TAMPA — The Bucs have improved in many areas since the first month of the season, but perhaps the biggest leap has come in how well rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has performed in third-down situations.
In his first three games, the Bucs converted just 21.4 percent of their third downs, the second-worst percentage in the league. Since then, the Bucs are the NFL's best offense on third downs, converting 49.1 percent of their third downs.
An improved running game means more reasonable third downs — in those first three games, the Bucs needed an average of 8.9 yards for a first down. And while the Bucs are better in that regard, needing 6.9 yards on third down since Week 3, that's still the third-worst yardage in the league, making the Bucs' high conversion rate all the more impressive.
The stat is especially relevant this week because the Bucs and Falcons both have defenses that rank in the NFL's bottom five on third downs. The Bucs are allowing opponents to convert 44.1 percent of their third downs — third-worst in the league, with Atlanta next at 42.9 percent.