Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches were grilled about a dubious defensive play call late in Sunday's loss to the Rams in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
Many fans and journalists were baffled after Rams star wide receiver Cooper Kupp slipped behind the Tampa secondary and reeled in a 44-yard bomb from quarterback Matthew Stafford with under a minute left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Kupp had at least a stride or two on Bucs safety Antoine Winfield, who seemed slow to pick up his assignment in what appeared to be man coverage. The pivotal swing play set up a game-winning field goal by Rams kicker Matt Gay as time expired.
Those watching the game were bewildered at why Kupp was seemingly allowed to roam free downfield in such a crucial moment, when the Rams were clearly trying to get into position for a field-goal attempt.
After the game, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator confirmed that a "Cover 0" defense had been called, meaning the defensive backs were in man coverage with no help over the top from a deep safety.
But according to Arians, the play didn't unfold the way it was drawn up.
“Some guys didn't blitz," Arians said, according to The Sporting News. “I don’t know if they didn’t get the call, but it was an all-out blitz. We should have gotten a ton of pressure.”
Stafford, for his part, said he spotted the pressure coming and was just trying to exploit a favorable one-on-one matchup.
“I felt it after the snap,” Stafford said. “Kind of recognized it was going to be an all-out pressure and was able to put it to a good spot. And Coop made a great catch.”
Moments later, Gay booted through the go-ahead field as time expired, and the Rams had punched their ticket to the NFC title game.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and if the Bucs had sacked Stafford on the blitz -- as they had on the previous play -- then it seems unlikely the armchair coordinators would have minded the Cover 0 call.
But on a weekend of football where seemingly no lead was safe and fourth-quarter defenses were breaking down all over the shop, Tampa's lapse stands out as especially egregious.
Kupp had 145 catches on a whopping 191 targets in the regular season. Letting him knife through the secondary unmolested on a deep route is a gaffe the Bucs won't soon live down.