Career day: Freddie Martino steps up amid injuries in Bucs' win
With injuries hitting the Bucs hard at receiver, Freddie Martino came up with his first NFL catch four weeks ago, then his first touchdown in a rout of the Bears.
But he had only those two career catches entering Sunday's game, when two more Bucs receivers went down with injuries, first Cecil Shorts with a significant knee injury, then Adam Humphries to a concussion. Martino stepped up in a big way, finishing with four catches for 56 yards -- leading all Bucs receivers -- to help Tampa Bay to a 28-21 win at the Chargers and help its playoff chances.
"I've been preparing for this for a long time," said Martino, 25, who had played two snaps in one 2014 game with Atlanta before getting on the field with the Bucs this season. "I feel like if you're on the team, you're there for a reason. So it's only a matter of time before your number is called. You just have to be ready, and this was a perfect example of that."
The Bucs were already without veterans Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy due to injuries, so they played the entire second half with only three receivers -- Mike Evans was in on 56 of 65 plays, Russell Shepard on 50 and Martino on 29, catching all four passes he was targeted on. He said building a confidence in Jameis Winston to throw his way was a key to getting more catches as the game progressed.
"All it takes is a couple of throws, doesn't matter if they're long throws or short throws, just to get a rhythm with each other," Martino said. "That's why I try to stay with him after practice, because I don't get a lot of balls from him in practice. So I try to stay out there and try to build the love and chemistry."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter cited Martino among several backups who stepped up in Sunday's win, and Winston had high praise for him as well.
"Freddie came in and had an amazing game," Winston said. "That's what it is. When you're selfless, when you put the team first, you go there and execute, you help us out."