TAMPA — Before the cannon smoke cleared Monday night inside Raymond James Stadium, tempo had emerged as Tampa’s latest buzzword.
After 55 minutes of offensive malaise, Tom Brady and Co. found a fifth gear in the waning moments against the Saints, posting consecutive touchdown drives bereft of a huddle or hesistancy. During those two breakneck possessions, Brady went 14-for-19 for 118 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with seven different receivers.
“It all starts with the quarterback,” coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday. “He can dissect things, he’s seen it plenty of times. I guess the urgency clicked even more so in the two-minute (drill) being down that way, and guys just locked in.”
Naturally, the exhilarating finish left fans wanting more. Specifically, more tempo.
“It’s a great tool,” Brady said.
The Bucs say they’re not averse to it. And as virtually every NFL team can attest, they have got the quintessential quick-tempo maestro to orchestrate it.
“(Brady’s) decision-making, his zip on the ball, just knowing he’s been in the situation a million times and he’s practiced a million times — that helps a lot, too,” Bowles said.
But a distinct line exists between no-huddle and no holds barred, meaning any up-tempo approach must come with some moderation and discretion.
“That’s tough,” Brady said Thursday when asked about the practicality of using a no-huddle the entire game. “I think that’s tough for a number of reasons. It’s like, blitzing’s good, but should you blitz every play? I don’t know, not if they start to expect the blitz. I’m sure they’ll (adjust).”
The Bucs have employed a no-huddle, shotgun look on 14.4% of their offensive plays this season, according to NFLsavant.com. Before Monday night’s rally, it was most effective in a 21-15 win against the Falcons in Week Five, when each of the first four possessions in which they used it resulted in points (two touchdowns, two field goals).
It flopped in the first half at Pittsburgh, with Brady being sacked during a two-minute drill just before halftime, but produced a 14-play, 73-yard touchdown drive on the team’s final possession. Problem was, the defense wasn’t able to get the ball back as the Steelers milked the final 4½ minutes in a 20-18 triumph.
“We’ll run it anywhere,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “As you’ve seen, we’ve run it backed up, red zone, it (doesn’t) matter.”
But what about any time? That’s a bit more complicated.
A no-huddle attack that results in a couple of quick three-and-outs can wear down a defense that has no time to catch its collective breath. Moreover, the approach often is more effective against prevent-style defenses trying to preserve a lead and prevent a big play (such as against the Saints on Monday). As Brady notes, opponents adjust.
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And Bowles suggested the lack of continuity along the patchwork offensive line has made the staff a bit more reticent about ratcheting the tempo.
“It’s just about certain guys being able to do certain things,” he said. “We’re down a tackle (Tristan Wirfs) or so, so that’s exposing a lot of things, too. You’ve got to be selective in some of the things you do.”
The “selective” part of the equation remains the sore spot among the fanbase.
With the game — and potentially season — at stake, the Bucs went no-huddle out of pure necessity Monday night, and Brady became the NFL’s all-time leader in fourth-quarter comebacks (44). But a week before at Cleveland, when the Bucs had the scenario — and timeouts — for a two-minute attack, Bowles opted for overtime. The Browns won in the extra session, 23-17.
Which suggests that as long as their coach chooses to go conservative, the team may not often try to go quicker. Or will they?
“I don’t know if we need it every week,” Leftwich said.
“We’ve done it some earlier in the year, we’ve done it some. We’ve always been good at it when we need it: end-of-game, end-of-half situations. We’ve always been really good at it. You don’t know how much you’ll need it week-in and week-out, but it’s good to have it there.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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