Bucs' special-teams gaffe put game out of reach
TAMPA -- The Bucs had just allowed a demoralizing 17-play drive that allowed San Francisco to take 10 minutes and 27 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter, but what followed was much quicker and more painful.
Trailing 23-14 with 4:27 to play, the Bucs had returner Eric Page deep in the end zone, and he brought out the kickoff, then looked to hand off to receiver Russell Shepard, who would have reversed to the right side of the field. The handoff was botched, however, and Shepard went down, allowing San Francisco's Kendall Hunter to pounce on the loose ball and dive into the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-14 lead.
"It was a called play," coach Greg Schiano said of the attempted trick play. "We were going to run a reverse if the opportunity presented itself the right way. It didn't, yet we still ran it, but it's OK. We made a mistake. Guys make mistakes sometimes."
Shepard, who has been a standout on special teams this season, put the blame on himself, saying "I need to secure it" and noting that the team had practiced the play extensively. Schiano had said the play could have been aborted if players had not seen the right fit from San Francisco's coverage, but Shepard said he would have to look at video to know whether that should have been done.
Page, who has been the Bucs' primary returner all season, said the exchange had to be just right and the Bucs missed on that, despite their preparation and confidence the play would be there.
"We've been working on that play for a few weeks, but it just wasn't executed right," Page said. "It just didn't work the way we thought it would work. Obviously there was a handoff issue."