. “No risk it, no biscuit” right? What happened to that? Going for it from inside our 20 was a head scratcher, as was NOT going for it in the red zone to seal the game. I’ve been a harsh critic of Lefty’s playcalling for a while and in this one it seemed Bowles lost his touch as well. I wish this staff would find an identity and stick to it, even if we lost by not getting that 1st down, at least the call would have made sense.