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Even at age 22, the game never seems to get too big for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.

When the pressure of the game falls squarely on his shoulder pads, he carries it with the ease of a veteran, rather than the inexperience of a second-year NFL quarterback.

On Sunday night, Winston and the Bucs (8-5) face the NFC’s top team in the Dallas (11-2) Cowboys on the road. For added pressure, the Bucs face Dallas in the primetime slot amid a race for their first playoff berth since 2007.

Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR

Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR

But as he’s done his entire career, Winston plans to keep his even-keeled demeanor, treating this game just like any other.

“We play the game for games like this — the ability to control our own destiny, the ability to be on the stage of Sunday Night Football,” Winston said. “That’s one of the reasons people enjoy this game.”

The Cowboys come in winning 11 of their last 12 games after losing last week to the New York Giants. The electric rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have burst onto the NFL scene as favorites for Rookie of the Year and potential MVP awards.

It may be the biggest game of Winston’s young NFL career, but it won’t be the first time Winston has seen the bright lights on a big stage.

And he won’t be blinded. He’s been there before.

While at Florida State, Winston was a larger-than-life personality. Whether he wanted it or not, all eyes were on him at all times.

En route to a national championship victory in 2014 against Auburn, Winston lived under a spotlight and a microscope.

Not only was his play scrutinized while vying for the chance to hoist the Heisman Trophy, nearly everything the young athlete did off the field was scrutinized just as much.

But once on the field, the outside world went dark and the stadium lights shined.

“It’s hard,” said Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, a teammate of Winston’s at FSU. “When you have all the off the field stuff, we all have it. It’s clutter off the field, whether it be family or friends or whatever, but the way he handled it at that young of an age.

“You think about it sometimes, like, all of this is going on, how is his mind even here? But he did it well and was able to separate it and that’s what you gotta do.”

When it came to the biggest game of his career to that point, the 2014 national championship game, his team needed its leader to come through.

Photo by: Getty Images

Photo by: Getty Images

With just over a minute remaining in the game, FSU trailed by four. Where some quarterbacks might’ve collapsed under the pressure of the moment, Aguayo said Winston seized control.

“That’s one thing I fed off of at Florida State,” Aguayo said. “Going in there, I fed off of how comfortable he was and I don’t know if he fed off me, but, nothing really flustered him.”

With the potential game-winning drive within his grasp, Winston gathered the offense and did what he does best.

He led.

“He told the offensive line and all the wide receivers in the huddle he’s like, ‘Hey were driving down and we’re gonna win this,’” Aguayo said. “If I was an offensive lineman — obviously their thinking, ‘Oh my God, we have to score to win’ — to hear that from a quarterback, I bet you it calmed them down. Just to have that and how powerful that was for them to go down and score.

“Whatever he would put in his mind that he wanted to do and he wanted all of us to do, he’d get us to do it. That’s what a successful quarterback needs to have.”

Now in the NFL, not much has changed. Big games don’t matter to him, they’re just opportunities to show the world what he and his team can do.

“Not a lot of people have that trait,” receiver Mike Evans said of the team-oriented Winston. “He has a different element to his game that he enhances everybody else’s play with how he leads us. He’s one of the best leaders even though he’s one of the youngest players in the league.”

Winston’s maturity permeates through the team. His leadership in tight situations is a trait veterans on the team like wide receiver Russell Shepard haven’t come across often.

Bucs WR Russell Shepard & QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs WR Russell Shepard & QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“You need it, man,” Shepard said. “We’re gonna go as far as our quarterback goes and our quarterback is gonna do as well as we do around him.

“To have your quarterback, who touches the ball more than anybody on this team, to be such a positive guy, such a well-prepared guy, it’s gonna be good for us.”

As for Sunday, when the lights of Dallas’ AT&T stadium flicker on, Winston will be prepared.

“It’s just a bigger game,” Winston said. “As a kid, I loved the opportunity to play the game. I loved the opportunity to play in every game, so there’s nothing different about this week.

“We’re just trying to go 1-0.”

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About the Author: Jacob Hoag

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Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
5 years ago

Let’s see how he handles a Super Bowl championship!

moose40
moose40(@moose40)
5 years ago

For added pressure, the Bucs face Dallas in the primetime slot amid a race for their first playoff berth since 2002.

i guess 2005 losing to the Redskins and losing to the Giants in 2007 didn’t happen?

chetthevette
chetthevette(@chetthevette)
5 years ago

Hard to believe the guy is only 22.
All talk aside the Cowgirls will be determined after the turkey they laid last week. Another scenario is Jerry Jones starts meddling with them and they lose composure. It’s happened before, Jones is such a douche.
The best news is their left tackle is banged up.
Good for us. Time for Noah Spence to assert himself.
GO BUCS

24/7BucFan
24/7BucFan(@winstonmvp)
5 years ago

I was definitely more worried about Drew Bree’s putting up 40 on us last week than I was about Dallas with a rookie QB, No matter how well Dak has played this year. I think we are also catching Dallas at the perfect time. Were playing our best football and Dallas is starting to get figured out by the great defenses (which we now have a great D). I really think the Bucs got this one. I Believe!!!

GO BUCS!!!

24/7BucFan
24/7BucFan(@winstonmvp)
5 years ago

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romo in 2nd half if where killing them by halftime. Could get crazy for Dallas if the Bucs beat them. Could send them spiraling down if the Bucs beat them bad. Hopefully it’s going to be a great Sunday Night for us Bucs Fans and an interesting Monday watching all the ” what’s wrong with Dallas” hype around the NFL shows and blogs. :) GO BUCS!!!

chetthevette
chetthevette(@chetthevette)
Reply to  WinstonMVP
5 years ago

It’s going to be great to watch all the pundits cry. I can’t wait.
GO BUCS

a-bomb
a-bomb(@a-bomb)
5 years ago

I remember sitting in grandparents den in their house on Morrison ave. and watching the Bucs lose a playoff game to the Cowboys after the 1981 season. Hated the Cowboys since that day. Go Bucs and lets keep pushing towards the playoffs!

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
Reply to  a-bomb
5 years ago

I remember that one well. Really took a butt-whippin.

fredster
fredster(@fredster)
5 years ago

I can’t stand the stupid cowgirls. They are so over rated. Easy schedule and they caught lot teams at perfect time. Hope we crush them. Good team? Yes. Beatable? Very much so and not scary at all. Great offensive line and that’s about it. Average defense. They have good stats because they haven’t been on the field much! Jones is a total bafoon. Shut down the run and Prescott looks like a rookie and stinks. So tired of Elliot’s stupid feed me gesture crap every time he gets 5 yards. Idiotic. He looks like a little troll or an Oompa… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  fredster
5 years ago

I wouldn’t discount the Cowboys … they’re 11-2 in a league where victories are tough to come by. They’ve got a strong running game and a very good rookie quarterback, and they’re playing at home.

Besides, if the world concludes that the ‘Boys are nobodies, then it detracts from our beating them in their own house.

It’s going to be a tough game, probably a very close score and will likely come down to the final possession of each team, quite possibly go to OT.

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
5 years ago

What I like most is that our youngsters have no fear heading into this game. My ideal scenario is similar to the one posed by WinstonMVP. Our defense makes Prescott look like a rookie. Impatient control freak Jerry Jones calls down to the sideline and orders Romo to replace Prescott. The fickle Dallas crowd roars with excitement. Romo goes back to pass with his bones creaking scanning the field looking for ego maniac Dez Bryant who is well covered by Grimes. By this time McCoy is in Romo’s face bearing down on him as Romo sidesteps into the charging Noah… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

Possible outcome, but very unlikely.

I look for this to be a tough game, quite possibly one of the very best NFL games in the league this season. No beat downs by either team.

jme0151
jme0151(@jme0151)
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

Dallas is a good team schedule or not. I can’t see Dallas getting blanked Scu but I like your thinking. Buc’s win this game and there will be no more doubters out there. Let keep heading towards the playoffs!!

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
5 years ago

I was being sarcastic guys. See where I said “ideal scenario”?

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