Tampa Bay kept its playoff hopes alive while sending NFC South rival Atlanta to its fifth straight defeat Sunday at Raymond James Stadium with a 23-19 win.

A game that began slowly escaping the Buccaneers ended with quarterback Jameis Winston taking a knee and players and fans celebrating a sixth victory.

“We’re pretty excited right now,” said Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. “We finished up the third quarter of our season with a 3-1 record and we have a big four-game stretch starting up. As we see it, the playoffs started and we feel like we have to win out.”

Sunday’s win elevates Tampa Bay to second place in the NFC South at 6-6 and puts it a game behind Seattle for the second wild card berth.

“In that locker room we believe we can do it,” Smith said. “But we’ve got to believe that we can beat our next opponent. There’s confidence and for good reason.”

Trailing 19-16 and running out of time while also struggling to move the football, Winston engineered one of the best drives of his young career with fewer than 7 minutes left. With the Bucs facing a third-and-19 just inside Atlanta territory and appearing to stall out again, Winston kept hope alive with a never-say-die scramble for 20 yards.

“Offensively, how about the run by Jameis? I thought he was down there for a while,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said.

Four plays later Tampa Bay was back on top for good. Winston rolled right and hit receiver Mike Evans sliding toward the right side of the end zone with a 6-yard score. The touchdown was Winston’s second of the game, following his 5-yard run in the first quarter.

The first-quarter score gives Winston five rushing touchdowns through 12 games, tying him with Steve Young and Shaun King for most from a rookie quarterback in a single season in franchise history.

Atlanta still had 1:39 to work with when it got the ball back at its own 20 but Bucs linebacker Lavonte David wasn’t about to let the Falcons threaten. Dropping back into coverage in the middle of the field, David intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to set up the offense’s victory formation.

“The guys just kept believing on the sideline,” Smith said. “When you’re playing a good football team, a division opponent, you expect it to go right down to the end. It’s only fitting that Lavonte David would have a big interception to end the football game.”

“It couldn’t have come at a bigger moment,” David said of the splash play. “Very first play coming out of the 2-minute warning, great read, great defensive call. When it’s down to that situation, it all comes down to technique. Just do your job, do what you’re supposed to do, and I was able to do that.”

David’s pick represented the defense’s lone takeaway and the linebacker led all players with 11 total tackles. The unit held Atlanta to 319 yards of total offense and just 64 on the ground despite playing with a patchwork defensive line. Tackle Gerald McCoy and ends Jacquies Smith and George Johnson were all inactive, leaving the Bucs with Will Gholston and Howard Jones starting on the ends and Henry Melton and Akeem Spence inside.

Winston and the Bucs posted nearly 400 yards of offense, with the rookie throwing for 227 yards on 18 of 27 passing and adding 15 yards with his legs. He did get picked off for the 11th time by Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and Atlanta turned that into a Shayne Graham field goal and 9-7 lead heading into halftime.

Recently activated offensive lineman Demar Dotson started at right tackle for Gosder Cherilus and the unit managed to produce another solid day running the ball. Running backs Doug Martin (25 carries for 95 yards) and Charles Sims (seven carries for 56 yards) spearheaded a rushing attack that racked up 166 total yards.

Martin found the end zone for the fourth time this year in the third quarter with a 1-yard dive over the line that put Tampa Bay up 13-12. It was his first touchdown since scoring twice eight weeks ago against Jacksonville.

“This is the most confident this team has been and I’m happy to be a part of it,” Martin said from the locker room. “And we still have four games going [forward], so we’re going to go to practice and keep working.”

WHAT’S NEXT
Tampa Bay stays home to try and sweep another NFC South rival, New Orleans, next week. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

OFFENSIVE STARTERS
WR Vincent Jackson, LT Donovan Smith, LG Logan Mankins, C Joe Hawley, RG Ali Marpet, RT Demar Dotson, TE Luke Stocker, TE Cameron Brate, WR Mike Evans, QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin

DEFENSIVE STARTERS
DE Will Gholston, DT Henry Melton, DT Akeem Spence, DE Howard Jones, SLB Danny Lansanah, MLB Kwon Alexander, WLB Lavonte David, CB Sterling Moore, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah, SS Chris Conte, FS Bradley McDougald

INACTIVES
QB Ryan Griffin, LB Bruce Carter, DE Jacquies Smith, T Gosder Cherilus, TE Brandon Myers, DT Gerald McCoy, DE George Johnson

DID NOT PLAY
QB Mike Glennon, OL Evan Smith

GAME SPECS
Paid attendance: 58,221, Raymond James Stadium
Game time: 2:56

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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pinkstob
pinkstob
5 years ago

Way to go Bucs! Nothing like sweeping a divisional opponent. The offense played well when it counted and the defense played even better. What a fun play that was by Winston to keep the drive going. Dougie was great as usual. The D-line got pressure on occasion. L. David had a great game. Just a fun game all around.

chefboho
chefboho
Reply to  pinkstob
5 years ago

Winstons run was fun? Lol I guess if that’s the best comment we can get out of u in regards to Winston I’ll take it. I just like to bust your balls pink. I was hoping u would actually say your proud of our quarterback and his never say die attitude. We have a franchise quarterback and I couldn’t be happier. It’s nice for a change knowing we have a quarterback who can lead us to 4th quarter come from behind wins. Plus the defensive line played great even without McCoy and smith. Very proud to be a bucs fan… Read more »

jshumaker
jshumaker
Reply to  chefboho
5 years ago

Don’t forget about the secondary. With a really banged up defensive line not getting much pressure the secondary did great

pinkstob
pinkstob
Reply to  chefboho
5 years ago

Why is that exactly Chefboho? I’m flattered and humbled so many people around here are so interested in what I have to say. If you’re sitting around thinking about my balls I must have said something at some point to offend you but I can’t remember saying anything to you before so I’m just curious to what I said in case an apology is in order.

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
Reply to  pinkstob
5 years ago

Well Pink it’s a figure of speech, I highly doubt anyone is thinking about your balls. We all just wouldn’t mind you giving our QB a little love, which you won’t because of your MAriota man crush.

chefboho
chefboho
Reply to  pinkstob
5 years ago

Pinkstob, u took that entirely the wrong way. “Bust your balls” is a figure of speech. It’s like just picking on a friend or brother. No need to be takin literally. Not to be offensive either. Didn’t mean to come off awkwardly……. But we do need to be happy we have a good, with The ability to be great, quarterback on our team. I’m shocked we’ve won six, but he’s progressed a little more in each game and I don’t know about u, but I feel very confident with Jameis taking us the distance of the field to win a… Read more »

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
5 years ago

What a game in all fronts. Huge win for this team. First off the run by Winston was the stuff of legend. Unreal, and the fact that we had to listen to drink announcers saying the ball was fumbled I almost tossed my cookie. Not sure if anyone watched Jameis press conference after but he walks into the huddle and asks who wants a td catch while evens Shouts me! Me! And then goes on to catch the game winning td. What a great catch by Mike on that. As for the defense, this was the definition of bend but… Read more »

macabee
macabee