Every Play Counts: Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson

Vincent Jackson

Sep 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker DeMario Davis (56) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won 18-17. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, a single game can change the course of an entire season, and a single play can change the course of an entire game. In this feature, some of the most crucial plays from last week are analyzed and broken down.

In this feature, we normally take a look at a play that helps seal the win for a team – the single play that most improved a team’s playoff chances over the course of the week. Football, however, can sometimes be a wacky game, and a seemingly game-winning play– something we’d be talking about for the entire week – gets overshadowed by a fluke, or non-predictive play, and gets lost in the news cycle.

That’s exactly what happened in the Buccaneers-Jets game. In all the talk over the Lavonte David personal foul, which moved the Jets into range to win the game with a field goal, Josh Freeman’s potentially game-winning drive has been understandably lost.  The story of the game would become Vincent Jackson’s 154 yard receiving day as he victimized Antonio Cromartie over and over again, and the sub-50% completion percentage for Freeman would be written off, in favor of stories about his clutchness and ability under pressure.

The truth of the matter is that the Buccaneers offense was one dimensional all game. Freeman was 11-for-21 for 206 yards when targeting Jackson or Michael Williams, and a whopping 4-for-10 for four yards targeting everyone else. Add in a boatload of penalties – 13 in total committed on the day, with every Jets scoring drive aided by them – and you have the Buccaneers trailing late in the fourth quarter.

The Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) @ New York Jets (0-0)

The Stakes: Here’s some statistics for you – teams that start out 1-0 make the playoffs 54% of the time. Teams that start 0-1 make it just 25% of the time. As an inter-conference game, it’ll play a large role in the divisional tiebreakers (common games), but a small one in the wild card tiebreakers (which uses conference games, instead). More personally, both Rex Ryan and Josh Freeman need good seasons to ensure they stay where they are for 2013, and a big win in the opening game of the season is just the right place to do that.

The Situation: The Buccaneers, trailing 15-14, have the ball in their own territory with less than two minutes to go.

They weren’t trailing entering the quarter. At halftime, the Buccaneers had squeaked out to a 14-12 lead, scoring touchdowns on a pass to Mike Williams and a plunge by Doug Martin after a Geno Smith fumble. The Jets got a touchdown at the end of the half on Geno Smith’s first touchdown pass to tighten the game.

Freeman has played his usual questionable game, losing a fumble and throwing a pick in the first half, and the Jets have done a good job of bottling up Martin. After a scoreless third quarter, a defensive holding call on Leonard Johnson extended the first Jets drive of the fourth quarter, turning a punting situation into an opportunity for the Jets to kick a go-ahead field goal to go up 15-12. One exchange of punts later, and the Buccaneers found themselves on their own 20 with 2:14 left to go. One Doug Martin 17 yard run, and two incomplete passes to Kevin Ogletree, and the Buccaneers find themselves with a third-and-ten on their own 37 with only 1:51 left in the game – they have to convert.

The Play: 5-J.Freeman pass short left to 83-V.Jackson to NYJ 26 for 37 yards (56-D.Davis).

The Bucs line up in shotgun, with three receivers – Vincent Jackson is in the slot with Kevin Ogletree split to his side, and Mike Williams split out to the strong side. The Jets are perhaps a tad over-cautious, in their dime package, in an attempt to shut down anything through the air. They’ve got one deep safety in Dawan Landry, and three defensive backs up on Jackson and Ogletree’s side. Surprisingly, considering how Jackson’s been abusing them all afternoon, no one’s lined up exactly on him, suggesting a zone coverage. Antonio Cromartie’s lined up opposite Ogletree, and neither Isaiah Trufant nor Antonio Allen are in position to stop a short pass to Jackson – they seem content to give up a short pass, so long as he doesn’t then proceed to get to the first down.

From the moment the ball is snapped, the Jets bring pressure. Both Allen and Trufant blitz from the weak side, leaving the two linebackers (David Harris and Demario Davis) to drop back into coverage – a sort of zone shell in the middle of the field. That means only Cromatie’s left on the weak side, and he has to follow Ogletree as he tries to head up the sideline.

Freeman doesn’t hesitate – as soon as he sees the blitz, he’s getting the ball out to Jackson, who is entirely uncovered – he catches the ball at the 45 yard-line uncontested. This is part of the Jets plan, though, as Landry is there to deliver the hit, tackling Jackson short of the first down.

Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s a risky play anyway, as the point of contact comes right at the first down marker, but it gets worse when Jackson gives a nifty little spin move, sending Landry sprawling to the turf. With Ogletree occupying Cromartie, there’s absolutely no one between Jackson and the end zone.

You have to give tons of credit to Demario Davis. Starting from the other side of the play, he’s the only one who manages to run down Jackson – the other, closer linebacker crashes into the umpire and takes himself out of the play. If Davis doesn’t lunge and get a piece of Jackson’s foot at the 26-yard line, Jackson goes into the endzone unscathed. That would have given the Buccaneers a 6 point lead, ruling out any possibility of a game-winning field goal for the Jets. Instead, the Buccaneers just move into field goal range.

The Aftermath: The Buccaneers win probability rose from 16% to 74% as a result of the play. Although they were unable to score the touchdown, they were able to drain all three Jets time-outs and kick the go ahead field goal with only 38 seconds left in the game – and if you had told Buccaneers fans they’d be leading with 38 seconds left, requiring a rookie making his first start of his career to drive down the length of the field to get a victory, they’d probably have taken it. The field goal gave them a 92% chance to win the game – likely higher considering the exact circumstances.

While the play that allowed the Jets to win the game was, obviously, Lavonte David hitting Geno Smith out of bounds, turning a 62-yard field goal attempt into a 43-yarder, you have to give a fair amount of props to Demario Davis. If he’s not able to get back there, the Buccaneers would have had a 96% chance of winning the game. Even after the personal foul on David, the Jets would still have had to heave the ball 30 yards into the end zone – the might have had three shots at it at the time they kicked the game-winning field goal, in a best-case scenario.  David made the field goal possible, but Davis kept field goals in play, and for that, he should be commended.

Bryan Knowles is a writer and hopelessly devoted sports nut, with strong opinions that are subject to revision near-daily. A graduate of UC Davis and San Jose State University, Bryan spends his days teaching high school English and his nights watching far too many sporting events.