BUCS : GOAL LINE STAND : PATRIOTS
By Leo Haggerty
Playing the Patriots on a short week usually had you on the right side of the dash when the final whistle sounded. That, Bucs fans, is no longer the case. New England is getting old especially at quarterback.
The Pats come into Raymond James Stadium for a Thursday night date with the Buccaneers. New England is 2-2 and coming off a home loss to the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay has a 2-1 record as a result of a Nick Folk field goal as time expired against the New York Giants.
Here’s the four goals I think Tampa Bay needs to accomplish.
1ST & GOAL – DON’T LET BRADY GET IN A RHYTHM
Yes, Tom Brady is pushing the big 4-0 and Father Time is undefeated. I said before the season started that the biggest question mark for the Patriots is would #12 be the guy that played the first half against the Falcons or the GOAT Super Bowl QB that brought them back in the second half against Atlanta.
With that being said, Brady still has the propensity to put together a great performance. They may not be as regular as they were in the past but #12 still has the moxie to put the Patriots on his back and will them to victory.
It is imperative that the Buccaneers defenders, especially early in the contest, get “color” in Brady’s face. If the former Michigan Wolverine alum can throw the ball “where he wants to and when he wants to” it’s going to be a long night for DC Mike Smith’s charges.
Tampa Bay needs to find a way to put pressure on Tom Terrific and, if they can manage a sack, knock him down a few times. Even the great ones become very average if you get enough hits on them.
How will you know if the Bucs were successful in this area? Check out Brady’s uniform at the beginning of the fourth quarter. If it’s clean, the Pewter Pirates aren’t getting to him and are probably behind. If it’s dirty, Tampa Bay has been putting #12 on the ground and are probably ahead.
2ND & GOAL – EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
There’s one thing you can take to the bank when you play New England. In all three phases of the game, the Patriots will have at lease one new wrinckle and the Bucs need to be ready for “anything and everything” come Thursday night.
OC Josh McDaniels and DC Matt Patricia along with STC Joe Judge are like a trio of inventors. They come with schemes that truly seem “off the wall” but manage to work.
Give HC Bill Belicheck a lot of credit for this. He’s the ultimate “mad scientist” and allows all three of his coordinators the freedom to experiment with any type of scheme they can devise.
It will be fun to watch the “chess match” that will be going during the game. Both staffs will have to make adjustments on the fly and the team that can do that the best will most probably be the winner.
3RD & GOAL – PLAY THROUGH ADVERSITY
OK, we all know that bad things are going to happen against the Patriots. Heck, they’re the defending Super Bowl champion. They are going to score points on offense and come up with stops on defense.
Tampa Bay needs to ‘weather the storm” especially in the early in the contest. New England will go for the “knockout blow” early. Pats HC Bill Belichick knows that the longer you leave a team in the game, the more confidence they get and think they can beat you.
Just look at the Pats so far this season. In every game, with maybe the exception of the Saints, New England has had to claw there way back into the tilt. They were successful only once when rookie QB Deshaun Watson almost engineered a Texan victory at Gillette Stadium.
New England wasn’t so fortunate in home losses to Kansas City and Carolina. In both cases, the Patriots defense was torched for big plays that led to lots of points.
Hey, the Patriots are getting old together an that’s a recipe for disaster in the National Football League. New England is vulnerable for the first time in a long time. The Bucs need to not get all “bent out of shape” when the Pats makes a play.
This game isn’t going to be 14-13. Tampa Bay needs to match the Patriots by making play of their own.
The Pewter Pirates need to get the game to the last quarter and be ahead or within a score. New England may not have enough gas left in the tank to overtake the Bucs.
4TH & GOAL – DON’T LET GREAT PLAYERS MAKE A GREAT PLAY
I call that the Rick Pitino rule. When coaching at Kentucky in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament , aka March Madness, Coach Rick had a one point lead with a 2.1 seconds left in the game with Duke.
With the Blue Devils having the basketball 94 feet from their basket. Pitino chose not to put a UK player on the passer. That allowed All-American Grant Hill a free look to throw the ball to All-American Christian Laettner at the opposite free throw line. Of course, the Duke forward hit the game-winner as time expired. The Wildcats allowed great players to make great plays. That’s why they’re great, right?
Now, let’s put this in perspective for Thursday night with an example that could possibly occur. New England has the ball with 10 seconds left in the first half. It’s 3rd and goal from the Bucs 9 yard line. What are the Patriots going to do? Hum. you say.
Well, I would say that anyone with any assemblance of football knowledge knows that Brady is going to look for Gronk in the end zone. That’s a no-brainer, right?
The Bucs cannot let that happen because, in a large majority of cases, #12 will find #87 for the touchdown. DC Mike Smith has to come up with a scheme that will make Brady go to a secondary receiver. That may be just enough time for one of the Tampa Bay defenders to get to the GOAT Super Bowl QB and force an incompletion or a sack or, even better for the Pewter Pirates, a turnover.
Great players can, and will, find a way to beat you. It’s what has made them great and the Bucs want to make darn sure that doesn’t happen Thursday night.
OK, here’s my prediction. I think this is going to be an old-fashioned shootout with the team with the ball last coming out on top. I think that will be the Buccaneers 38-34 with a late Jameis Winston to Adam Humphrey TD pass.