TAMPA — In what may be considered the most important drive of the season, Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales emptied his playbook against the Saints.
The 87-yard, second quarter march Sunday took 17 plays and elapsed nearly nine minutes off the clock. But it won’t be remembered as much for its longevity as it will be for its creativity.
Eight different players touched the football, including receiver Chris Godwin, who not only caught three passes but also threw the first one of his NFL career.
There were rollouts, shuffle passes, end-arounds and the little gadget play by Godwin.
The drive ended when quarterback Baker Mayfield flipped a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton, giving the Bucs a lead they never relinquished in a 26-9 win.
“Man, I love it,” coach Todd Bowles said Monday. “It’s important to keep teams off-balance when you’ve got them on the run. You don’t want to do the same things over and over again. It keeps everybody interested. Everybody can touch the ball on offense. It makes everybody want to play harder, play faster and it’s motivational. He did a heck of a job calling it.”
Six days earlier, Canales watched the Bucs’ offense get neutralized by the Eagles in a 25-11 loss to the defending NFC champions. That wasn’t going to happen Sunday.
“It’s fun, for sure. To that point, the guys do enjoy that,” Canales said. “As long as they’re a part of the play, because again, that’s a lot of mileage if we’re not giving them an opportunity for the ball. But I think in a drive like that against a defense like (the Saints’), you know I wasn’t going to try to make it like this macho, mano-y-mano kind of thing. There are ways to do that and make them work.
“I think coming out of the first three games that maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough just to get first downs. So make yards while we’re learning the core of our system, while we’re trying to learn the fundamental blocking schemes that we’ve got to get good at.”
Not only did the Bucs average 5.3 yards per play Sunday, they did it by getting huge contributions from young receivers such as rookie Trey Palmer and second-year pro Deven Thompkins, who each caught a touchdown pass.
Evans was forced to leave the game late in the first half with a hamstring strain. Godwin played even bigger, catching eight passes for a season-high 114 yards. But it was “the puppy pound,” as Bowles calls Thompkins, Palmer and Rakim Jarrett, that picked up the slack. They combined for seven catches, 54 yards and two scores.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“And then (Thompkins), just his energy, right?” Canales said. “One of the things I tell the group all the time is that the ball finds energy. If you break with a lot of juice, you make your break, it just grabs the attention of the quarterback. It’s no different than basketball, where everyone is kind of spreading out. If someone breaks to the hoop fast, you see them and you dish it. It’s kind of the same feel, the ball finds energy. It’s pretty cool.
“I think when Mike (Evans) is not out there, it frees up the defensive play-caller to call things a little more balanced instead of always putting our attention over there to 13. So then all of a sudden when he’s out it’s, ‘OK, guys, who’s going to make those plays?’ ”
Canales knows he can improve as a first-time play-caller, and the Bucs rank 19th in the NFL with 19 points per game.
“Just the run game flow, just understanding what the defense’s plan is to take away some of our core runs and being able to make the transition to the run game better,” Canales said. “That’s I think my biggest growth curve. I’ve watched coordinators do really good with that. I was with Brian Schottenheimer, Shane Waldron, Darrell Bevell. I feel like that’s a place I haven’t really wrapped my brain around yet.”
But for one drive, the Saints didn’t know who — or what — hit them.
“We always talked about don’t be afraid to rotate those young guys in, we’re going to need them at some point,” Canales said. “They’re not playing perfect ball. There’s a lot they can clean up. There’s a lot of sloppy plays that happen but they played with a lot of juice, a lot of confidence and (Mayfield) feeds off that as well with a lot of those guys flying around.”
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.