Koetter on punting from 35: 'Crazy' not to trust defense
Bucs fans now know that the outcome worked out well, but as "what would you do" late-game conundrums, it's a good conversation piece: Up five points, 2:08 left, facing a fourth-and-7 from your opponent's 35-yard line. What's the call?
Going for it isn't a smart option with 7 yards needed for a first down. It would be a 53-yard field goal, a full 10 yards longer than any that rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo has made, and that only puts you up eight, where a touchdown and two-point conversion could still put the game into overtime. And missing a long kick like that shortens the field for the Saints' potential game-winning drive.
So Dirk Koetter opted to punt from the 35, and Bryan Anger came through, along with his coverage team, as Josh Robinson downed the punt at the 3-yard line, this after the Bucs had downed a 44-yard punt at the 1 masterfully to set up the previous Saints possession.
"You're faced with 'Do you kick it and take a chance that you make it, you're up eight? Or do you try to pin them and make them go the distance?" Koetter said after the game. "I think that just shows how times have changed. Our defense was playing so good. I think we would've been crazy at that point to not put it on our defense to get it done."
The execution was near-perfect -- in the last 20 years, the Bucs have attempted 41 punts from their opponent's 36-yard line or deeper, and only three were downed closer than the 3-yard line, where Anger's was. Two of those three came in the same game, as Mark Royals had two punts downed at the 2-yard line (and another at the 6) in a 2001 win over the Ravens. Usually, punting from the 36 in offers limited return on the safe bet -- nearly half (17 times), it has resulted in a touchback, and another 10 times, the opponent has taken over at the 10-yard line or better.
In the NFL this season, only one punt has been attempted deeper in opposing territory than Anger's punt -- the 49ers punted from the Bears' 31-yard line earlier this month, and the punt was fair-caught at the 5-yard line. Of the 14 punts from the opposing 35 or 36-yard line this season, only two have been downed inside the 3 -- three resulted in touchbacks and four others set opponents up at the 7 or better.
Just by punting from the opposing 35, Anger is taking a ding on his personal punting averages -- despite the 32-yard gem, he's still on course to set the Bucs' single-season records for punting average (45.9 yards, ahead of Josh Bidwell's 45.57-yard average in 2005) and net punting average (42.0 yards, breaking the mark of 40.3 set by Michael Koenen in 2011). He also has 28 punts now inside the 20-yard line, and two more will match the team record of 30, set by Tom Tupa in 2002 and Bidwell in 2007.