If there’s one thing fans criticize more than anything else, it’s play calling.

The Bucs escaped Carolina with a 17-14 victory – avoiding fan outrage that would’ve gone beyond the kicking woes – but that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay escaped the doubts from many Monday (Tuesday) morning quarterbacks.

After a highly-questioned draw-play call on third-and-9, which set up a 46-yard field goal that Roberto Aguayo would miss, the Bucs got the ball back following an impressive three-and-out stand by the defense. Pinned at its own 14-yard line with 1:49 remaining and the score tied at 14, the offense ran twice for a combined three yards to set up third-and-7.

Had the Bucs not converted on an 11-yard pass to Mike Evans on the ensuing down, the decision to play it conservative would have created an uproar of second guessing in Tampa Bay. But head coach Dirk Koetter explained on Tuesday that the Bucs needed to be careful until they at least moved the chains once on the drive.

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images

“The first thing we needed to do was make a first down. We needed to make one first down to ensure that it wasn’t going to be three-and-out and only use up however much time we’ve been using up – that wouldn’t have been good,” Koetter said. “So, we needed to make that first first-down.”

In other words, if Tampa Bay threw incompletions on first- and second-down it would’ve created a third-and-10 situation with the Panthers stocked with all three timeouts and approximately 1:40 left on the clock. Throw one more incompletion on third down – which is now a predictable call – and Carolina could’ve foreseeably taken over inside the 50-yard line with 1:30 and three timeouts.

Once Tampa Bay forced Carolina to use a timeout things felt safer, and once the Bucs converted third down, the Panthers were forced to guard the big passing play. From there, Koetter said, the Bucs’ options opened up.

“That first [third-down conversion], out of thirteen personnel, was obviously the biggest because it got us that first first-down and then we were able to get going into our two-minute offense,” Koetter said. “Now, after we got going into our two-minute offense, they started playing more two-deep coverage and that’s when we ran it a couple times. We ran the draw, got a nice little gain on that (seven yards). Once we got across the 50 and there was time, then it became pretty clear that we were going to have a chance at a last-second field goal. Now, you’re just trying to get it to where it’s the last play of the game and we win, so you don’t leave time on the clock.”

It all worked to perfection, Koetter gets praised and everyone – coaches, players and fans alike – are relieved and optimistic heading into the bye week. But one incompletion on third down, or one more missed kick from 38 yards out, and it’s a completely different narrative over the next two weeks.

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders. Contact him at: [email protected]
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EastEndBoy
EastEndBoy
5 years ago

I think we’re being coached by Doctor Jeckyl and Mr Hyde….didn’t we read an article only a week or two ago about a “going for the throat” mentality….and now we’re “playing it safe”….the problem with switching up such a fundamental thing as the “approach to the game” from aggressive to conservative is that you (and your players) get confused….pick an identity and go with it. Personally, i am a big fan of being aggressive, giving the ball to our best players on offense, and putting our best defensive players in positions to make plays. But they don’t call me EastEnd… Read more »

dictate2u
dictate2u
Reply to  EastEndBoy
5 years ago

what??? You are a sport’s psychologist??

wnb0395
wnb0395
Reply to  EastEndBoy
5 years ago

EEB, the problem with sticking to an identity is you get predictable. Bellicek changes up his coaching style and identity weekly. By doing so, he keeps his opponents guessing, which is one of many reasons he is such a great coach. I like the idea of changing things up. It will keep our opponents guessing.

EastEndBoy
EastEndBoy
Reply to  wnb0395
5 years ago

@wnb0395…I see your point and I agree that one does not want to be predictable – I (and from what I’ve seen, Bellichick) would say you do that by mixing up the plays not the approach….I can’t imagine a Bellichick team running the ball over 3 quarters of football 20 times for less than 40 yards…unless it was in a hurricane….nor have I ever seen him play to punt without the lead in the 4th quarter (maybe he has, but I can’t recall it….perhaps because he always has the lead :-)

buddah
buddah
5 years ago

Evans does not get enough credit for the clutch third down that likely prevented Carolina from winning in regulation and enabled the rest of the drive. He was the only receiver out on the play and he was double-covered and with safety help. He is the most valuable player of the first 5 games. I liked the play calling. Koetter watched the same game I did and he knew what Carolina could do in the last minute given what they did in the last 39 seconds of the first half. There is a time to be aggressive and a time… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

I think his reasoning sounded perfectly logical. I remember in the Cardinals gam when the Bucs got the ball with less than 2 minutes remaining. We three the ball three straight times, they were all incompletions and the Cards got the ball back with plenty of time to score and did. I also remember Kotter being criticized for his aggressive play calling. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. One thing I an sure of is that Kotter has forgotten more about football than I ever knew. I also remember the reason he didn’t call the TO against the… Read more »

fredster
fredster
5 years ago

Yea, the play at end of Rams game would have worked if he didn’t overthrow it. That’s true enough. When you have a young qb that gets too amped up it seems to like calling time out and telling him to relax and have fun might have helped. We are just arm chair coaches though and it easy to second guess. That’s why we are all here though. Lol.