Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston carries Bucs past Falcons

TAMPA — As runs go, it wasn't the longest in the game. It resulted in a first down, not a touchdown. Jameis Winston didn't even have a great description of it, like a magician who never explains his trick.

But a 20-yard run the Bucs' rookie quarterback made on the winning drive of Sunday's comeback 23-19 win over the Falcons is what fans and teammates will remember as one that said a little about Winston's feet and a lot about his heart.

"He's the biggest competitor I've ever seen," center Joe Hawley said. "He loves this game, and you can tell every time he gets the ball in his hands, he'll do anything to win. It's wild. I've never seen anything like it."

Now you know why Winston's nickname is "Famous."

Trailing 19-16, facing third and 19, and out of range for a potential tying field goal with 2:45 left in the game, Winston escaped a heavy rush and scrambled 10 yards until Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow had him dead to rights and knifed into his legs as outside linebacker Brooks Reed hit him from behind at the Atlanta 33-yard line.

Winston kept his balance as he was shoved backward by linebacker Justin Durant, spun out to his right, made defensive end Vic Beasley miss, ran another 10 yards and dragged safety Ricardo Allen for a first down.

"I looked up; I thought he was stopped," coach Lovie Smith said. "I looked, and I didn't hear a whistle. I saw him continue to run. I was excited as everyone else."

Three plays later, Winston — the youngest quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to six wins — said this in the huddle: "Who wants a touchdown?"

"Mike (Evans) said, 'Me! Me! Me!' Honest to God truth," Winston said.

So Winston hit Evans on a 6-yard pass in the corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown with 1:39 to play. Linebacker Lavonte David sealed the deal when he intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the next play from scrimmage.

The victory improved the Bucs to 6-6, and with a series sweep, they have a game in hand over the Falcons (6-6), who lost their fifth straight and sixth in the past seven games. The win left the Bucs one game behind the Seahawks for the final NFC wild card spot.

"We didn't want to go to overtime and have to try and drive the field again," Hawley said. "We were in position, and Jameis ran it, threw it and did whatever he could to help us win, and it was amazing."

Entering the draft, Winston was supposed to take a backseat athletically to Marcus Mariota, the other heralded quarterback. But he also got his fifth rushing touchdown Sunday, scrambling from 5 yards out into the end zone in the first quarter to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead. The only quarterback with more rushing touchdowns this year is the Panthers' Cam Newton with seven.

"(Worrilow is) a great player," Winston said. "During that drive, he called out at least five of our plays. And on that play, we heard him calling out that play, and (I) was like, 'They got us.' But we didn't stop. Those guys kept blocking, (Demar) Dotson sealed the edge, and I got around. That's the thing about this team. If you get us, you get us. But we're going to find a way."

Winston finished 18 of 27 passing for 227 yards with a touchdown and an interception on a deflection off Evans' hands. The Bucs took the lead on Doug Martin's 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and tacked on a field goal to lead 16-12 entering the fourth.

But Martin's fumble near midfield on the Bucs' first possession of the fourth quarter sparked a Falcons rally, with Ryan throwing a 5-yard touchdown strike to Nick Williams to leave the Bucs trailing 19-16. That's when "Famous" took over.

"He seems to, I guess, surprise us daily with some of the things that he can do," Smith said. "Times like that, we needed one of our best players to step up and make a big play, and he did. … Tell me a better running quarterback in the league than Jameis Winston right now."

The Bucs were running on fumes in the game. Every defensive lineman who began the season as a starter was out, including Gerald McCoy, yet they held the Falcons to four field goals. By the fourth quarter, the offensive line was gassed, especially right tackle Dotson, who hadn't played since injuring a knee in August. Dotson bent over at the waist after each play.

"I'm barely jogging trying to get a blow and (Winston is) out there fighting his behind off," Dotson said. "That's a guy who can lead, and I'll follow a guy like that."

There are better throwing quarterbacks. Better running quarterbacks. But Winston's niche may become that he is simply a winning quarterback.

"If they don't give up, I don't give up," Winston said. "If they do give up, I'm the first one to pick them up and carry them on my shoulders."

And a few tacklers as well.

   
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