Could Chris Godwin’s walk-off TD catch be the start of something big?

Bucs receiver Chris Godwin's first career touchdown came on Jameis Winston's final throw of 2017, setting the tone for an impressive offseason.
(TIMES FILES | 2017)
Bucs receiver Chris Godwin's first career touchdown came on Jameis Winston's final throw of 2017, setting the tone for an impressive offseason. (TIMES FILES | 2017)
Published Sept. 5, 2018|Updated Sept. 6, 2018

TAMPA — His first came last. Chris Godwin's first touchdown reception in the NFL came on the final play of the Bucs' 2017 season.

Trailing by a point with nine seconds left, Godwin went up high over Saints cornerback Ken Crawley and dragged him into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown reception from Jameis Winston to give the Bucs a 31-24 win on Dec. 31.

Godwin has had to cling to that highlight for eight months, replaying it in his head any time he needed a reminder of what he is capable of doing.

"I think it did a lot for my confidence,'' said Godwin, whose second NFL season begins Sunday in the opener against the Saints. "I've always believed I could play at this level, but you know there's certain things when you get into the league that you imagine doing for a while — that first catch, the first touchdown, things like that.

"For me to have my first touchdown come on the last play of the season, it took that weight off my shoulders and it was like 'All right, I can keep rolling.' "

Confidence is the key to playing receiver. When you have it, you can make moves on the field as if controlled by a joystick.

In his second season out of Penn State, Godwin could become the X factor in the Bucs' offense. When the first depth chart was released Tuesday, Mike Evans was one starting receiver. On the other side, it read DeSean Jackson OR Chris Godwin.

It was a not-so-subtle recognition that Godwin has performed well enough to be considered a starter. In his final two games last year, with Jackson out with an ankle injury, Godwin caught 10 passes for 209 yards and that season-ending, winning score.

"Since it was the last play of the season, it's going to be a little harder for that (to carry over),'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "But you know, Chris makes plays every day. When guys make 'wow' plays, whether it be practice or games, I think Chris' reputation in our building is already growing. … Chris is doing all the things that he needs to be doing to be a real good player in this league.''

A second-round draft pick, Godwin wasn't expected to make much of an impact as a rookie. His biggest contribution came by covering kicks on special teams.

But when Jackson went down against Miami in Week 11, he made some big catches down the stretch in that game to set up the winning field goal. He finished the year with 34 catches for 525 yards. He enters 2018 feeling like a different player.

"It's night and day,'' Godwin said. "Week One as a rookie, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't how the games would go or anything like that. And now a year in, I've gotten a good amount of experience from my first year, so I'm ready to go. I'm excited about the next step.''

Receiver is the position of strength for the Bucs. The passing game runs through Evans, who has four consecutive seasons of 1,000 receiving yards or more. Jackson, who caught only 50 passes last year, still has the kind of speed to alter defenses. Adam Humphries was second on the club in receptions last season and a reliable slot receiver. At 6 feet 1 and 209-pounds, Godwin is big, fast and physical, with vise-like hands.

"Their playmakers, they're playing with a lot of confidence,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said of Jackson, Evans and Godwin. "They've got a lot of different skill sets. … And so you've got to study the tape, the formations, look closely at the strengths of these guys. They're playing with a lot of confidence. I think they had a good preseason.''

On Sunday, Evans will be locked into a physical, one-on-one battle with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the NFL's defensive rookie of the year last year. They have history. In the teams' first meeting last season at the Superdome, Evans was held to one catch for 13 yards. Then he drew a personal foul penalty — and later a one-game suspension — for blindsiding Lattimore between plays.

Jackson is bound to draw some safety help because of his speed. That puts Godwin in the position of being a bigger piece of the offense.

"Chris was a huge contributor for us last year,'' tight end O.J. Howard said. "He did a lot for us in the run game and also in the receiving game. He worked so hard, and to finally see him get that touchdown to help us win the game at the end of the year was pretty amazing."

As Godwin knows, sometimes it's not who is starting that matters, it's who finishes.

"I'm not too worried about stuff like that just because at the end of the day, it's going to take all of us trying to make it shake right,'' Godwin said. "We're not going to be able to go where we want to go if we're not all doing our part. If we're worried about the wrong things, like who's starting, who's getting so many catches or opportunities, then we're going to be distracted and not be able to perform.''