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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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So Close | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Bills

Baker Mayfield and Chris Godwin just missed hooking up on a successful 'Hail Mary' on Thursday night, but they also got together for a very improbable touchdown earlier in the game

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Bills in Buffalo on Thursday night, but that outcome wasn't fully finalized until after the last second had ticked off the game clock. The Bills held onto a 24-18 lead when Baker Mayfield's 'Hail Mary' pass attempt hit the turf about three yards into the end zone.

It was a valiant attempt by Mayfield, and while wide receiver Chris Godwin did nothing wrong on the play, if he had happened to spin around a second earlier, he might have been able to get to the pass before it hit the ground. As it was, he only had time to throw out a left hand in the general direction of the ball as it landed a yard away.

Mayfield did give the Bucs a chance to win a game that seemed completely out of reach with three minutes left in regulation. After his pass attempt to Godwin on third-and-10 from the Buffalo 24 fell incomplete, the NFL Next Gen Stats win probability chart gave the Buccaneers only a 1% chance of getting the victory. That jumped to 4% when Mayfield was able to convert a fourth-and-10 with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.

Evans helped quite a bit, too. NGS only gave Mayfield's pass a 31% chance of being complete, and Bills cornerback Christian Benford had tight coverage throughout the route. Just before the snap, Benford moved up into press coverage, and at no time during the 43.92 yards that Evans ran on his crossing route did he gain more than two yards of separation from the defender. When the ball arrived, Benford was essentially right on top of Evans, with NGS measuring the separation as just 0.9 yards. Evans and Benford were the two fastest players on that play, with Evans reaching a maximum speed of 19.55 miles per hour and Benford hitting 20.07 mph.

The Bills quickly gained back their win probability edge thanks to a third-down conversion on the ensuing drive that allowed them to drain all but 31 seconds off the clock before punting it back. The Bucs had no timeouts left at this point and the Bills' win probability was at greater than 99%. There were 21 seconds left on the clock when the Buccaneers took their next snap.

However, Mayfield was able to complete three passes, and that plus an offsides call on Von Miller got the ball from the Bucs' 20 to the 45. That allowed for a credible Hail Mary attempt, and at that point the Bucs' odds of winning had at least improved to 2%. Successful Hail Mary passes are rare, obviously, but they are not impossible.

On the play, Mayfield took a shotgun snap, bounced forward a few steps and then danced back to the 33. With pressure coming around the edges, he darted forward again and was at the 38 when he let go of the ball. He had ranged around in the pocket for 5.64 yards before getting the pass off. His arcing throw traveled 65 yards in the air downfield before it unfortunately found the turf instead of a pair of sympathetic hands. It was in the air for a total of 4.0 seconds.

The Buccaneers sent four pass-catchers out on the play – Godwin, Evans, receiver Trey Palmer and tight end Cade Otton. All four ran simple go routes, obviously, from a 2x2 alignment, with all four routes converging around the right hashmarks. Palmer and Otton cut their routes off before the goal line while Evans and Godwin ran into the end zone. Linebacker Terrel Bernard was the closest defender to Godwin and the ball landed in front of safety Micah Hyde, but no player got a hand on the ball.

Godwin did score earlier in the game, and it was an unlikely touchdown, according to NGS. Following a Will Gholston interception and a 20-yard catch-and-run by Rachaad White in the second quarter, the Buccaneers had a first-and-goal from the three. Godwin lined up in the slot to the right and ran a quick slant against cornerback Taron Johnson. Godwin got just inside Johnson on a quick slant and made an impressive reaching grab of a hard throw from Mayfield for the score. Johnson, who had kept his separation from the receiver to just 0.4 yards at the time of the pass, threw out his left arm into the ball's path but just missed it.

NGS gave the play only a 25.2% chance of being complete. That made it the most improbable touchdown on a slant route in the NFL since Week Seven of the 2021

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