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After a week of uncomfortable conversations, Chris Godwin rescues Bucs

John Romano | Tampa Bay’s star receiver failed to catch a pass a week ago but may have saved the season with a big third-down play in a win against Atlanta.
 
Wide receiver Chris Godwin set up the Bucs' winning touchdown Sunday against the Falcons with a 32-yard reception on third and 10 in the final minute.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin set up the Bucs' winning touchdown Sunday against the Falcons with a 32-yard reception on third and 10 in the final minute. [ DANNY KARNIK | AP ]
Published Dec. 11, 2023|Updated Dec. 11, 2023

ATLANTA — This was not his day. Not his week, not his season.

By the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Falcons, the ball had been thrown his way 10 times and Chris Godwin had 23 yards to show for it.

The Super Bowl ring, the Pro Bowl appearance, the hefty salary? They were starting to seem like teases of the glory that had once followed him on fields across the NFL.

Here, in 2023, Godwin was still trying to find a rhythm with a new quarterback and common ground with a new offensive coordinator. That struggle was never more apparent than a few days ago when his wife took to social media to defend what she felt were unfair, and untrue, insinuations about his performance against Carolina.

There’s your setup. That’s your backstory. And here’s your plot twist:

Chris Godwin just saved the season.

Not by himself, of course. And, with games still to come against Green Bay and Jacksonville, maybe not for long. But Godwin’s 32-yard reception on third and 10 in the final minute against the Falcons on Sunday set up Baker Mayfield’s game-winning pass to Cade Otton and a 29-25 comeback victory that put the Bucs in first place in the NFC South based on tiebreakers and gave them hope in the season’s final month.

“Can’t say enough about him and the job he did (Sunday),” Mayfield said. “That’s a clutch moment.”

Clutch moments were once Godwin’s specialty. He didn’t catch as many touchdown passes as Mike Evans and didn’t stretch the field as much as Rob Gronkowski, but few players were as trustworthy as Godwin on third down. He delivered in traffic. He withstood jarring hits. He was the prototype of dependability.

And as the Bucs transitioned to a new offensive system this season that took Godwin away from his preferred role as a slot receiver, those moments seemed to gradually fade away. His numbers suffered and his impact lessened.

His dignity, however, never faltered.

“I love Chris, he is one of my favorite guys on this team,” said Bucs center Robert Hainsey. “It’s the way he carries himself. And the way he does everything right. He’s a guy I try to model myself after even though we play different positions. I have the utmost respect for Chris. I love the way he plays, so for him to have a big (moment) is just awesome.”

Up to that moment on Sunday, the Bucs had run 64 plays and had only one gain of more than 15 yards. They had hung around with big plays on defense and a surprisingly effective running game but had only 101 passing yards and had converted only 33% of their third downs.

So when Godwin lined up in the slot opposite of cornerback Dee Alford, there was little reason to believe the Bucs could salvage a season that seemed moments away from slipping down the drain. Godwin ran straight up the field, made a quick move inside, and then cut outside to gain a step on Alford. The pass hit him in stride, and the Bucs were suddenly in field goal range and in the red zone with the Falcons leading 25-22.

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“This game is about who you are on a consistent basis and not just when things are going good for you,” Godwin said. “Are you the same person when things are going rough? I try to be as consistent as possible. I try to be a good person, that’s how I was raised.”

When he failed to catch a pass last week against the Panthers and his wife made headlines on Instagram, Godwin sat down with offensive coordinator Dave Canales to talk about what they could do to find a groove. Did that include adding more plays from the slot?

“Yes and no,” Godwin said. “We were just trying to figure out the best way to be as successful as possible. Dave is really trying to do that, which I appreciate. He has a very tough job. I don’t envy that position. We’re working on it, we’re getting better.

“There’s a comfort level for me in the (slot). That’s where I played mostly the last four years, so I think I’ve definitely learned a couple of tricks in that spot.”

So did he tell Mariah to fire up her social media feed after Sunday’s game?

“I haven’t talked to her yet,” Godwin said, laughing. “But I’m sure she’s happier today.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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