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Bucs-Saints report card: Koetter's crew didn't quit after the season was lost

Yes, it's hard to call five wins instead of four a miracle.

But it sufficed Sunday.

The Bucs showed a lot of heart and a lot of gumption in a game New Orleans thought it needed. The Bucs played as if they were trying to save Dirk Koetter's job, though they didn't need to.

And they were rewarded, out of nowhere, with a 31-24 win when Jameis Quarterback led the Bucs down the field and hit godsend Chris Godwin for the winning touchdown with nine seconds left. The defense, so bad all season, showed some grit against Drew Brees and the Saints. That the Bucs lost the fifth pick in the NFL draft in the process seemed to matter little as they celebrated.

Let it be known that Koetter's crew did not quit after the season was lost. There was life after disaster. The Bucs did not go down fighting.

They went down winning.

Think Hard Knocks will be interested?

With feeling

No, Dirk Koetter wasn't coaching for his job, but his seat is already hot going into next season. But give him credit. Despite all the noise in the system, he had his team ready to play a game that had no bearing on anything. Hey, we got on Koetter when he didn't have his team ready (not even close in Arizona), so let's hear it for Sunday. Nothing epitomized it more than when Bucs Will Clarke and Kwon Alexander crunched Saints kicker Wil Lutz on a fake. They were all in. So were most of Koetter's players on Sunday. Grade: A

In Godwin's hands

It was the biggest catch of a decidedly lost season, but here's to Godwin, who beat Saints cornerback Ken Crawley and hauled in the game-winner from Winston. Godwin has been one of the bright young faces on the Bucs this season. The third-round draft pick out of Penn State is one of the brightest lights heading into next season. Sunday might have just been the start. Grade: A

Special times two

Think the Bucs didn't want this one? Look at the play of special teams guys Josh Robinson and Isaiah Johnson. Robinson stripped New Orleans punt returner Tommylee Lewis deep in New Orleans territory, and Johnson picked up the ball and ran it in for a 20-17 Bucs lead. Sometimes it isn't about the state of a franchise, where it's going, where it's not going. Sometimes it's just two men playing with all they have and making something happen. Something to tuck away for 2018. Grade: A

Will he ever learn? Maybe

Winston finished his third NFL season Sunday. We don't know when his fourth NFL season will begin. That might be up to the league. Anyway, Winston had some good moments, including maybe his best rushing performance, and even managed to not fumble as he stretched for a second-quarter TD. But he also threw three awful interceptions, the second one despite having all the time in the world, the third one into the New Orleans. Then he threw that winning touchdown. What will 2018 bring? Grade: B

If only it was this simple

In the second quarter, on third down and 2 yards to go, Bucs runner Peyton Barber took a pitch from Winston and ran left. He picked up several blocks and easily made a first down. This is how a running game is supposed to work. This is how a running game should work. This is how a running game has to work if you intend to be any good. The Bucs need about four more Barbers next season, and a revamped line. Had to like the coming attractions. Grade: A

Their finest hour

The Bucs defense has been lousy most of this season. But it has had its moments, and there were several of those Sunday even when in the jaws of Drew and the Saints offense, except when Alvin Kamara had the ball. The Bucs defense quickly coughed up a long drive after the Bucs had taken a lead on that fumble return. Reminded us of the losing stands at Buffalo and Green Bay. But it banded together and stopped New Orleans' final drive on a … sack. Now that's a punch line. Grade: B

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