Three kicks that cost the Bucs
Eduardo Encina, Tampa Bay Times, published 10 December 2018

While the Bucs' 28-14 loss to the Saints was one of two very different halves, the momentum changed after three key special teams plays went wrong for Tampa Bay. Cairo Santos, who entered the day with a perfect kicking record in his three games, missed two field-goal attempts. But it was the Saints' third-quarter punt block that really turned the game. "Yeah, that was a momentum change," Koetter said. "We had other chances, but that was definitely a big play."

The Bucs led 14-3 and were about to punt from their 41, but backup quarterback Taysom Hill came free and blocked Bryan Anger's punt. That gave the Saints starting position at the Tampa Bay 30. They scored their first touchdown five plays later, the beginning of 25 unanswered points.

"I think we all recognize that when you have those games where you're struggling to get things going," quarterback Drew Brees said, "and you just need one thing to just ignite the team, ignite the sideline and get you going."

As Brees pointed out, the Saints would score on four straight possessions following the blocked punt. On the play, Hill lined up on the edge, but stunted around defensive end Alex Okafor, who drew a double team from Tampa Bay's Justin Watson and Cameron Lynch. Hill slipped untouched through a gap to the right of Lynch. Asked who missed their man, Lynch said, "It's all of ours, for real. We just have to account for them all, and be tight on protection."

Saints coach Sean Payton said the Saints weren't going for the block. The adjustment was made by the players before the play. "When you get to rush next to Alex Okafor, it makes your job really easy," Hill said. "There were a few looks when you looked at and saw during the week and we were able to run a little game. (Special teams) coach (Mike) Westhoff gives us the freedom to do emergency calls like that. (Okafor) and I saw it, so we went for it."

Lynch gave credit to Westhoff, whose special teams unit has blocked two punts this season. "At the end of the day, they have a great coordinator over there," he said. "And they made a big play. We've just got to tighten it up on our end. Just tighten it up in general."

Santos' misses were also untimely. His first hit the right upright on a 46-yard attempt early in the second quarter. A make would have given a 10-0 lead. The Saints kicked a field goal on their next possession.

"They go out there and score a field goal and get a little momentum so, I'm aware of how misses and makes can affect that and it starts with making the kick," Santos said. "If I make the kick, maybe it's different. It's always frustrating to not do your job."

He missed a 40-yard attempt wide right on the Bucs' first possession of the second half, which came after defensive end Carl Nassib strip sacked Brees for a takeaway. That would have put the Bucs up 17-3. "That was a beautiful strip-sack when the ball came out," Koetter said. "We had a chance to get seven or three and we got zero."

Santos, who was 3-for-3 on field goals and 11-for-11 on extra points entering the game, didn't believe the weather was a factor. The field was damp from a strong line of storms that went through Tampa early Sunday.

"I don't make excuses," Santos said. "I don't think wind, rain or the field was a factor. On those misses, I thought the way the ball moved right on me was uncharacteristic of how I hit the ball, and how I hit the ball today in warmups. Sometimes that's just how it goes. It doesn't go in. I do feel like I hit the ball good. I've just got to hold my head high and just keep going to work. That's how this position goes and how this sport goes."