Welcome to a NEW post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the singular moment where things went north or south for the team.
Setting The Stage
Despite the Bucs second half offensive struggles, this one never really felt in doubt. The game-changing moment of the game might honestly have been Pat O’Connor’s blocked punt on the Broncos first possession of the game, which set the Bucs up for a touchdown less than five minutes into the game.
But the Broncos were still alive with under five minutes left in the second quarter, when the Bucs took over at their own 44-yard line after a Denver punt, up 17-3. Would the play-calling and offensive execution wilt like it did late in the first half a week ago? Or would the Bucs bury the overwhelmed Broncos by coming out aggressive?
The Turning Point
On first-and-ten, Byron Leftwich dialed up a shot play off play-action, a terrific call that set the tone for the whole drive.
Off a split zone play fake, Howard slipped out the backside of the play on a Y-Leak concept, but was alertly picked up by linebacker Joey Jewell. As Howard wheeled down the sideline, Jewell was step-for-step with the big tight end as the Broncos had seemingly snuffed out the play.
But Brady let the throw rip anyway, trusting his big 6-6 tight end to go up and make a play on a beautifully thrown ball. Howard ripped the pass away from Jewell with one arm, working back through the linebacker to make a huge play despite defensive pass interference.
It was a perfect thrown and an incredible circus catch, and the exact type of opportunity I pleaded with the Bucs to give Howard just this past week. He’s a dynamic threat that will definitely mess up at times, but has the ability to make plays that other tight ends just can’t. Use him! On Sunday, the Bucs did and they prospered.
Following Howard’s big catch, it took five plays for the Bucs to find the end zone, as Brady connected with Mike Evans for the second time to put Tampa Bay up 23-3. The Broncos never seriously threatened the Bucs for the rest of the game. Howard finished the game with three catches for 49 yards on a day where Brady spread the ball around consistently, which could be the sign of a developing connection between the veteran quarterback and the former first round tight end.