Special teams help Bucs win field-position battle

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TAMPA, Fla. — Patrick O’Connor’s first-quarter punt block and recovery in the Bucs’ 28-10 win over Denver not only earned him the game ball, it set the stage for Tampa Bay’s best all-around special-teams performance of the year.

O’Connor, who emerged last season as a key special-teams contributor, set up the Bucs’ first touchdown by charging through Broncos long snapper Jacob Bobenmeyer, batting down the punt with his left hand and recovering the ball about 15 yards downfield.

O’Connor’s play allowed the Bucs’ offense to begin its first possession at the Denver 10-yard line, and three plays later, Tampa Bay scored the first touchdown of the day.

The play was just the first among many that often go unnoticed in a win but play major roles in winning the field-position game and, ultimately, the game.

And considering where this Tampa Bay special-teams unit began the season, with an underwhelming performance in the opener in New Orleans, it’s a promising sign for the Bucs that the unit is getting better every week.

Bucs punter Bradley Pinion, whose name is most often spoken when he makes a mistake, did his part in pinning the Broncos back with six touchback kickoffs and three punts pinned inside the 20.

And Jaydon Mickens, who hasn’t been much of a factor in the return game, recorded his longest return of the season late in the second quarter, a 13-yard return that put the Bucs at their 44, setting up a short field to start a possession that ended with a touchdown six plays later to give Tampa Bay a 23-3 lead.

“Not only the blocked punt, but we had a punt return inside that set up a score,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “One bad penalty or we’d have run that punt after the safety all the way up to midfield. I think Mick (WR Jaydon Mickens) did a good job with his punt returns — handling the ball — and I thought Bradley Pinion had a hell of a game with the touchbacks (and) the three punts inside the 20.

There are several factors that go into field position — turnovers, sacks and tackles-for-losses among them — but the special teams played a major role in pinning Denver back. The Broncos had a starting field position of their 21-yard line, and of their 11 possessions, only once did they have a starting field position better than their own 25. Meanwhile, the Bucs’ average starting field position was their 37.

“We pinned them back there all day,” Arians said. “I thought our special teams really, really won the battle.”


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