Byron Leftwich has been around the NFL a long time as a player and coach. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator has seen all different types of scenarios and outcomes, so he understands no two games are alike, that every storyline is different and every game lasts “58 plus 2” minutes, meaning most games are won or lost in the last 2 minutes of regulation, and sometimes longer.
I don’t know Byron Leftwich personally, but during the Bucs’ 20-10 victory against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, I came away impressed. These were my observations:
While there was chaos and frustration all around him, it was evident by Leftwich’s demeanor he was unnerved by the game’s disappointing storyline for more than three quarters. Having stood in his shoes, I am sure he was sick to his stomach knowing the game wasn’t unfolding or progressing as he had planned.
His Bucs’ high-powered offense, captained by quarterback Tom Brady – the NFL’s most decorated player – had not scored a touchdown entering the fourth quarter. And, conversely, neither had the Saints. Both offenses were anemic and completely shut down by two great defensive performances.
For almost three hours on Sunday afternoon, there was total offensive chaos in the Superdome. The Bucs were completely stymied, Tom Brady had briefly lost his mind in frustration, tempers flared between the two teams, and players had to be ejected.
What caught my eye watching at home was the leadership qualities displayed by Leftwich. Throughout the course of a highly stressful four quarters of football, where the defenses dominated the game, Leftwich’s demeanor never changed. He never got too high or too low. He was confident, consistently even-keeled, authentic, mindful and caring toward players. One would not know from his facial expressions whether the Bucs were ahead or behind. The fact that his offense was scoreless had no visible effect on him.
It was clear to me his experience, wisdom and gamesmanship allowed him to put his ego aside and do what was best for the team. He left the frustration of an anemic day of offense inside his gut and called plays that kept his quarterback safe (mostly runs) in order to stay patient and wait it out. Leftwich recognized the importance of “continuity football” on this crazy Sunday, allowing coach Todd Bowles and the Bucs’ defense to carry the day.
Leftwich knew Brady was going to be on the field in the fourth quarter and would make the play to give the Bucs a chance to win. With 7:50 remaining, Leftwich called for a deep shot and Brady floated a 50-yard dime to Breshad Perriman up the sideline in the back of the end zone for the first touchdown of the game and the go-ahead score.
Leftwich has been the offensive coordinator in Tampa for four years, and last season he called an offense that led the league in several categories, including points per game (29.3), 30-plus point games (10), fewest sacks allowed per pass attempt (3.1), passing yards per game (307.6), passing touchdowns (43), passing first downs (273) and completions (492).
Yet, on this second Sunday in September in a very hectic environment on the floor of the Superdome, none of that mattered to him. Leftwich did what was necessary for his team to win the game, showing the football world his selflessness, self-control, emotional intelligence and what a future NFL head coach looks and acts like on the sideline.