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Sunday, Oct 22, 2017
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Bucs' Morris doesn't apologize for fourth-down calls

TAMPA - These are tough times for Bucs coach Raheem Morris. His team is 1-10 and every decision he makes - whether it's demoting his defensive coordinator or dialing up a fake punt on fourth down while holding a four-point lead in the fourth quarter - is being second-guessed. Even Morris is second-guessing himself. "You always second-guess yourself the next morning," Morris said Monday, a day after two questionable play calls helped the Falcons rally for a 20-17 victory at the Georgia Dome. "During the game, no, you don't second-guess. But right now, it didn't work, so yeah, I'm second-guessing myself." What Morris and most everyone else is second-guessing are two fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter, one in which Morris called for a fake punt while leading 17-13 with 12:59 to play and another two series later in which he ordered a 51-yard field-goal attempt while still holding the same lead.
Neither play worked. Punter Dirk Johnson's pass on the fake fell incomplete and kicker Connor Barth missed wide right on the field-goal try that came with 2:34 to play. Even worse, the two failed plays helped give the Falcons a short field for what proved to be a 59-yard game-winning scoring drive. As much as that has Morris second-guessing himself, he isn't apologizing for his decisions. Though he admits to looking back on those plays and wondering if he made the right call with them, Morris talked Monday like a coach who would make the same calls again if given another chance. "(The fake punt) was a situation where I felt they might come after us, where they might come after the punter," Morris said. "And I figured if they came after the punter, then they might leave somebody open. But they didn't, obviously. "On the other one, I kind of felt the Connor Barth love a little bit. I wasn't going to ask him to make three in this game (like I did against the Dolphins three games ago), but if he makes this one and we play fast and hard on defense like we had all day, we get out of there with a win. "I mean, we're a 1-9 football team (at the time the plays were called) and we've got to learn and I think you've got to teach this team how to insert a dagger into somebody and win a game. That's part of the learning curve, that's part of what we're going through. Me, too." What Morris apparently has learned is to be more aggressive in his decision making. He noted that earlier in the year he was second-guessed for opting to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4 while down by six in the fourth quarter at Washington. The conservative Morris wasn't on hand in Atlanta on Sunday. And from listening to him Monday, you get the feeling he will continue to take a more aggressive approach to his play calling in the future, especially if rookie quarterback Josh Freeman continues to progress. Freeman bounced back from a shaky start a week ago and completed 20 of 29 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. The Bucs were rather conservative in their play calling prior to trying the questionable field goal, however, calling for a run play on third-and-7. "At one point, we're going to let him go and get that third-and-7 and win the game for us that way," Morris said. "It's about his development and with that, that's going to bring about more aggressive decisions with your quarterback." And with that will come more second-guessing.

Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.

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