The air seemed to rush out of Raymond James Stadium early in the second quarter Monday night when Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was sandwiched between Bengals defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry, his right foot caught beneath them.
The Bucs' No. 1 overall pick limped until the end of the possession, and though he did not return, the injury isn't considered serious.
So exhale, Tampa Bay fans. There are a lot of other reasons to breathe easier after a 25-11 preseason victory over Cincinnati.
Perhaps a bit oxygen-deprived in his debut on Aug. 15 at Minnesota, Winston seemed completely in control against a good Bengals defense. He went 8-of-13 passing for 90 yards in just over one quarter, diving across the pylon for his second touchdown of the preseason.
"People are going to say it's just a preseason game but in that locker room we look at it as a win," Winston said. "We're excited to win a football game even if it was in the Walmart parking lot."
He added his ankle felt fine and that it had been checked out.
"I thought Jameis Winston was outstanding with his play," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "That was a tough fall he took there. But that was just a coaches decision (to take him out) on my part. We had seen enough of him."
Running back Doug Martin looked reborn, rushing for 52 yards on his first three carries, including a 30-yarder in which he broke three tackles to set up the first touchdown.
"We're so blessed to have a guy like Doug (Martin), and the offensive line was blocking their tails off," Winston said. "So, you really just have to give them a big shout-out because they were blocking for the pass, they were blocking for the run — they were clicking on all cylinders."
On defense, Tampa Bay forced three turnovers (all in the first half), intercepting quarterback Andy Dalton twice, including one returned 24 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Alterraun Verner.
The pass rush, which seemed non-existent at Minnesota, harassed Dalton. George Johnson, a free agent from the Lions, had 11/2 sacks, sharing one with Gerald McCoy. Larry English had the other sack and forced a holding penalty.
"If our offense goes out there and scores a touchdown, that's all we should need," McCoy said. "Especially with having a rookie quarterback, we want to get the ball back in his hands as much as possible. The kid is special, so if the ball is in his hands, we know we have a chance."
The special teams had a few good moments; the unit downed a couple of punts inside the 5-yard line and Patrick Murray hit a 53-yard field goal (though he missed an extra point).
For most of Monday night, it was hard to tell the 2-14 team last season from the one which has made the playoffs five of the past six years, including four straight.
By the time the Bucs led 23-0, they had dominated every aspect in breaking an 11-game losing streak, including the preseason, at RJS. At halftime, the Bucs held a 216-49 advantage in total yards, and had a 356-152 edge in all.
Dalton, a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, finished 6-of-14 for 46 yards, including interceptions by Verner and safety Bradley McDougald. Linebacker Bruce Carter recovered a fumble forced by cornerback Mike Jenkins.
"I just tried my best to get in the end zone," Verner said. "I hadn't (done it) yet as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Regardless if it's preseason or not, it is good to get in there and celebrate with teammates."
The Bucs could've led by more, but 11 first-half penalties for 130 yards — including eight by the offense — took points off the board.
"But penalties, too many in first half," Smith said.
Thirteen receivers caught passes in the first half, including eight targeted by Winston in a little more than a quarter.
Backup quarterback Mike Glennon beat the blitz, lofting a pass to Russell Shepard over defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Bucs a 20-0 lead.
By far, the Bucs' best reason for optimism this season is Winston, who looked poised and in control from the opening kickoff. He was 3-for-3 on the opening TD drive.
"I have so much confidence in this kid," Johnson said of Winston. "I think he's going to have a great year. He's just so smart. … He sees things on the field a veteran sees."