ATLANTA — It was nearly a half-hour after the game and Adam Humphries was talking about the one that got away. Or rather, the one that was thrown away. On the first drive of the season Sunday, the Bucs' slot receiver got behind the Falcons defense and quarterback Jameis Winston overthrew him.
A few lockers away, Winston looked in Humphries' direction and smiled.
"That's because you didn't come to my team dinner," Winston said of the meal he bought for teammates Friday.
"Last year in Atlanta I missed him early on a pump. And I told Adam, every time I come to Atlanta, I always miss him first, and I have to get better at that."
Humphries isn't worried. Neither is receiver Mike Evans, whom Winston missed in the end zone on the next play. If you catch a football for a living for the Bucs, Winston is going to feed you and fatten up your fantasy numbers.
He did it again in Sunday's 31-24 win, passing for 281 yards and throwing four touchdowns to four receivers: Evans, Brandon Myers, Charles Sims and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Winston's feat was not without his usual slow start. He missed five of his first six pass attempts, including an awful interception that set up the Falcons' first touchdown.
By now, Bucs fans should have a pretty clear image of Winston. Eyes as big as beer coasters. Sticking in the pocket like lint. Coming to life whenever the Bucs go to the two-minute offense, a conductor and his symphony.
Coach Dirk Koetter said Winston got into rhythm when the Bucs went to the no-huddle offense trailing 13-10 with 1:45 left in the first half.
"It was loud. We had terrible field position. We were backed up and didn't really want to go to it," Koetter said of the no-huddle, in which Winston hit all of his six pass attempts. "Seemed like we were backed up the whole game. We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. We got some penalties that we definitely need to do better on. But I think the real turning point was the drive before the half in the two-minute offense. (Winston) does a good job with that."
All week long, Koetter said he talked to Winston about checking the ball down to his running backs against the Falcons' zone defense.
"They take deep drops. They force you to check the ball down, and we were preaching, 'Check it down, check it down, check it down,' " Koetter said. "And he did."
Sims, whom Winston calls the most underrated back in the league, took a pass from the quarterback, juked Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael out of his cleats and broke the tackles of Jonathan Babineaux and left safety Ricardo Allen with an armful of air at the goal line on his way to a 23-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the first half and a 17-13 lead.
"It just shows you, when you give guys who actually do that running stuff for a living the ball in space, they can make anything happen," Winston said.
Funny thing about the no-huddle Sunday. All week long, the Bucs tried to simulate the noise of the Georgia Dome.
"We almost tricked ourselves a little bit at times because we could've been a little bit louder with our communication because we practiced making it harder at home," receiver Vincent Jackson said. "We cranked the music up and were practicing whispering at each other. And we were out here and I was like, 'Jameis, you don't have to whisper. You can yell now! They don't know our codes.' "
Winston led the Bucs to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half, pushing the lead to 31-13. He threw dimes to Seferian-Jenkins (30 yards) and Evans (45 yards) for scores, but both catches were better than the throws.
"Two beautiful catches," Koetter said.
Koetter believed the play to Seferian-Jenkins would work when he spotted it on film from one of last year's games against the Falcons. "We studied it in the offseason and said, 'Hey, we can get this,' " Koetter said. "Beautiful throw and a heck of a catch. … The one to Mike, another beautiful catch. We tell our guys all the time, you've got to make your plays."
After the game, in a joyous locker room, there was one more football to distribute. The game ball was presented to Koetter for his first win as an NFL head coach. Who gave it to him? "Who do you think?' Koetter said. "Number 3 (Winston)."
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com and listen from 6-9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.