Punt block a game-changer in Bucs' win
Mike Scifres never saw Dekoda Watson coming. By the time San Diego's veteran punter became aware of Watson's flight path, Tampa Bay's third-year linebacker was launching himself on top of the football a split-second after it left Scifres' right foot. "He got on me pretty fast,'' Scifres said of the momentum-turning play early in the second quarter. "I didn't notice him until it was too late.''
Watson, the former Florida State standout who started three games in his first two NFL seasons, lined up on the left side of Tampa Bay's punt-blocking unit with the Chargers at their 38-yard line, leading 14-10.
With cornerback E.J. Biggers on his left flank, Watson knifed inside and came through unblocked for his first punt block as a pro. Fellow linebacker Adam Hayward eagerly scooped up the loose ball at the Chargers 29 and ran it back for a go-ahead touchdown that contributed prominently to a 34-24 triumph.
"I give all the credit to my boy, Dekoda,'' Hayward said after posting his first career NFL score. "He did what he does best. When I saw the ball live, I picked it up and all I was thinking about was don't get caught because the guys will make fun of me.''
While Buc fans roared at the sight of Hayward lumbering toward the end zone, Scifires remained on the ground for several minutes with an apparent leg injury. After the game, it seemed the only thing hurting was his pride.
"I'll be all right,'' he said. "No doubt that was a big, big play.''
Watson, who blocked three kicks for the Seminoles, was all smiles after his game-changing deflection. "I came in clean and stuck out my hand,'' Watson said. "Hayward was right there to pick it up. Lord knows we needed it, both of us. I missed a blocked punt in Dallas and he missed one last week. We've both been in the doghouse lately. It's my first one as a pro and it's been a long time coming.''
Biggers played a critical decoy role on the play. When San Diego's protection unit focused on Biggers on the left edge, it freed Watson up inside. "They came to block me and Dekoda came on through,'' Biggers said. "It was great execution and a great play call.''
Tampa Bay's special teams were stellar throughout Sunday's game. Punter Mike Koenen averaged 44.7 yards, and one of his three kicks was downed at the 2-yard line. He also boomed five kickoffs deep into the end zone for touchbacks and Connor Barth added field goals of 40 and 45 yards.
"We've got Pro Bowl people like Dekoda Watson on special teams,'' Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett said, "and those guys came up big in a game like this.''
On a day the Bucs maintained possession for only 23:19, Tampa Bay players were grateful for any contribution. "Special teams were a key for us without a doubt,'' said center Jeremy Zuttah. "We needed every bit of their help today.''
|About the writer|
Ira Kaufman has long been both a great writer for The Tampa Tribune and friend to the Bucs UK and BUCPOWER.COM. He writes on all sports for the paper but during the NFL season offers his stories on not just the Buccaneers, but also the NFL in general.