‘You’re either going to look real smart or you’re going to look dumb’
Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times, published 5 November 2018

If any one play-call was the sign of the depths of desperation to which this Bucs' season has sunk, it was Tampa Bay's botched fake punt in the second quarter Sunday. Already trailing by three touchdowns, coach Dirk Koetter dove deep into his play card and pulled out one of the riskiest plays possible in an attempt to give his floundering team momentum.

This wasn't the typical spot for a fake punt — fourth and 9 at the Bucs 26 and trailing 28-7 with 6:33 left in the first half — but the Panthers were rolling, having scored touchdowns on three straight possessions They would go on to score on five straight possessions. "You're either going to look real smart or you're going to look dumb if it doesn't work, so that's on me," Koetter said after his team's 42-28 loss.

And yes, momentum is big in the NFL. And combined with the Bucs' poor assignment coverage and even worse tackling, Koetter said he felt he needed to do something to keep the ball away from the Panthers. The coach even admitted that the fact that his team haven't made a defensive takeaway in four games coming into Sunday played a role in taking a major risk. It didn't work.

Punter Bryan Anger sold the punt, then tried to throw to tight end Alan Cross along the right side. Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs bore down on Anger as he lofted the pass into tight coverage. Linebacker David Mayo tipped the ball, which was nearly picked off on the deflection before falling to the turf. It was the first fake punt the Bucs had attempted since 2013.

"We felt like since we hadn't been getting any turnovers that we needed to try to steal the possession, the way Carolina's playing," Koetter said. "We knew it was there. We had a breakdown in protection and that's the risk you take when you try a fake punt like that."

The play gave the Panthers possession deep into Bucs territory, capitalizing five plays later for a 35-7 lead — Tampa Bay's largest deficit of the game — 4:07 before halftime. Though it wasn't a turnover, it had the feel of one. The Bucs also committed two actual turnovers on Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions. Their minus-13 turnover margin is tied for worst in the NFL.

"We had a couple of errors, turnovers and things like that, that set us back," tackle Demar Dotson said. "It just seems like the same thing every week, but we put the defense in a couple bad spots, turnovers, a fake punt that didn't go nowhere, so we didn't do a good job of helping the defense out."