Did Bucs cost themselves a win by not using timeouts late vs. Browns? | FOX Sports

Did Bucs cost themselves a win by not using timeouts late vs. Browns?

CLEVELAND — Here’s an amazing stat from the Bucs‘ overtime loss to the Browns on Sunday: Tom Brady had been 218-0 in his career, including playoff games, when leading by seven points or more in the final two minutes of regulation.

There are so many reasons the Bucs lost, from more defensive letdowns late to the offense shutting down from the mid-third quarter on to special-teams lapses in kick coverage. It took an amazing catch from Cleveland’s David Njoku on fourth down with 32 seconds left to even force overtime, but we’ll focus on one reason Brady lost in a way he’s never lost before.

Why didn’t the Bucs use timeouts late in regulation?

We’ll point to two situations where they could have given Brady much more time to drive for a game-winning field goal after the Browns tied the game.

The first came when Tampa linebacker Lavonte David got a key tackle to set up a fourth-and-10 at the Bucs’ 12-yard line with 1:10 left. Tampa Bay is up seven and has all three timeouts at its disposal. Get a stop on fourth down, game’s over, Bucs win. But you have to guard against the small chance you don’t get the stop — how much time are you leaving yourself to answer and win with a field goal?

The difference is close to 40 seconds, and it means so much more to the Bucs chasing a field goal than it does in any scenario for the Browns. Even if that fourth-down play yields a first down but not a score — say a defensive penalty for an automatic first down — then Cleveland is going to have time for four shots at a tying touchdown no matter what. The Bucs didn’t take a timeout, and the Browns bled the clock down and tied the game with 32 seconds left, instead of a minute or more.

All you needed was a field goal to win — those extra 30 seconds double the amount of time you need to get the 40 yards or so you’d need for a game-winning kick. But Todd Bowles and the Bucs weren’t done not taking timeouts.

After a touchback, the Bucs’ first play was a dump-off to running back Rachaad White, gaining only one yard and going down in-bounds to keep the clock running. The downside to taking a timeout is nonexistent — even if you botch two more plays, you can simply run out the clock before having to punt it back to Cleveland in regulation. If you’re trying to score there, you take a timeout.

“Bucs have those three timeouts, elect not to take one here,” FOX Sports play-by-play analyst Kenny Albert said in real time, lest you think this second-guessing is purely in hindsight.

“I’m surprised he’s not using one right now,” FOX Sports color analyst Jonathan Vilma said immediately after.

The Bucs didn’t, though. Instead of stopping the clock with 0:26 left, they went up to the line and let it run down to 0:14 before snapping the ball, and Brady threw a 26-yard pass to Julio Jones, into Browns territory. It put them within 12 yards of a 54-yard field goal to win, and Ryan Succop has hit from that distance this year.

“They just lost so much time,” Vilma said after the Jones catch.

So the Bucs took a timeout after Jones’ catch with 0:08 left, and Brady missed on a short throw to Cam Brate that left them with two seconds, time only for a Hail Mary throw that also fell incomplete.

Take the first timeout, you’ve got an extra 30 seconds and a world of time, but even the second chance to do so, with 12 seconds, gives you at least one more shot at an intermediate pass (even in the middle of the field) to set up the winning kick. The same problems carried over to overtime and the Browns pulled out a win, but there were real opportunities missed, simply because Tampa didn’t think to call a timeout in obvious situations.

On the first, with Cleveland facing a fourth down at the 12, it’s fair to ask if part of the reason Bowles didn’t think to call for a timeout was because he’s also the defensive play-caller, so he’s doing two coaches’ jobs at once, and he had to prioritize how to line up his players rather than being able to contemplate the value of stopping the clock in a difficult situation.

“No,” Bowles said when asked after the game if he considered a time out there. “That clock was going to run down. We didn’t have enough to stop it right there. It was overtime right there, right off the top. Once [Njoku made the catch], we couldn’t get there. We’re going to overtime.”

Had he said he didn’t take the timeout because he didn’t want to risk giving the Browns more time in the rare chance they somehow got a fresh set of downs, you could see he was weighing the pros and cons of taking an active role in controlling how much time his offense would have, even in the unlikely scenario of a game-tying touchdown being scored.

But Bowles, at least in his answer, seems resigned to the idea that the clock was running out on his team, that overtime was inevitable once the Browns scored their touchdown, when that wasn’t the case at all. Just three weeks ago, his team beat the Rams when they got the ball with 44 seconds left, needing a touchdown to win, and went 60 yards to pull off the last-minute win. They needed fewer yards to get in field-goal range against the Browns, and would have had more time if they’d simply thought ahead.

There are so many reasons why the Bucs lost a game they easily could have won Sunday, why they’re 5-6 with six weeks remaining in the regular season, but not taking timeouts when they could have was certainly part of their formula for giving a game away.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

This content was originally published here.

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