TAMPA — It looked as if he was in way over his headset.
New Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales called plays in the NFL for the first time Sunday in Minneapolis, and things did not go well at the start, to say the least.
Tampa Bay went three-and-out on three of its first four possessions. Quarterback Baker Mayfield started the game 3-of-11 passing for 12 yards.
On the sideline, Canales was the picture of calm amid chaos. But internally, he worried he might wear out the punter by halftime.
“I’m looking at the call sheet like, ‘Who’s plays are these? They suck. Did somebody switch my call sheet out?’” Canales joked. “It was, like, really cool for me just to go against a guy like (Vikings defensive coordinator) Brian Flores, his reputation. He made it hard. He made it really difficult on us. He knew what I was trying to get done systematically.
“But we have answers, and we have tool belts, things that we’ve worked on for years in Seattle that we carried here. Baker and the guys mastered it beautifully and picked up a lot of good information and made adjustments, you know, at the half.”
Had the Bucs made a play or two early in the game, things might have started differently.
“If (tight end) Cade (Otton) catches his seam route, right? They knocked that ball out. I should’ve gone fast there so they couldn’t review it. I didn’t,” Canales said. “... I thought there was an easy completion the first play of the game (to tight end Ko Kieft). The second one, he was hot, but we’re two completions away from just getting a couple drives started.”
Of course, the Bucs rallied with a two-minute drive before halftime, then held the ball for nearly nine minutes on a march to another score in the third quarter. They went on to win 20-17 on Chase McLaughlin’s 57-yard field goal.
“We just can’t panic,” Canales said. “You know, I watch all the games. Some of them started really rough, just like ours. Some of the guys come out, I watched the Seahawks game and they just come out just firing on all cylinders, you know? You just can’t decide the game in the first quarter. So we just kind of stayed the course.”
As poorly as the passing game started Sunday, the run game may have been worse. The Bucs, who ranked last in the NFL in rushing average (3.5) a year ago, finished the game with 73 yards rushing on 33 attempts, a 2.2-yard average.
But to Canales, that represented 52% of the team’s run-efficiency goal of 4 yards or better.On top of that, he pointed out, the Bucs had only one negative run.
“’It’s not uncommon in the zone scheme to have three or four (negative runs),” Canales said. “So I come out of it, we’re sitting there as a staff, say, ‘Hey, 52% efficiency, guys.’ That means we blocked everything, right? That means we got the running back started.”
After that, Canales said, it’s a matter of running backs Rachaad White, Sean Tucker and Chase Edmonds finding the right seams to get to the second level of the defense.
“I was excited about it,” Canales said, “and then just to be able to get into a four-minute mode and run it, throw it a little bit and then run it again at the end to take over the time possession, I thought the run game was fine.”
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The Bucs had a two-minute drive for a touchdown to end the first half, with Mayfield firing a 28-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Mike Evans with a little over a minute remaining in the half.
Then the Bucs took the second-half kickoff and held the football for nearly nine minutes, a drive capped by Mayfield’s 7-yard TD pass to rookie receiver Trey Palmer.
“I thought (Canales) did a great job,” center Robert Hainsey said. “I thought our plan was great, the way he called it was great. The things I love about Dave is he’s very calm on the sideline. Never too high, never too low. He’s just always giving us the best plays to win.”
During his time with Pete Carroll in Seattle, coaching receivers and quarterbacks since 2010, Canales always watched from the coaches’ box high above the stadium. Sunday, he called plays from the sideline. His vantage point is forever changed after that first game.
“I think for me, it was really good to just feel the guys on the sideline,” Canales said. “And the biggest comment I’ll make is, like, this feels like a winning team. Again, I’ve said it before, but like there’s a championship in the rearview mirror, and there’s a lot of guys who were on that team.
“There was no panic early on, even with the slow start. The guys were just calm. They’re like, ‘OK, let’s fix some stuff. Let’s sit down, keep working.’ And then we just went on to the next drive, and it kind of stayed like that for a while as we figured things out.”
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