Florida’s three NFL teams were all underdogs heading into their season-opening games. The Atlanta Falcons were three-point home favorites over the Bucs, while Miami was a 10-point underdog in Seattle and Green Bay was favored by five in Jacksonville.
As we know, only the Bucs were able to come away with the upset win. There are fundamental reasons why: leadership, confidence and the ability to make plays at crucial times.
The Dolphins played a strong defensive game, but that was not enough. Miami could not make key plays on both sides of the ball that would have facilitated a huge upset.
They had two drives inside the Seattle 20 on Sunday that resulted in no touchdowns. A wide-open Kenny Stills dropped a sure touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill in the first half that would have put them on top.
Now, with 4 minutes remaining, Miami led 10-6 after an impressive drive. The Seahawks had not gotten a touchdown all day and were 75 yards from their goal.
If the Dolphins could make a big play, they would have a victory. Instead, it was Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson making the plays, including a game-winning toss over Bobby McCain to Doug Baldwin in the corner of the end zone with 31 seconds remaining.
“They made a great play,” said McCain.
They certainly did. Wilson did not have a great day for Seattle, but he showed the leadership and confidence that resulted in that great play at the end.
“He’s been there before,” said Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman. “There is confidence.”
Exactly. Final score, Seattle 12, Miami 10.
While the Dolphins were trying to hold onto a lead, the Jaguars were trying to come from behind in the late stages on Sunday. Jacksonville was going toe-to-toe with perennial power Green Bay at Everbank Field on Sunday.
Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was OK, but not great. For a guy that routinely throws for 300 yards, his 199-yard performance on Sunday was pedestrian by comparison.
Yet, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, thereby making enough plays to have his team ahead of the spirited Jaguars. The defense would need to make the big play to escape with a victory. The Jags’ offense was looking for the opposite.
With 23 seconds remaining, the Jacksonville was just 15 yards away from the Packers’ goal line and an upset victory. It was fourth and one with no timeouts remaining.
Quarterback Blake Bortles found Allen Hurns on the right flank, hoping he could get the first down and perhaps get out of bounds to stop the clock. Damarious Randall met Hurns and threw him for a loss to save the game for Green Bay.
“I should have done something differently,” Bortles said. “It was fourth-and-one or whatever, so we just have to get it. If you don’t, you lose.”
The margin between winning and losing can be painfully small. Final score, Green Bay 27, Jacksonville 23.
The Bucs were down 10-3 to the Falcons before Jameis Winston led a 28-3 blitz that put them in command. He threw four touchdown passes on the day and connected with eight different receivers.
His four touchdowns went to four different receivers. For example, Charles Sims took a short pass and made all the right moves to turn it into a 23-yard touchdown to put Tampa Bay on top, 17-13.
The Falcons, as expected, made a comeback. They got within 31-24 and got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining.
On fourth down, Gerald McCoy got his hand up and made a good play to knock down Matt Ryan’s pass and secure the victory. To be sure, McCoy had lots of help on defense (Kwon Alexander had 15 solo tackles). Several Bucs made key plays all afternoon.
After the game, it was Ryan lamenting his team’s inability to make plays. The Bucs had a lot to do with that.
“We tell our guys, you have to make your plays,” said Bucs’ first-year Coach Dirk Koetter.
Last year Tampa Bay was a penalty factory. On Sunday they were flagged six times for only 48 yards. Final score, Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 24.
Because they made plays and played smart football with confidence, Tampa Bay is 1-0. The Dolphins and Jaguars could take a page from the Bucs’ playbook.