Big-time gamble on 4th down pays off big
The Buccaneers had nothing to lose facing fourth-and-1 on New Orleans' 18-yard line.
The Bucs needed a win against the defending Super Bowl champion to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Kicking a field goal would have given them a six-point lead, an advantage New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees could erase with one throw.
The Bucs' decision to go for it resulted in a touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Mike Williams and led to a 23-13 victory.
"You've got to make big-time decisions in big-time games," Raheem Morris said. "You learn lessons every week, every game, and that was the choice."
Freeman said the play was designed with tight end Kellen Winslow as the primary target, with Williams a second option. There was one problem.
"(The Saints) looked at it and said, 'What the heck is Kellen Winslow doing in here on a power play?' " Freeman said. "You have two options on the play. You've got Kellen and hope he comes off Scott-free, but that didn't happen. You've got Mike on the backside one-on-one. You step up, hope you can buy a little time, and give Mike an opportunity."
Freeman took the snap and faked like he was going to run, but looked in Williams' direction after Winslow was double-teamed. Williams knew the ball was coming his way right after the snap.
"I looked at the safety and he went running to Kellen, so I'm like, 'This is my chance,' " he said. "I looked back and (the safety) was pushing and grabbing and I'm like, 'I haven't been getting a call all day, so I need to go up and get this.' I did and came down with it. … When you have a chance to get the ball and help your team get a first down or a touchdown, it feels good."
As a result, Tampa Bay led 20-10 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter. With Tampa Bay ahead by 10 points, coupled with Atlanta taking a commanding lead against Carolina in its effort to clinch the NFC South title, New Orleans pulled Brees early in the fourth quarter.
Freeman had another outstanding day, completing 21 of 26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 133.2. He extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass to a team-record 13.
Freeman finished the season with 3,451 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. His 25 touchdowns were one shy of Brad Johnson's team record set in 2003. His season passer rating of 95.9 was second to Brian Griese's team record 97.5 in 2004.
For Williams, the play was record-setting. It marked his 11th touchdown reception of the season, breaking Joey Galloway's single-season team record of 10 in 2005.
"The catch was similar to the one Kellen made against Detroit," Freeman said. "Two guys locked up, the ball is up in the air, and at the last second he sees the ball, makes a play and makes the catch. Mike has good ball skills, he's taller (than the safety) and I expect him to make that catch."
|About the writer|
Anwar Richardson has been writing Buccaneer stories for The Tampa Tribune for several seasons and adds additional depth on the players and coaches on the roster.