TAMPA — The last time the Bucs used a trick play was Lovie Smith’s first season as head coach in 2014. It didn’t work. Running back Bobby Rainey took a handoff and ran to his left. Since he is left-handed, there may have been an element of surprise when he attempted a pass to receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone that fell incomplete.
The Bucs won that game in Pittsburgh 27-24 when quarterback Mike Glennon connected with Jackson for a touchdown pass with seven seconds remaining. It remains the club’s only win at Heinz Field.
That was 61 games ago.
Dirk Koetter’s philosophy on trick plays: “They’re great if they work.’’
One team that is not afraid to call them, and knows how to make them work, is Sunday’s opponent — the Philadelphia Eagles.
In fact, the most famous trick play in NFL history may be the Philly Special that helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.
The Eagles led the Patriots 15-12 with 34 seconds left in the first half. Fourth-and-goal at the New England 1.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, an aggressive play-caller who likes to always push the envelope by going on fourth down and will regularly attempt 2-point conversions, called the Philly Special.
Running back Corey Clement took a direct snap, pitched it to tight end Trey Burton who tossed it to quarterback Nick Foles for the touchdown. The play helped the Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33.
In the Eagles’ season opener, their offense had not done much and Pederson was looking for a spark.
Trailing the Falcons by three in the third quarter, on third-and-5, Pederson called Philly, Philly. This time, Clement took the handoff from Foles and pitched the ball to Berkeley Prep’s Nelson Agholor, who threw a pass to Foles along the sideline for a 15-yard gain.
If the play looked familiar to the Super Bowl LII, that’s where you saw it first. It was attempted by the Patriots, but Tom Brady dropped the pass.
Pederson says it’s all part of the aggressive mindset he brings to the job as play-caller and head coach.
“It is. Again, if I don’t expose our team to those situations and those types of plays, you just can’t put something in one week and expect it to work,’’ Pederson said. “All these plays, we put in during the spring and we execute them. Now, we may not pull them out until training camp or the regular season, but at least our guys have been exposed to those plays. But again, it’s that mindset that our guys know something like that could be in the game plan each and every week.’’
The trick plays keep players engaged during practice and make use of some of their other abilities, Pederson said. Burton played quarterback in high school and was a pitcher at the University of Florida. Agholor is an exceptional athlete.
“It’s just kind of a shot in the arm, plus it keeps it fun for the players to have something like that in,” Pederson said. “Utilize their strengths. Nelson has the ability to throw the football as did Trey Burton a year ago. You know, he was a college baseball player, he’s a former high school quarterback, so utilizing their strengths, even if it was several years ago, to our advantage.’’
In addition to maybe playing four downs instead of three, the Bucs defense will have to be alert for those trick plays Sunday.
“You’ve got to be fundamentally sound,’’ linebacker Lavonte David said. “You’ve got to have great eyes. You know, you don’t what to expect with those guys, man.”