TAMPA — On the touchdown pass that wound up being the difference Sunday, Chris Godwin was the fourth option.
It was a great throw by Jameis Winston, rolling away from pressure and firing a bullet to Godwin, who made a leaping grab of a pass that had some smoke on it.
"Chris converted right away to scramble rules and that was a heck of a throw,'' Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said of the touchdown right before halftime of Tampa Bay's 24-17 victory over Carolina.
"That had a lot more juice on it than you might think."
At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Godwin is another receiver with a large catching radius perfectly built for Winston, who needs a big strike zone.
The question is whether Godwin should ever be the fourth option on a pass play. Maybe he should've been Tampa Bay's second option all along this season.
Godwin finished with five catches for 101 yards, his second game this year with at least 100 receiving yards and the third of his career.
His first 100-yard game came in the 2017 season finale, when Godwin made a spectacular catch over Saints cornerback Ken Crawley for a 39-yard, game-winning TD with nine seconds left in a 31-24 victory.
The previous game that year, Godwin pitched in with three catches for 98 yards in a 22-19 loss at Carolina.
What was the common thread? DeSean Jackson was injured and did not play in each game.
"First of all, it's not surprising,'' Koetter said of Godwin's performance Sunday. "I've been saying since day one, we have four starting wide receivers. They've all had their moments where they've played very well this year. Not surprising at all.''
Koetter is right. Mike Evans, Jackson, Adam Humphries and Godwin all have had their moments this season. Including tight end O.J. Howard, the Bucs have five players with more than 500 yards receiving this season. Godwin is third on the team with 49 catches and third with 676 receiving yards.
But Jackson missed Sunday's game with a thumb injury. Who knows if or when he will play again this season, but with only four games remaining, isn't it time to start turning an eye to 2019?
It's well documented that Winston struggles throwing the football to Jackson, and you have to suspect the 32-year-old veteran isn't rushing back to play with him again.
With the way Godwin has consistently performed in Jackson's absence, however, should the Bucs be in any hurry to get Jackson back?
There was another play you won't find in the box score Godwin made that may have saved the game.
One play before his touchdown reception, Winston threw short and left to Godwin, who was blanketed by Panthers safety Eric Reid on second-and-11 from the Carolina 13-yard line with 26 seconds left in the first half.
Godwin charged hard from behind Reid and broke up the pass, preventing a disastrous interception. The Bucs lead was only 10-7 at that point. It became 17-7 on the next play.
"Jameis does a great job scrambling and extending the play and giving us opportunities to make plays on the ball,'' Godwin said of the TD. "Just recognizing that situation, I was just trying to find an open spot. Jameis always has his eyes upfield. He gave me an opportunity and it was up to me to make the play."
Godwin may deserve a lot more opportunities the final month of the season.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud