18 in the End Zone

18 in the End Zone

18 in the End Zone

Chris Godwin hauled in the last of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 38 touchdowns in 2017, and he waited until there were nine seconds left in his rookie season to do it. The play – on a 39-yard pass by Jameis Winston that even surprised Head Coach Dirk Koetter – gave the Buccaneers a season-capping 31-24 win over the New Orleans Saints and a nice boost heading into the offseason.

Despite a fine debut campaign in which he impressed from the first day of training camp, Godwin didn’t have a touchdown until that 11th-hour-and-59th-minute play. His first score was certainly an impactful one, delivering a victory over the NFC South Division winners and leading to his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week award. It also provided the Buccaneers with another unusual accomplishment as a team: No previous Tampa Bay squad has ever had a larger number of players score touchdowns in the same season than the 2017 team.

Godwin was the 18th different Buccaneer to find the end zone for Tampa Bay. That tied a franchise record set by the 2003 team, led by quarterback Brad Johnson. Tampa Bay’s current quarterback, Jameis Winston, has made a habit of spreading the ball around in his three years at the helm; 17 different Bucs scored in 2016 and 14 got on the board in 2015.

That was expected to be the case in 2017 after the Bucs used their offseason to diversify their pass-catching set, signing speedy wideout DeSean Jackson in free agency and adding tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin on the first two days of the draft. Even though Winston succeeded in spreading the ball around in the red zone, he targeted his top man, Mike Evans, an NFL-high 173 times. Evans scored 12 of the team’s 29 aerial touchdowns; tight end Cam Brate caught another eight.

Before the season began, Winston remarked on how many scoring options he now had surrounding him.

“It’s a great problem to have,” he said. “I don’t discriminate. I throw to the open guy. God blessed me with those weapons so we have to use them.”

And so he did. Here are the 18 Buccaneers who scored touchdowns in 2017, along with notes about each:

Player Pos. TDs Notes
Cam Brate TE 6 14 TDs in 2016-17 ranks 3rd among all NFL TEs
O.J. Howard TE 6 Set team record for TD catches by rookie TE
Mike Evans WR 5 Just two shy of Bucs’ career TD rec. record
Peyton Barber RB 3 Only Buc w/2 rushing TDs in one game in ’17
DeSean Jackson WR 3 Fifth straight year with 3+ TD receptions
Doug Martin RB 3 Tied Warrick Dunn for 7th-most TDs in Buc history
Lavonte David LB 1 Forced, recovered & returned fumble in AZ
Adarius Glanton LB 1 Scored on the final play of win in Miami
Chris Godwin WR 1 Longest go-ahead 4th quarter TD for Bucs since ’13
Adam Humphries WR 1 Prolific pass-catcher gets first TD in exactly 1 year
Isaiah Johnson S 1 Scored in just 4th career NFL game
Robert McClain CB 1 First career TD for 8th-year veteran
Jacquizz Rodgers RB 1 Recorded one TD of season in opener
Charles Sims RB 1 Only Bucs RB to score a receiving touchdown
Luke Stocker TE 1 Long-time blocker scored 3rd TD in 80 Buc games
Leonard Wester TE 1 First Bucs O-Lineman to score since 2013
Bobo Wilson WR 1 Scored on first (so far only) career reception
Jameis Winston QB 1 First rushing TD since Week 4 of 2016

It was more than a diverse cast of pass-catching weapons that led to the Bucs having so many different touchdown scorers. As is usually the case when a team has this many players get a crack at the end zone, the defense and special teams are involved. Tampa Bay didn’t have any punt or kickoff return touchdowns in 2017, but they did score on one interception return and three fumble returns. One of those came on special teams, when first-year safety Isaiah Johnson scooped up a fumbled punt return and ran it seven yards into the end zone in the aforementioned win over New Orleans.

That 2003 Buccaneers team that also had 18 touchdown scorers matched the 2017 team with four different players who found pay dirt on return touchdowns, as did last year’s squad.

There was less reliance on Evans in 2017, as his targets dropped to 136, 11th in the NFL. Given that his TD total fell from 12 to five, it would seem like the Buccaneers targeted him less often around the goal line, too. As Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted, opposing teams were clearly trying to take Evans’s options away in the red zone. However, according to Stats, Inc., Evans had 18 targets in the red zone in 2017, one more than the year before. The Bucs were simply not as successful on such attempts this past season.

Still, the coverage devoted to Evans – and at times, especially in the middle of the season, to Brate – did open up opportunities for others. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said there was a simpler approach to spreading the ball around in 2016, and it relied heavily on Evans.

“There were,” he said. “There is something to that. Is there a tendency though when you have that, that you can be a little more predictable? Yes, because we’re moving [Evans] around. Well, we are moving him around because we want to get him the ball, so they can roll to him and cloud him and when you have more weapons it is harder to do that – that’s why Cam [Brate] had so many touchdowns in the red zone, because Mike does bring that. It’s all part of it.”

There is no doubt that the Buccaneers still tried to exploit their best red-zone weapons – Evans, Brate and Howard – and will continue to do so. However, just because one of those three is the preferred option on any given play, that doesn’t mean the ball is going to go their way. One of the reasons the Buccaneers were able to get so many different people involved in scoring is that Winston continues to be very good at extending plays and throwing on the run. In such situations, every eligible pass-catcher on the field has a roughly equal chance of being targeted.

Humphries’ lone touchdown of the season is a good example of that. In the Monday Night Football nail-biter against Atlanta in Week 15, Humphries scored on a 16-yard catch in the fourth quarter to pull the Bucs within three points of the Falcons. On the play, Winston first looked towards Evans, who was split out farthest to the right, with Humphries in the slot. The pocket started to collapse and Winston scrambled up and then out to his right. Evans had settled into an open spot in the zone around the five but Winston spied Humphries, who had cut to the outside and, upon seeing the quarterback take off, cut back in the other direction in the end zone. Winston eschewed the easier underneath pass and threw a very hard spiral to Humphries for the score.

“Jameis is going to play the way Jameis plays and he does a good job of that,” said Koetter of his quarterback’s improvisational skills. “You’re not going to take that away. I’m always talking to Jameis about cutting down hits and I think we are far ahead of where we’ve been the last two years on that. But at the end of the day, Jameis is trying to get the ball in the end zone.”

And, of course, the inevitable injuries that come with an NFL season can lead to opportunities for more players to score. Winston had a similar scrambling-touchdown pass for 18 yards in Week 16 at Carolina, but this one went to rookie wideout Bobo Wilson. Wilson had been on the practice squad for the first 11 games of the season and had been on the field for a total of nine offensive snaps before that contest in Charlotte. He got 10 snaps against the Panthers, including one where he happened to be on the field when Wilson started improvising again. Wilson’s score proved to be his only catch of the season.

“You’re always excited about the next guy because everybody that we have in that locker room are the best [players] in the world,” said Monken. “We’re not dropping down to … somebody that you just pick up off the street. No, we are talking about some of the best in the world that wherever they came from before they got here, they were elite.”

In Evans, Brate and Howard, the Buccaneers had three players who caught five or more touchdown passes in 2017. They were one of only five teams who could say that, joining the Rams, Patriots, Eagles and Seahawks. Those three will likely be the best bets to lead the Buccaneers in touchdown receptions next year, as well. However, Tampa Bay showed that it could spread it around on offense and even find the end zone on defense in 2017, leading to the biggest group of scorers in franchise history.

(Why?)

Published at Thu, 04 Jan 2018 18:55:23 +0000