Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons-Bucs Turning Point, Week 13: Winston's 3rd-and-19 run

Remember when an NFL executive compared Jameis Winston with JaMarcus Russell back in April?

"With Jameis Winston I see JaMarcus Russell," the executive told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "They do dumb things. Isn't it interesting?"

Another "personnel man" said Winston was "a quarterback that can't run" and "has no power in his legs."

Exhibit A: Winston's 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He now shares the Buccaneers record of five rushing touchdowns in a single season with Steve Young (1986) and Shaun King (2000).

Exhibit B: Winston's 20-yard run on third-and-19 late in the fourth quarter that set up a game-winning touchdown pass. It's just the third run this season on third-and-19 or more to result in a first down. (The play was so unbelievable, the NFL Twitter account imagined that Winston fumbled!)

After the Bucs' 23-19 comeback victory, Winston — the youngest quarterback in NFL history to win six games — had this to say to those who predicted he would be a bust:

"Thank you. And God is good."

After 12 games, no one is sculpting his bust and enshrining him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the rookie is beating expectations and has been instrumental in turning around a team that went 2-14 a season ago. At 6-6 and just one game behind No. 6 seed Seattle, Tampa Bay is a bonafide playoff contender.

Isn't it interesting?

If the Bucs reach the playoffs — this season or next — perhaps Winston's third-and-19 run takes on greater significance. Perhaps players one day talk about that drive and the win over the Falcons like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Tony Dungy talk about the 2-8 team in 1996 that went to San Diego and upset the Chargers.

Or maybe the Bucs wilt like Chris Martin on a Coldplay album and "Third-and-19" amounts to little more than a footnote.

What we can determine is how much that run affected the outcome of the game and how it ranks among the Bucs' most valuable offensive plays of the season.

The criteria:

• The play occurred in the second half or overtime.

• The play occurred on third or fourth down.

• The point differential was seven or less.

Here's a list of plays that most exceeded their expected value (using Pro Football Reference's Expected Points data):

WeekOppQuarter, TimeDown, DistanceScorePlayEP beforeEP afterDiff
5JAX3, 2:14Third-and-15 at TB 1520-24Winston pass to Sims, 56 yards-1.843.645.50
13ATL4, 2:45Third-and-19 at ATL 4316-19Winston run, 20 yards0.894.043.15
7WAS3, 6:06Third-and-5 at TB 2524-21Winston pass to Evans, 24 yards-0.32.192.49
10DAL4, 1:07Third-and-4 at DAL 43-6Winston fumble at 1 negated by defensive holding4.496.972.48
9NYG4, 6:34Third-and-7 at TB 2318-23Winston pass to Evans, 18 yards-0.561.662.22

Now, let's look at how these plays affected the Bucs' win probability.

PlayWP beforeWP afterDiff
Winston pass to Sims, 56 yards23.952.028.1
Winston run, 20 yards35.157.822.7
Winston pass to Evans, 24 yards57.869.812.0
Winston fumble at 1 negated by defensive holding69.676.56.9
Winston pass to Evans, 18 yards22.528.56.0

So, while Winston's run was dramatic and kept the Bucs' playoff hopes alive, the screen pass to Charles Sims that resulted in a 56-yard gain had a greater impact. If not for that pass, the Bucs likely would have fallen to 1-4 and playoff hopes might never have existed. Fortunately, fans don't have to choose. You get to enjoy them both.

The 20-yard run would have meant nothing, of course, had the Bucs not reached the end zone. After three Doug Martin runs got them to the Atlanta 6-yard line, Winston — facing another critical third down — had a question for the huddle: Who wants a touchdown?

"I wish the center was mic'd up, but Mike (Evans) said, 'Me, me, me!'" Winston told reporters after the game. "There were a couple other guys who said, 'Me,' too, but Mike was like a kid — 'Me, me, me!' — and I got him the ball."

Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: playoff contenders. After the embarrassing 42-14 season-opening loss to Marcus Mariota and the Titans and the discouraging Week 4 loss to the Panthers, who predicted that?

Four games left, and every one of them matters.

"In order for us to have a chance, we need to win out. Simple as that," coach Lovie Smith said after the game. "Winning out means winning your next game. We have a one-game season coming up. This big win allowed us to have another one-game season. There's a lot on the line for next week."

Isn't it interesting?

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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