Preseason games offer NFL teams a chance to practice everything, and the Bucs even worked on rare endgame strategy, taking a safety in the final minute of Thursday's win at Jacksonville.
Up 12-6 and punting from their 9-yard line with 39 seconds left, the Bucs lined up punter Bryan Anger in the end zone. But rather than punt -- where the Bucs risk a blocked kick for a touchdown, or a long return to set up a short field -- Dirk Koetter instructed Anger to stall, run off as much as clock as possible, then run out of the back of the end zone to concede a safety.
In the final minute of a game, there's little difference between a six-point and four-point lead, and the gambit allowed the Bucs to make a much safer free kick, which set the Jaguars up at their 35-yard line. They'd still get to the Bucs' 35, but the strategy paid off in sealing the Bucs' win -- and gave them practice for if they had to do the same in the regular season.
"That's the first time I've ever had to run it," said Anger, who executed the play, running to his right and keeping the ball for five seconds, though only three ran off the hometown clock. "We ran some scenarios with Jacksonville -- punt after safety, onside kick after safety, fair-catch free kick, things that you never really expect to get, but once in a blue moon they show up. So it was pretty cool to run it. That was a perfect fit. It should have been about six seconds, but we got it executed."
Anger said the key to the play is fielding the punt cleanly at all costs, and then buying as much time. The Ravens used that play in the final 10 seconds of a win against the 49ers last year, running off time off the clock and taking a five-point win.
"Don't fumble in the end zone," Anger explained. "Just step out the back and make sure you hold onto the ball. I think that was Coach (Nate) Kaczor's first time running it too. It's good to get it under the belt and experience it once."
Koetter, always trying to prepare for any situation that can pop up over the course of an NFL season, said the Bucs were fortunate to have the chance to run through the rare play and execute it correctly.
"It's good work to get it on film," Koetter said. "We practice all that stuff in practice, and I think sometimes playesr seem to be going 'Eh, what are we practicing all this stuff for? It doesn't really come up.' When you actually run full speed and there's not a quick whistle, you learn stuff from it and how important it is."
On the ensuing kick, the last player the Bucs added to their 90-man roster -- rookie receiver Shaq Hill -- got to make the play on punt coverage to avoid a big return.
"Our receiver made a nice play to save the day on a tackle there, but crazy stuff happens at the end of games," Koetter said. "You've got to be ready for those situations. Sometimes practice isn't as good as preseason games."