TAMPA — As the Bucs dissected the final drive that beat Pittsburgh last weekend, they pointed out one of the oddities of a successful two-minute drill.
The biggest play wasn't the winning touchdown or the big throw that set it up.
It was the pass that went nowhere that saved the game.
That's one of the paradoxes of the two-minute drill, which features its own set of rules that often mean the difference between victory and defeat.
"When you see teams execute well, it's usually not because they do amazing plays," said receiver Vincent Jackson, who caught the winning touchdown. "It's because maybe somebody doesn't make that mistake."
Avoiding mistakes in the final 120 seconds often comes down to a seemingly obvious factor: Understanding the situation.
Do you need a touchdown or a field goal? What side of the field does your kicker prefer? How many timeouts does each team have? When should you step out of bounds, and when should you fight for the extra yard?
Bucs coaches pound those specifics every Thursday, when they practice two-minute drills by tweaking the distance, clock and timeouts to prepare for as many scenarios as possible.
"We go through all the situations," running back Bobby Rainey said. "When that time comes in a game, it won't be a surprise for us."
Few quarterbacks have had more success in two-minute drills than Sunday's opponent, New Orleans' Drew Brees.
Profootballreference.com credits Brees with 34 career winning drives, tied with Fran Tarkenton for the seventh-most in league history. Brees led the Saints on a 54-yard drive last September to set up the winning field goal in a 16-14 victory over the Bucs.
"I think so much of a two-minute drill is just managing the situation," Brees said. "You know you're going to go down and score. Now it's a matter of figuring out how to do it."
And how you do it comes down to the circumstances you face.
In his sixth career start with San Diego, Brees had only 2:24 to drive 71 yards. So three of his five completions went at least 16 yards before he fired the winning pass to beat Kansas City.
Four years later, Brees reacted completely different. With 8:26 left, he bled the clock in a 16-play drive. Only one of his eight passes went downfield to set up a 31-yard field goal as time expired.
Brees said success comes from using the entire game to test matchups and learn what scares the defense, then applying what you learned during the final drive.
But even that comes with wrinkles. A coordinator might blitz sparingly throughout the game but charge seven defenders at the quarterback late.
"You've got to be in tune with that kind of stuff," center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. "Know what your answers are."
Last weekend the Bucs knew how to answer when Pittsburgh dropped into a Cover 2 late. The Bucs called a pass play they installed that week specifically to beat that defense.
Mike Glennon hit Louis Murphy in a soft spot over the middle for a 41-yard gain to set up the winning score.
"More than anything, it's just giving them a set of principles they can be confident in doing in a clutch situation in a hostile environment," interim offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said.
How they handle the hostile environment is important, too, and another paradox of the two-minute drill.
"Rush, but be relaxed," Murphy said. "You can't be in a panic mode."
All those factors — the poise, preparation and understanding — clicked Sunday, starting with that play to nowhere with 40 seconds left.
As linebacker Jason Worilds brought him down, Glennon knew that taking a sack with no timeouts left would drain the clock. Completing a pass to Rainey in the flat would have done the same.
So Glennon chucked the ball at Rainey's feet for a harmless incompletion.
"Sometimes the best play is just to live to see another down," Glennon said.
Four plays later, the Bucs were in the end zone, celebrating their first win.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.