TAMPA — The long-awaited return of Doug Martin came Sunday as the running back played for the first time in eight weeks, getting his first touchdown of the season in the Bucs' 36-10 win over the Bears.
After he scored, Martin kissed the grass in the end zone.
"Just happy to be back," said Martin, who had 33 yards on 16 carries. "It was frustrating, but I was back and ready to go."
Martin's role and productivity should expand as he gets back to full strength, and QB Jameis Winston said it was "amazing" to have his presence in the huddle; coach Dirk Koetter agreed: "It was awesome to get Doug out there."
PATCHWORK LINE: The Bucs went into the game without two offensive line starters as C Joe Hawley (knee) and LG Kevin Pamphile (concussion) were inactive. That meant rookie Caleb Benenoch started at left guard to make his NFL debut. Then Evan Smith, filling in at center, was lost to a knee injury in the first quarter.
That mean that Ben Gottschalk, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, was the only center left on roster, and he played the rest of the game.
"I felt prepared going in. I wasn't that nervous," Gottschalk said. "It's been a long time coming, taken a lot of work to get to this point. It just feels really good, gratifying, absolutely."
FULLBACK MCCOY: Koetter relented and let DT Gerald McCoy make a three-play cameo on offense, helping block for Martin's 1-yard touchdown.
The sequence came after a pass interference penalty in the end zone, setting up first and goal at the 1 with 7:26 left and the Bucs up 29-10. Martin was dropped for a 3-yard loss, got back to the 1 on second down, then went in for his first touchdown of the season, with a little help from McCoy.
"First play, I wasn't very victorious … third play we scored and I made a block on it," McCoy said. "First one, I think I hit the biggest dude they've got on the team. I'm a big guy, but he's about 360. When I hit him, 'Oooohh. Is this what fullbacks deal with?' But I lived out a dream, playing on offense, and we won."
THANKS MUCH: TE Cameron Brate scored his fifth touchdown of the season Sunday and finished with team highs of seven catches for 84 yards. He said he appreciates fans who have believed in him in fantasy football.
"My phone, I had a lot of messages from people telling me they picked me up in fantasy football earlier in the week," Brate said. "I'm happy I came through for them. I'm trying to get my ownership up a little bit there. I told my friends they've got to give me some kickbacks if they win now."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.