TAMPA — There are wins. There are big wins. But to be judged as a great NFL quarterback, there must be fourth-quarter comeback wins.
Jameis Winston got another one of those in a 25-23 victory over the New York Giants Sunday when Nick Folk, who had missed two field goals and an extra point in the game, connected from 34 yards just inside the left upright as time expired.
Winston went 5-for-5 for 55 yards on the final drive, including a perfectly delivered 26-yard pass that tight end Cameron Brate caught over his shoulders.
There's a lot of ways for Bucs players to describe Winston in the huddle on drives such as this: Charismatic. Calm. Now you can add clutch.
"Jameis is unbelievable in those situations, kind of being the leader of our ship," Brate said. "Everyone just kind of followed him. He really believed we all were going to do it so we really believed. He made some big plays there, so pretty exciting stuff."
It was the fourth, fourth-quarter comeback for Winston and his seventh win on the final drive in 35 career starts.
A week after throwing three interceptions at Minnesota, Winston passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Moreover, he outdueled two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who put the winless Giants ahead 23-22 with his 2-yard pass to Rhett Ellison with 3:16 remaining in the game.
In fact, after the Bucs blew a 13-0 lead, Winston brought the Bucs back twice in the fourth quarter. His 14-yard TD pass to Brate gave the Bucs a 22-17 lead with 7:44 left before Manning did his thing.
"A lot of people do (judge quarterbacks that way) and you hear that stats on fourth-quarter comebacks," said coach Dirk Koetter, whose Bucs take a 2-1 mark into Thursday's 8:25 p.m. home game against New England.
"Well, to have fourth-quarter comebacks, you have to play enough games to get some fourth-quarter comebacks. I'd rather we have fourth-quarter leads and held them but we'll sure take it. Jameis was the difference for us on offense tonight."
How impressive was Winston's performance? Consider the Bucs had never really practiced the play that set up the game-winning field goal. Let that settle for a second.
Earlier in the game, on fourth down, Brate tried to run a slant route out of that formation and safety Landon Collins took away his inside leverage, forcing an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs.
But facing third-and-1 on the Giants' 39-yard line with 90 seconds left in the game, coach Dirk Koetter sent in the play he trusted Winston and Brate would make work.
"We really have never practiced it. We've practiced parts of it," Koetter said. "We just haven't practiced that part. But Jameis and Cam have practiced that part, so how that particular one fit in the concept, those guys have practiced it and they told me it was game-ready, so let it rip."
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Brate was physical with Collins at the line of scrimmage, ran clear of him to the outside and beat Collins down the field.
"We had talked about it a little bit earlier in the week. But to call it with a minute left on third-and-1, that shows a lot of trust in me and Jameis," Brate said. "It was pretty awesome."
At 23, Winston has a lot on his shoulders. In four days, they will host Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Patriots. A loss Sunday would have been devastating.
"I think what happens a lot of times when you lose a lead like that, it's everybody's natural instinct to say 'here we go again,' " Koetter said. " 'Same old whatever the team is.' The way Jameis was throwing the ball, I was confident we still would be able to move it and get another chance but that's big for our team."
After Folk had missed his second field goal Sunday, Winston told the 11th-year vet he was going to kick the game-winner. That's how good Winston was Sunday. He made a Folk hero out of potentially the game's biggest goat.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud
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