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Turning Point, Week 11: Eagles can't stop Winston, Bucs on third down

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate celebrates his third-quarter touchdown with Jameis Winston and offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Evan Smith. [Getty Images]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate celebrates his third-quarter touchdown with Jameis Winston and offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Evan Smith. [Getty Images]

In the past month, Tampa Bay fans have witnessed Jameis Winston evolve into a more vocal leader, firing up his Buccaneers teammates before games and delivering rousing speeches afterward.

After leading the Bucs to a fourth-quarter comeback over the Dallas Cowboys a week ago, the rookie quarterback's victory address was full of Winspirational Quotes™.

One down. Six to go.

The Bucs went to Philadelphia on Sunday and kicked that a--, and then some, throttling the Eagles 45-17. In the rout, Tampa Bay improved to 5-5, won two consecutive games for the first time in two years and accomplished things it had never done or hadn't done in a long time. Among them:

• Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes, tying the rookie record Detroit's Matthew Stafford set in 2009. He is the fourth Bucs quarterback to throw that many in a game (Steve DeBerg, Brad Johnson and Josh Freeman). According to NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, Winston is the first rookie since 1937 to throw five touchdowns and no interceptions.

• Four of Winston's five touchdown passes came in the first half. Before Sunday, he had thrown four touchdown passes in five games.

• Winston's five wins are the most ever by a Bucs rookie quarterback.

• The Bucs rushed for 283 yards, a franchise record.

• Doug Martin rushed for 235 of those yards. He's the first NFL running back to run for that many since … Doug Martin, who rushed for 251 in 2012. His 84-yard run in the second quarter was the longest in team history and second-longest in the NFL this season (Miami's Lamar Miller, 85 yards). Martin is the first running back to rush for at least 235 yards against the Eagles since Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith rushed for 237 yards on Halloween 1993.

• The Bucs finished with 521 total offensive yards, the second-most in team history (573 in 1980). Before Sunday, they had gained 500 or more yards in a game three times.

As a Twitter follower found, the Bucs are the first team since the 1977 Dolphins to throw at least five touchdown passes and rush for at least 250 yards in a game.

• The Bucs didn't allow the Eagles to reach the red zone. They last accomplished that five years ago (November 2010 vs. the San Francisco 49ers).

What's more, the Bucs — the Bucs! — are now legitimate playoff contenders. Because the Carolina Panthers beat Washington and the Indianapolis Colts beat the Atlanta Falcons, the Bucs are the No. 7 seed in the NFC and just a game back of the Falcons, the No. 6 seed.

"We've talked a lot about being relevant again," coach Lovie Smith said after the game. "I think we're relevant again."

The Eagles, meanwhile, looked like the Bucs you used to know, the Bucs who last season repeatedly turned the ball over (second-most giveaways) and struggled to get off the field (fifth-highest opponent third-down conversion percentage).

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay defense picked off Mark Sanchez three times and the offense converted 10 of 16 third downs, its most in a year.

On their last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half, the Bucs converted six of seven third downs. On two of those third downs, Winston threw a touchdown pass. The first touchdown pass gave the Bucs a 28-14 lead and put them firmly in control after trading scores with the Eagles earlier in the second quarter; the second touchdown gave the Bucs a 35-14 lead and put the game out of reach.

Let's revisit that first game-changing drive.

Situation: Bucs lead 21-14, first-and-10 at the Philadelphia 20-yard line, 6:04 remaining in the second quarter

Win probability before the drive: 63.7 percent

The Bucs begin the drive looking as though they intend to run. They come to the line with two tight ends, an extra offensive lineman and only one receiver, Vincent Jackson. The Eagles counter by putting nine defenders in the box.

But Winston fakes the handoff to Sims and then hits Jackson on a comeback route to pick up a first down.

On the next play, the Bucs use an 11 personnel package (one running back, one tight end and three receivers). This time, Winston fakes the pass and hands off to Sims, who picks up 6 yards on a run up the middle.

A Charles Sims 10-yard run and a holding penalty then set up second-and-10 at the 33-yard line. The Bucs line up in an empty back set. The Eagles are in man coverage. Jackson runs an out route against cornerback E.J. Biggers, who isn't within 5 yards of him until he breaks toward the sideline. Biggers can't close the gap, and Jackson easily makes the catch to pick up 6 yards.

The Bucs line up in an empty back set again on third-and-4. On the right side of the formation, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Mychal Kendricks try to sort out their coverage responsibilities. Presnap, Maxwell is over Sims on the outside, while Kendricks is over Mike Evans.

Sims and Evans cross, and both Maxwell and Kendricks follow Evans. Sims is patient; he waits for Evans to clear before running an inside slant. The blown coverage leaves Sims wide open, and the running back picks up 8 yards and a first down.

Three plays later, the Bucs are in a similar position — it's third-and-5 near midfield. Like before, they align in an empty back formation with Sims out wide on the right. This time, Jackson, not Evans, lines up next to him. Maxwell and Kendricks flop positions; Kendricks lines up on the outside over Sims, Maxwell lines up over Jackson.

Against the Eagles' man-to-man defense, the Bucs run the same cross concept. Jackson runs directly at Kendricks, obstructing his path to Sims. Kendricks' only options are to wait for Jackson to pass or to loop around him. Either way, Sims will be open and will make the catch.

Because of pressure from defensive end Vinny Curry, Winston throws the ball sooner than he'd like. His pass is a little out in front of Sims, who has to dive to make the catch and is tackled a yard shy of the first-down marker. Martin rushes for 3 yards anyway on fourth-and-1 to give Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs.

Former Eagles linebacker Seth Joyner, a three-time Pro Bowl player, offers some perspective from Philadelphia:

 

 

On first down, the Bucs target Biggers, who is lined up opposite slot receiver Adam Humphries. Winston anticipates when Humphries will be open on his crossing route, and the Bucs move into the red zone.

After linebacker Connor Barwin bats down Winston's pass on first down at the Philadelphia 14-yard line, the Bucs line up again in an empty back formation. Sims lines up on the far right and Evans lines up to the left of him. Know what's coming? Yep, and Barwin might, too.

He keeps his eyes on Winston and gets his arms up. The pass hits Barwin right in the hands, but the potential game-tying pick-six falls incomplete. Scouts have lauded Winston's ability to scan the field and go through his progressions, but his underrated ability to gaze at defenders and turn their hands to stone somehow has gone undetected.

On third-and-10, the Bucs line up in the empty back formation once more but don't run the cross concept. Sims runs forward 2 yards, stops and sprints toward the end zone. Just before defensive end Cedric Thornton hits him, Winston lofts a throw to Sims over Kendricks' head and in front of Maxwell. Maxwell goes for the interception but misses and is out of position to make a touchdown-saving tackle. While he's going to the ground, Sims stretches and breaks the plane of the end zone. The touchdown is Winston's fourth of the first half and increases the Bucs' win probability to 86.9 percent.

For the Eagles, slow starts this season have been as customary as a commuter's morning stop at Wawa. So despite a 28-14 halftime deficit, a comeback was not out of the question because of their previous third-quarter success (entering Sunday, they outscored opponents by 40 points). But the Bucs' 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the second half drained almost 10 minutes off the clock.

Every time the Eagles were on the verge of stopping the Bucs offense, it extended the drive. Despite four penalties (a fifth was offset by a Philadelphia penalty), four third downs and three runs for a loss or no gain, the Bucs scored anyway and moved their chances of winning from 88.2 percent before the drive to 99.2 percent after. According to Pro Football Reference, the Bucs are the first team since the 2008 Cleveland Browns to score a touchdown on a drive in which it committed at least four penalties.

"The opening drive in that third quarter, you could just see how good our team can be," Winston said. "And you (could) see how we just kept overcoming adversity. Games before that, if we had a penalty, we'd be like, 'Oh, man. It's a penalty. We've got to move back.' But we overcame adversity. We had big guys step up when we needed them to step up. We persevered."

Thomas Bassinger can be reached at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

Turning Point, Week 11: Eagles can't stop Winston, Bucs on third down 11/23/15 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2015 3:51pm]
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