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Bucs' Winston authors one of NFL's biggest upsets this season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate, center, celebrates with tight end Alan Cross (45) after Cross scored a touchdown during the second half. [AP photo]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate, center, celebrates with tight end Alan Cross (45) after Cross scored a touchdown during the second half. [AP photo]
Published Nov. 21, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The note was handwritten and scratched out on a legal pad when Jameis Winston presented it only to coach Dirk Koetter on the eve of last week's Bucs-Bears game.

Winston didn't want to print it until the week the Bucs were to travel to Arrowhead Stadium, where a Chiefs team that had won 17 of its past 19 regular-season games awaited.

Winston had his thoughts typed, copied and distributed to each player's locker at One Buc Place. Then Wednesday evening he read it to the entire team.

"I just told them how grateful I was to be their quarterback," Winston said. "Why not do it? When we lost that game (to Atlanta on Nov. 3), it was important to me to let the guys know the season isn't over."

And it's not. Winston was letter perfect in Sunday's 19-17 win over the Chiefs, passing for 331 yards and a touchdown to pull off one of the NFL's biggest upsets this season.

What really stood out was Winston's accuracy and execution on third down, when he went 12-of-14 passing for 133 yards. He converted 11 of 15 third-down situations with completions to six players.

"When I was told that number, I didn't believe it," Koetter said of the third-down conversions. "I thought it was a misprint.

"First of all, Jameis was out of sight (Sunday). That's as good of quarterback play in however many years I've been in the league now. He was awesome all day. He played a great, great game. I gave him the game ball already."

It was not easy against the Chiefs defense. The Bucs relied on four field goals by rookie Roberto Aguayo to build a 12-10 lead. But one play changed the game.

With the Chiefs seemingly certain to take the lead, facing second and goal from the 6, Alex Smith's pass to receiver Chris Conley was tipped by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and intercepted in the end zone by safety Chris Conte, who returned it to the Tampa Bay 48.

Conte's pick-six last week set the tone for the 36-10 win over the Bears.

"That's a huge play in the game, and we knew as an offense we had to score on that drive," said receiver Cecil Shorts, who had five catches for 62 yards.

The Bucs' only touchdown came on — what else? — Winston's third-down pass to seldom-used tight end Alan Cross from 3 yards out with 6:26 to play. The Chiefs answered with a touchdown. But with Kansas City hoping to get the ball back after the two-minute warning with one timeout left, Winston hit Mike Evans to convert his final third down, essentially sealing the win.

It might sound corny, but Winston's letter resonated with coaches and teammates.

"It's a fantastic letter," Koetter said. "He just reminded them of it in (the locker room). Jameis, he's a special guy. We've never, ever questioned his toughness or leadership. The way he controlled the game … other than a very brief stint at the start of the third quarter, he was as accurate as I've seen."

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Center Joe Hawley said players took Winston's message as a challenge. Then they watched him author the victory.

"When you put yourself on the line like that, I think people really respond," Hawley said. "If you're a man, you're going to put yourself on the line for him. You're not going to just turn your back on it because that's not what a teammate does. For him to do that, I think it brought us a little closer together."

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