The importance of a punter

Josh Bidwell (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Think special teams isn't important? Go inside the numbers from Sunday's win over Washington and see how Josh Bidwell's second-half performance affected how the Redskins were able to move the football in this premium feature.

Josh Bidwell had just finished talking about his performance against Washington on Sunday. He made an off-hand comment that was quite telling.

"See you guys next year," Bidwell said with a smile.

The indication? That the media talks with Bidwell once a year when he has a particularly good game.

That could be true. But his performance against Washington was worthy of an interview.

Bidwell punted seven times for a 50.4-yard average against the Redskins. In the second half, the former Pro Bowl punter did some of his best work this season, booting punts of 51, 56, 61 and 52 yards for a 55.0-yard average.

But what Bidwell cost the Redskins was more telling. Take Bidwell's average entering the game — 44 yards per punt — and contrast that with the distance of his kicks, and Bidwell cost the Redskins 44 yards in field position.

"He's a tremendous down-it punter inside the red zone and he hit some bombs that really helped us win the football game," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said.

Bidwell's 56-yard punt from the Bucs 5-yard line in the third quarter may have been his most important. Bidwell's kick went to the Redskins 39. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall's great coverage only allowed returner Keenan McCardell to gain five yards, putting the Redskins at their own 44. That isn't bad field position.

But if Bidwell had just punted his average the Redskins would have set up at Tampa Bay's 44 with a similar return.

That's the drive that ended with Derrick Brooks stopping Redskins back Clinton Portis on 4th-and-1 at the Bucs 4. Perhaps the Redskins would have had an easier time scoring a touchdown if they had started in Bucs territory.

"I try not to get caught up in the situation, though I was aware that we needed to get out of the end zone and cut down any return yardage they might have," Bidwell said. "It was a lot of fun. I was in a good groove."

Without Bidwell's work, the Redskins would have started all of their second-half drives outside of their own 20-yard line. Instead, the Redskins started three of their drives inside their own 21.

"I said after the game we started a cheer in the locker room," Gruden said. "It was defense, defense, defense and right after that it was kickers, kickers, kickers."

Sunday marked the second straight week Bidwell had booted a 61-yarder. He admitted he was a bit worried about out-kicking the coverage unit, but said that the hang time on each kick made a difference.

"Usually when you kick 60 yards it's a low, long ball," Bidwell said. "But the hangtime was good. He (McCardell) caught it on his back step and when he started forward we were within 10 yards of him. That's what we call effective hang time."

Bidwell wasn't the only special teamer to make a different last Sunday.

Matt Bryant kicked four field goals in the first half, accuracy that helped the Bucs stay in front even as the offense sputtered.

Stovall made two great tackles in the second half of McCardell, limiting the returner to 5 yards and 2 yards on those two returns. He also helped contain McCardell on Bidwell's last punt to the Redskins 14.

Gruden has started calling him "Gunner" Stovall, and by the end of Sunday's game the Redskins were triple-teaming Stovall on the edge of the formation.

"He's uncharacteristically big for a guy that plays that position and he's relentless," Gruden said. "He does have change of direction and he has the ability to run and I think that combination has worked for him."

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Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.

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