Finally, Bucs get over the hump to win a game

by Gary Shelton on January 1, 2018 · 7 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Godwin hauls in a touchdown with 15 seconds left./CARMEN MANDATO

Godwin hauls in a touchdown with 15 seconds left./CARMEN MANDATO

Godwin waited all season for a touchdown catch./CARMEN MANDATO

Godwin waited all season for a touchdown catch./CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 3 a.m.

The pass was 15 games, 59 minutes and 51 seconds in the making. The only moment that really counted in a season best forgotten finally came. At last, there was a reason to grin.

Jameis Winston-to-Chris Godwin for the win.

Who would have thought it?

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Winston celebrates with his teammates./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston celebrates with his teammates./CARMEN MANDATO

In a long, torturous season, the Bucs finally collected a keeper of a moment, a 39-yard scoring. pass on their final offensive play of the year that led to a 31-24 upset over this year's NFC South Champions. And before you ask, yes, the Saints played their regulars.

No, it didn't change the playoff race. It didn't affect the division standings. It only negatively affected the draft order (with the win, the Bucs fell from fifth to seventh). It didn't erase your memories of the games that got away. But for a moment, grown men felt good. They had snatched one back, and incredibly they had held onto it.

And it almost didn't happen.

Evans makes a catch for a two-point conversion./CARMEN MANDATO

Evans makes a catch for a two-point conversion./CARMEN MANDATO

When the play began with 15 seconds to play, the Bucs were looking for a medium-range gain to set up Patrick Murray with a makeable field goal attempt. Instead, Winton saw Godwin with single coverage on the right side and threw deep. "I could hear the coaches yelling 'no,'" Winston said.

Instead, Winston's mortar-shot nestled right into Godwin's hands ... finally. It was the play that evaded the Bucs in losses to Atlanta, to Carolina, to Detroit, to Green Bay. This was a season where the Bucs tripped over themselves, when they shied away from the goal late.

Even Sunday, the play was for the field goal. So Koetter was asked why he went for the whole shebang.

Winston overcame interceptions to lead the win./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston overcame interceptions to lead the win./CARMEN MANDATO

"Jameis went for the whole shebang," Koetter said. "That's the truth. We actually had a play called  for our sideline just to advance it further down. To be honest with you, I wasn't even looking at the other side of the field, but Jameis saw Godwin one-on-one. It was a double move, a slant-and-go. When Jameis let that thing go, I was like 'Oh, my God.'"

On the field, Godwin was looking to the heavens, too. The high arc of the throw made it feel as if he was fielding a punt.

"It seemed like it took forever," Godwin said. "It felt like it was up there for days.

Humphries makes a catch for Bucs./CARMEN MANDATO

Humphries makes a catch for Bucs./CARMEN MANDATO

When it came down and I caught it, I knew I had to find a way to get into the end zone."

Godwin kept his feet in bounds to complete his first touchdown of the season, making it a pretty good weekend for coach Dirk Koetter, who learned that he'll be back next season. At 5-11, the Glazers could be forgiven for bailing on Koetter, but they chose to stay with him for one more season.

Receiver Mike Evans, who barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the year, predicted big things for Godwin.

"He's a No. 1 in this league," Evans said. "He has the talent to be a No. 1."

Peyton Barber scored a touchdown for the Bucs./CARMEN MANDATE

Peyton Barber scored a touchdown for the Bucs./CARMEN MANDATE

"Who he reminds me of, who I'd pattern my game after, is Larry Fitzgerald," said tight end Cam Brate. "If you can be half the receiver that Larry Fitzgerald is, that's pretty good."

And Winston?  "He's going to be an amazing receiver. His work ethic, his passion for the game -- he's just an amazing guy. He seems like a seasoned vet in the locker looker room. I'm so proud of him."

For all the hooping and hollering, however, it was not a great night for quarterback Winston, who threw three interceptions in the game and had a rating of just 59.5. Winston threw for 363 yards, but once again, his turnovers cost his team heavily.

Brate made a key catch on fourth-and-10./CARMEN MANDATO

Brate made a key catch on fourth-and-10./CARMEN MANDATO

"You know what this is a perfect example of," Winston said. "When you win, everything is good. When you lose, there is always a problem. So this is a perfect example of that. I mean, I played terrible. It wasn't my best game."

In the late-going, however, Winston was special again. He took over on his own 5 with 1:58 to play, and he drove his team the length of the field. First, though, he had three incompletions to start the drive, leaving the team with fourth-and-10 on their own 5 with 1:41 to play. Winston hit Cameron Brate for 12 yards to keep the drive alive.

Winston  then hit Mike Evans for three passes totaling 34 yards and Adam

Alexander celebrates a tackle./CARMEN MANDATO

Alexander celebrates a tackle./CARMEN MANDATO

Humphries one for 10, setting up a first-and-10 from the 39. Then came the pass to Godwin.

For a lot of the team's fourth-quarter collapses, the defense has been victimized by the opponents. Not this time.  The Bucs held on a third and 10 when Clinton McDonald sacked Brees.

For most of the day, the Bucs' defense played well. They gave up a 106-yard kickoff return to Alvin Kamara, but the Pro Bowl backfield of Kamara (44 yards) and Mark Ingram (35) didn't do a lot of damage.

Grimes played well against Saints./CARMEN MANDATO

Grimes played well against Saints./CARMEN MANDATO

The Bucs lost seven games this year by a single score, however, and late, it seemed it would happen again.  Then Winston hit Godwin, and while little in the NFL changed, the Bucs bought themselves an evening.

How many times have we seen this same game by the Bucs, only the quarterback doesn't make the throw or the receiver doesn't make the catch or the line doesn't provide the time? Countless, it seems.

"I am going to go to sleep," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "This makes it easier to go to sleep and get up in the morning. It's just great. We had to get this one. We've been in too many of these. This one had to go our way. It just had to."

Of course, you could always say that Koetter gained a sense of confidence after learning he would be back next year.

"It's excellent," McCoy said. "The whole getting-a-new-coach and all those things, I have been through it too many times. I wasn't looking forward to doing it again. I love coach and I'm excited for the future."

Said Winston: I was sitting on my couch and saw the scroll. Thank God for Direct TV, because I rewound that thing like "Yes!" I tried to call him like three times and I asked him "Is your phone broken? Man, I'm happy. He truly deserves that."

Of course, there is much work to be done. The Bucs need better players on both lines, in the secondary, in the backfield.

The off-season begins today. Koetter probably doesn't want to waste a lot of time.

McCoy celebrates a rare victory./CARMEN MANDATO

McCoy celebrates a rare victory./CARMEN MANDATO

 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill MYERS January 1, 2018 at 9:47 am

I said that this would be a 10 and 6 season but hoped for more. So.. 11 and 5 gets Koetter another chance. With all the coaching talent cut loose (8 so far I think) what changes to the Bucs staff would you make and will Licht take the fall for this ugly season?

Reply

Gary Shelton January 1, 2018 at 10:18 am

No. Licht told Koetter he was safe. It wouldn’t have happened that way unless Licht was safe, too.

Reply

Bill Myers January 1, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Oh no! So….11-5 is nobody’s fault! Business as usual in 2018! Amazing!

Reply

Gary Shelton January 1, 2018 at 6:37 pm

It was my fault. Society’s fault. Your fault. Of course, I’m not saying it’s no one ‘s fault. You simply asked if Licht will be canned, and I told you I didn’t think so.

Reply

Bill MYERS January 2, 2018 at 8:46 am

Got it!

Bill MYERS January 2, 2018 at 9:03 am

Not so much a question …more of an observation.

Gary Shelton January 2, 2018 at 10:37 am

You have great observations.

Reply

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