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Baker Mayfield’s late TD pass gives Bucs NFC South lead over Falcons

The big play is a 32-yard pass to Chris Godwin to keep the winning drive alive, which is capped by Cade Otton’s touchdown.
 
Bucs tight end Cade Otton reacts after making the game-winning touchdown reception against the Falcons during the final minute of Sunday's game in Atlanta.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton reacts after making the game-winning touchdown reception against the Falcons during the final minute of Sunday's game in Atlanta. [ ERIK S. LESSER | ZUMAPRESS.com ]
Published Dec. 10, 2023|Updated Dec. 11, 2023

ATLANTA — The Bucs had just beaten the Falcons in a nail-biter. As is his custom, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was the last one to leave the visiting locker room Sunday but not before putting the wild 29-25 win in perfect perspective.

“For me, personally, I played in the biggest game there was,” he said, referencing the Bucs’ Super Bowl 55 win during his rookie season. “Not everybody did, so you’ve got to make sure everybody is calm and playing with poise. That’s my job, to make sure everybody else is cool.”

If you want to know how the Bucs managed to have a pulse by winning back-to-back NFC South games and become darlings of their own destiny for first place in the division (they own the tiebreaker thanks to common opponents), it’s because they have enough players like Winfield who own a champion’s heart.

Just consider the game-winning drive that ended with Baker Mayfield throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton with 31 seconds remaining.

Bucs tight end Cade Otton (88) catches a touchdown pass as Falcons safety Richie Grant (27) defends during the fourth quarter.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton (88) catches a touchdown pass as Falcons safety Richie Grant (27) defends during the fourth quarter. [ MIKE STEWART | AP ]

The Bucs led 22-17 late in the fourth quarter when Winfield came a fingertip away from intercepting what became a 45-yard pass from Desmond Ridder to Drake London.

“I honestly didn’t even see him,” Winfield said of London. “As soon as I’m going up, I just saw two gloves. Ooh, that was a good catch by him. Next time I’ve got to make sure I go higher, I guess.”

Ridder then gave the Falcons a 25-22 lead with his 6-yard TD run and two-point conversion pass to London.

But there was no panic in the huddle, just calm amid the chaos from a team with players who still live for big moments.

No one exemplified that more than receiver Chris Godwin. All week, he had been in the middle of a firestorm that ignited when he failed to catch a pass last week in a win over Carolina. His wife, Mariah, elevated the situation when she accused Bucs coach Todd Bowles of lying about Godwin’s snaps due to injury.

But Godwin also owns a Super Bowl ring.

Facing third and 10 and still not in field-goal range at the Atlanta 47-yard line, Godwin got open and Mayfield connected with him on a 32-yard pass play, the Bucs’ longest of the game.

Two plays later, Otton was in the end zone. All that was left was for the Bucs to keep the Falcons from scoring a touchdown while eating up the rest of the clock and they did it when London was tackled at the Tampa Bay 3 as time expired.

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield after Tampa Bay defeats the Falcons.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield after Tampa Bay defeats the Falcons. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
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“It definitely feels good, but mainly because it was a play that set up a touchdown for us,” Godwin said. “Everything that happened in the past to me is in the past now and I’m excited to be able to contribute to a win and it was a big win that we needed. It’s a team that beat us the last game. So I’m grateful to be here, man. I’m grateful to get to do what I love and I tried to voice that and express that because I really am. And it’s a tough win for us.”

Winfield, who also had a sack and forced fumble that resulted in a safety, wasn’t the only former Super Bowl champion on defense on display.

Cornerback Carlton Davis set up the Bucs’ first touchdown when he jumped a little pass in the flat to running back Bijan Robinson and intercepted it at the Falcons’ 8-yard line.

“It definitely was a film study play,” Davis said. “It’s just like the stars aligned for me where I was in a good defense where I could take that risk. I’d seen the keys where they do like to run screens and I just made a play. I thought I scored.

“They threw it the first play of the game, the same screen. I should’ve jumped it then and I was so mad I didn’t jump it. So the next series, I was like, ‘I hope they do it again, I hope they do it again, and they did it.”

Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis (24) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half.
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis (24) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half. [ MIKE STEWART | AP ]

Credit a rebuilt offensive line, led by Tristan Wirfs, that helped the Bucs out-rush the Falcons 148-96. Rachaad White was huge in the game with 102 yards on 25 carries while adding a 31-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Backup Chase Edmonds averaged 5 yards a carry to finish with 40.

But what it came down to may have been the Bucs having enough embers on their roster to get hot and start a fiery playoff run when it looked as if their season might end in ashes.

Mayfield hadn’t thrown for even 100 yards when the fourth quarter began. But he has picked up on the Bucs’ group of fighters and led them on a fourth-quarter comeback similar to the game at Houston, only this one stuck.

“I just see nobody flinching. Nobody is wide eyed. Everybody seems really calm, just ready for the next play. That’s what you want. Cool calm and collected and ready to go to work,” Mayfield said.

And now they have a chance to play in bigger games ahead.

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