As much as the Bucs offense let some points on the board with red-zone inefficiency in Sunday's 29-7 win against the Bears, the team's best execution might have come in the final minute of the first half in setting up a 50-yard field goal.
Up 23-0 already, given the ball at their 25 with 1:04 left, the Bucs could have easily just run out the half, content to go to the locker room with a dominating lead. Instead, they worked on that two-minute drill, with Jameis Winston completing four passes for 53 yards to set up the kick.
"It feels great. We wanted that two-minute opportunity," quarterback Jameis Winston said after the game. "We got a chance to run a play that we have never run in a real game before, with Mike Evans catching that ball, then getting out of bounds, so it was good to be able to work that and we saw how it did. I think that's the happiest I've ever seen Coach Koetter — during that two-minute drive, on that final play — than I have since I've been here."
Winston completed a 21-yard pass to DeSean Jackson — the Bucs' longest offensive play of the day — and then converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard gain to Cam Brate, but the Bucs used their last time out to stop the clock at the Bears' 44 with 14 seconds left.
At that point, the expectation is that the Bucs would only throw to the sidelines — a completed pass stopped on the field to keep the clock running has no guarantee that the offense can move quickly and spike to stop the clock. But Winston threw to Evans going across the middle, and he had three teammates — RB Charles Sims, Brate and Jackson — in position to make blocks to seal a path to the sidelines, putting the Bucs at the Bears' 27 with 0:07 left.
An illegal shift penalty cost the Bucs 5 yards — Folk had connected from 45 yards, but given a longer kick, was still good from 50 yards, or 7 yards longer than any kick the Bucs had last season.
How rare is such a well-executed drive in the final two minutes of the first half? In 16 games last year, the Bucs only had eight such opportunities, and only managed to score three times. The best execution came in last year's opener, when the Bucs, starting at their 25 with 1:45 remaining, went 75 yards on 10 plays and got a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sims on their way to a huge win at Atlanta.
The other scores were also field goals — against Chicago, they got the ball at their 47 with 1:45 to go and got a Roberto Aguayo field goal with 31 seconds left, only to allow the Bears a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the half. Against the Chiefs, they were at their 25 with 1:13 to play and went 52 yards to set up another Aguayo field goal. Again, given the same opportunity, sometimes the Bucs let the clock run out — up on Oakland last year, the Bucs got the ball with 1:06 left and were content to run the ball twice and go to halftime with a modest lead.