TAMPA — Two familiar Bucs rookies — QB Jameis Winston and LB Kwon Alexander — were huge parts of Sunday's win in Atlanta, but the Bucs had 10 rookies and first-year players among the 44 players used in the overtime victory.
"If you put a group together and you have some young players on there, (the) odds say you're going to have to call on them," coach Lovie Smith said. "For our rookies, I don't think that crossed our minds: 'You know, I'm just kind of a first-year player out here.' No, they were just stepping in there."
Injuries pressed undrafted rookie WR Donteea Dye into his first career start and another undrafted rookie, Adam Humphries, caught a key third-down conversion in overtime.
Injuries at defensive end meant more playing time for first-year star Howard Jones, who got the Bucs' only sack in overtime to help the defense close out the win. Rookie Josh Shirley, making his NFL debut, dropped Falcons RB Devonta Freeman for a 3-yard loss on third and 1 to force a field goal in the fourth quarter.
"Whether it was Donteea Dye, Adam Humphries, Josh Shirley getting reps, Howard Jones, all these guys (were) taking center stage," said Smith, who has had two rookies — LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet — take every snap on the offensive line this season.
Good news: Starting DE Will Gholston suffered a knee injury Sunday, but it's only a mild sprain and he's not likely to miss significant time. The other starting end, Jacquies Smith, left the game with an ankle injury and had a boot on his left foot after the game. Their status won't be updated until the team's next practice on Wednesday.
Moving on up: With three Falcons fumbles recovered Sunday, the Bucs lead the NFL with nine this season -— they're tied for sixth with 13 total takeaways. That puts them on pace for 29 this season, which would be the team's most since getting 34 in 2007.
This and that: RT Demar Dotson is eligible to play this week after missing seven games with a preseason knee injury. The Bucs will have to make room on the 53-man roster, but he could return to his starting job at right tackle, where Gosder Cherilus has played every snap in seven games. Cherilus also leads the team with nine penalties, three of which have been declined. … Opposing quarterbacks have completed 78 percent of their passes in the past three games, raising the Bucs' season average to 70 percent against them, second-highest among NFL defenses. … Alexander had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery Sunday, becoming the first Buc since John Lynch in 1996 to do all three in the same game.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman and @NFLstroud.