Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Panthers vs. Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 17: Jameis Winston's record-breaking touchdown

Week 5. Monday Night Football.

The Bucs and Panthers were serving viewers a nauseating cocktail of punts, missed field goals and turnovers.

Dirk Koetter, 1-3 in his first four games as Tampa Bay's head coach, desperately needed to leave Carolina with a win. He wasn't just trying to save a season; he was trying to fix a losing culture. Losing cultures can be hard to change if you're not, you know, winning.

All the while, Koetter was working around deficiencies in his roster. He couldn't trust his depleted defense. He couldn't trust his rookie kicker. He couldn't trust his quarterback, not even against a vulnerable Panthers secondary. Jameis Winston, the present and the future, was turning the ball over at a Vinny Testaverde-like pace.

So he turned to … his running back. No, not Doug Martin. He was unavailable because of a hamstring injury. He turned to Jacquizz Rodgers, a zombie who had been roaming the set of The Walking Dead a month earlier.

Rodgers came alive, grinding out 101 yards on 30 carries, both of which were career highs. He touched the ball five times on the final drive and helped set up a short-range field goal. Crisis averted. Season saved.

Fast forward to Sunday in Tampa. Bucs-Panthers II. We didn't ask for the sequel, but we got it anyway. Kind of like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. No purpose. While we were spared Kevin James, we were subjected to another noxious blend of punts, missed field goals and turnovers.

When the Bucs got the ball with about six minutes left and the game tied at 10, you figured they might turn to Rodgers again. Because Winston and the pass offense had been inconsistent all afternoon, Tampa Bay instead would work the clock, kick a field goal and leave the rest to the defense.

This time, the Bucs didn't put the game in Rodgers' hands. They didn't play clock ball, either.

They passed. And they passed. And they passed, passed, passed, passed.

Even when they were assured a chance at a chip-shot field goal.

Why?

Koetter wanted to win, of course, but consider that the stakes were vastly different from Week 5. At 1-3, winning was the only goal. At 8-7 — and the team's playoff hopes all but extinguished — he could strive for more than some modicum of momentum magic.

The most obvious beneficiary: Winston, who was approaching two single-season team records — touchdown passes and passing yards.

The pass-heavy drive, capped by Mike Evans' go-ahead score, ensured Winston set both.

Bucs single-season touchdown pass leaders

PlayerYearTD
Jameis Winston201628
Josh Freeman201227
Brad Johnson200326
Josh Freeman201025
Brad Johnson200222
Jameis Winston201522

Bucs single-season passing yards leaders

PlayerYearYards
Jameis Winston20164,090
Josh Freeman20124,065
Jameis Winston20154,042
Brad Johnson20033,811
Josh Freeman20113,592

Only Koetter knows how much those milestones factored into his play-calling in Carolina territory Sunday. Of the 13 plays the Bucs called at or inside the Panthers' 30-yard line, 10 were pass plays.

"The way our offense was today, any touchdown would've been fantastic," he said.

Fair enough.

The drive also served a purpose greater than building Winston's reputation. It represented an opportunity to trust and to build trust. That will carry over to September more than a ninth win.

There is no relationship more integral to a team's success than the one between the head coach and the quarterback. Koetter knows he needs Winston, and Winston needs him. Winston, after all, is the reason the Bucs brought him to Tampa in 2015, as well as the reason the Bucs didn't let him walk a year ago.

Koetter placed the game in Winston's hands despite his early struggles because, in a way, he had to. And by doing so, he delivered a message.

Be the franchise quarterback. Take over the game. Win.

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

Comments
New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

This isn't the first time Brentson Buckner has wanted to get closer to the Bucs defensive line.As a defensive tackle for the Panthers, Buckner's team went 7-9 in 2002, the inaugural season for the NFC South.Tampa Bay won the division that year, and w...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
New Bucs assistant Brentson Buckner knows challenge of NFC South QBs

New Bucs assistant Brentson Buckner knows challenge of NFC South QBs

New Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner understands full well what a challenge he'll face in trying to bring down three talented quarterbacks in the NFC South this season."Not getting much sleep," Buckner said, asked of his expectations in a d...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs add ex-USF, Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas to coaching staff

Bucs add ex-USF, Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas to coaching staff

Dirk Koetter has filled out his 2018 coaching staff, hiring former USF and Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas as his new defensive quality control coach.Nicholas, 34, starred for the Bulls and played in Atlanta from 2007-13, much of that under curre...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

TAMPA – Early in his rookie year, Doug Martin was told he was losing his balance because he was dropping his head as he hit the hole in a game at Oakland.He quickly corrected that mistake and wound up rushing for a career-high 251 yards against...
Published: 02/21/18
Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Hours after they parted ways with running back Doug Martin, the Bucs continued their initial wave of roster cuts Tuesday afternoon, releasing defensive tackle Chris Baker.Baker, 30, lasted only one season with Tampa Bay, managing just a half-sack aft...
Published: 02/20/18
Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

TAMPA — After six up and mostly down seasons, Doug Martin's run with the Bucs is over.The two-time Pro Bowl running back was released by Tampa Bay Tuesday, a move that was expected after he failed to rush for less than 500 yards in four of the ...
Published: 02/20/18
Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

The Bucs plan to release running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker sometime before the NFL scouting combine which begins Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.There likely will be more, but they still are undecided on the future of defensive ends R...
Published: 02/20/18
Defensive linemen who could follow Brentson Buckner to Bucs

Defensive linemen who could follow Brentson Buckner to Bucs

Now that the Bucs have announced that Brentson Buckner is their new defensive line coach, could his connections help shape Tampa Bay's search to upgrade their pass rush this offseason?The chance to play for a familiar position coach can be a major fa...
Published: 02/20/18
Bucs agree to terms with Brentson Buckner to be their defensive line coach

Bucs agree to terms with Brentson Buckner to be their defensive line coach

Brentson Buckner didn't need to bring his resume when he interviewed for the Bucs' job as defensive line coach. No references were needed, either.All the Bucs had to do was ask quarterback Jameis Winston whether the Arizona Cardinals defensive line w...
Published: 02/19/18
On the mend: Bucs’ Noah Spence posts workout pic

On the mend: Bucs’ Noah Spence posts workout pic

Defensive end Noah Spence, whose two NFL seasons have both been limited by injuries to his right shoulder, is getting himself healthy for the 2018 season.Spence has kept a low profile since the Bucs placed him on injured reserve in late October, a mo...
Published: 02/19/18