Fourth-and-4, 13 seconds left in the first half. Bruce Arians initially sent out his punt team, then took a timeout and reconsidered.
Facing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ explosive offense in the NFC Championship Game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach wanted points.
He got them.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady hit Leonard Fournette for 6 yards to move then chains. Then, with less than 10 seconds remaining before halftime, he uncorked a deep ball that settled into receiver Scotty Miller’s arms for a 39-yard touchdown.
The score, which exploited Green Bay’s ill-advised Cover 1 Robber defense, proved critical. It gave the Bucs an 11-point halftime lead in a game they’d go on to win 31-26, booking them a spot in Super Bowl LV.
After the game, the involved parties broke down that pivotal sequence:
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians: “We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game. With the timeout and then the interception, I wanted to come out of there with points. We (initially) said punt it, but then loved the play we had and got a great matchup.”
The matchup: The speedy Miller versus Packers cornerback Kevin King, who’d already allowed one touchdown pass earlier in the game.
Quarterback Tom Brady: “B.A. wanted to go for it. I liked the call, and I’m going to do whatever he asks me to do. And then (offensive coordinator) Byron (Leftwich) dialed up a great play and we got behind the defense.”
Wide receiver Scotty Miller: “The coaches made a great decision going for it there. I think there was, like, 15 seconds left.”
Brady: “It was just a great job by Scotty (of) running a great route and getting open, and I just tried to lay it out there for him for him to go grab it.”
Miller: “We were just going to try to heave it in a Hail Mary-type thing. But then they played me pretty much man-to-man and my guy didn’t get too much depth, so I was able just run right by him. And then Tom put a great ball on me like he always does.”
Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was skewered on social media for his play call, which featured just one deep safety. Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy called it “the worst defensive design I’ve ever seen with 8 seconds and no timeouts left.”
Arians: “I think they were playing for us trying to get to field-goal range, and Scotty just ran right by King. When we lined up, you could tell it was going to be a touchdown. We just had to protect and throw the ball.”
Miller: “It was an awesome play. … It was just a special moment — something that I don’t know if I could have even dreamed of as a kid. It’s just so crazy. I’m just so fortunate to be able to make that play.”
Green Bay received the second-half kickoff, but running back Aaron Jones fumbled on the third snap of the third quarter. One play later, Brady hit tight end Cameron Brate for an 8-yard touchdown that stretched Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-10. The Packers rallied for two third-quarter touchdowns but couldn’t close the gap.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur: “That was a tough pill to swallow. We regrouped at halftime and we talked about it and said, ‘Hey man, we can’t let this destroy the second half, too.’ And for us to come out in the second half and have that play on third down where you get a fumble, they go down and score on the first play. I mean, that’s about as bad of a sequence as you could have had in a critical game, obviously.”