Winston's third-down success keyed Bucs' win at Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Bucs' opening drive against the Chiefs on Sunday resulted in no points, but it set the tone for the offensive perseverence that was to come.
Three times on that first drive, the Bucs faced a third down, and three times, quarterback Jameis Winston completed passes to pick up a first down and move the chains. His first pass was a 13-yard conversion to receiver Adam Humphries on third down, and his next was a 10-yard conversion to tight end Cameron Brate, with a 19-yard pass to receiver Russell Shepard on the next third down.
The Bucs' only touchdown of the day? A third-down pass from Winston to rookie tight end Alan Cross. When the Bucs, clinging to a two-point lead with two minutes left, needed to run the clock down, it was a third-down pass to receiver Mike Evans that kept the ball out of Kansas City's hands until only eight seconds remained.
By the time the Bucs had pulled out a 19-17 win over the Chiefs -- who had won five straight, and hadn't lost a home game in more than a year -- Winston would make 11 third-down conversions in his first 15 opportunities. He finished 12-of-14 passing for 133 yards and the touchdown on third down, with a 12-yard scramble on third-and-10 for good measure.
Winston converted four third downs when the Bucs needed nine or more yards to get a first down. He converted with third-down throws to six different teammates. The Bucs converted on 68.7 percent of their third-down opportunities -- that's the third-best total in any game in the NFL this season, and the second-best in any Bucs game over the last 17 years.
The third-down success allowed the Bucs a remarkably consistency in sustaining drives all day long against a vaunted Chiefs defense. Of the Bucs' first seven drives, or every one until the final possession in the last three minutes, all were at least nine plays long, all covering at least 50 yards, and all but one consuming at least four minutes off the clock, giving them a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
The Chiefs had kept the ball for 7:53 on their opening drive, but the rest of the day, they had no drives of four minutes or longer, and only one drive of longer than seven plays. The Bucs defense wasn't remarkable on third down, allowing four conversions in eight attempts, but in the first half, they had stops on third-and-2 (a run for no gain) and third-and-1 (an incompletion) to force early three-and-outs from Kansas City.
Bucs running back Doug Martin's final stats weren't anything impressive -- 63 yards on 24 carries, for just 2.6 yards per carry -- but in key situations, he got enough yards to set up manageable third downs for Winston. The Bucs' first two plays were Martin runs to set up a third and 4, and the same drive saw Martin get 5 yards on second and 10, what Koetter calls an "effective" run, cutting the distance to gain in half on a second-down play.
On the Bucs' lone touchdown drive, it was a 9-yard Martin run that set up the third-and-2 touchdown pass, and as the Bucs tried to salt away the clock on their final possession, it was two Martin runs that set up a third-and-3 that Winston converted with a pass to Evans.
With the smallest margins for error Sunday, the Bucs won Sunday by converting as many third downs as they had in any road game in the past 25 years, needing every one of them to secure an improbable victory against the Chiefs.