TAMPA — Twenty-five games into his NFL career, Jameis Winston has a signature play that has no name. If you drew it up, merely traced the steps from snap to his 22-yard retreat into his end zone, seeping like water through defenders, before launching a 39-yard strike to Mike Evans, it would resemble nothing in a playbook.
"We said it at the beginning of the year, our No. 1 pass play is what?" said Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken. "Scramble."
Despite his lumbering gait, Winston's ability to escaped defenders has become the quarterback's most underrated quality. Some attribute that to his improved conditioning and trimmer physique. Winston knows that plays like the one he made in the third quarter of the Bucs' 36-10 win over Chicago on Sunday are born of competitiveness.
"When things break down, you've just got to try to find something positive out of it, because if something bad happens, you're going to get yelled at when you get to the sideline. If something good happens, you get a pat on the back," said Winston, who on the next play after his scramble Sunday fired 43 yards to Freddie Martino for a touchdown.
"So, you've just got to keep plays alive, and extending plays is a big thing in this league."
The thought was that Winston, 6 feet 4 and 231 pounds, would extend plays more in the manner of the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, who is listed as 1 inch taller and 10 pounds heavier, and who often overpowers pass rushers.
It turns out the young gunslinger has a lot in common with the Ol' Gunslinger, former Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Winston has thrown 10 of his 19 touchdown passes this season outside the pocket, ESPN Stats and Info says. The last player with more in a season was Favre, who had 11 in 2009.
All but one of Winston's scrambling touchdown passes have come when he has been pressured.
Asked what he thought of his game-altering scramble against the Bears when he viewed it on tape, Winston laughed.
"I was just thinking about all the funny things the coaches and the players were saying on the sideline,'' Winston said. "And even the fans."
Monken had one thought: "Safety, but that's him."
"He's a got a rare quality where he will run with it, but he's always got his eyes down the field," Monken said. "A lot of times, you find guys that don't want to run it and you find guys that don't want to throw it. … He can do both."
Winston's forays from the pocket sometimes confuse his offensive linemen, who have learned to keep blocking long after a play should have been over.
"I couldn't really see it,'' guard Ali Marpet said of the so-called "Hail Jameis" play Sunday. "All I knew was the whistle didn't blow because I was blocking the entire time. But after that, I was definitely out of breath.
"I peeked back at some point, and I saw he was 20 yards behind (the line of scrimmage), and I had no idea how that happened. But it's fun to see what happened when you get to actually see it on tape.''
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Winston's ability to extend plays was an underrated aspect of his scouting report while he was at Florida State. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he believes Winston has gotten better at resetting his feet and throwing accurately on the move.
"He's better than I thought he was just coming in," Koetter said.
Marpet said the Bucs have learned to expect good things when Winston starts scrambling.
"Sometimes it's difficult, but he'll make guys miss and he'll make things happen,'' Marpet said. "I wouldn't want us to play with any other quarterback than him.''