For football fans outside of Tampa Bay and St. Louis, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Thursday Night’s game will be a certain matchup within the matchup.

The Color Rush event will feature two of the NFL’s most exciting rookies, as quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Todd Gurley will lead their respective offenses like they’ve done all season, only this time head-to-head for a national audience to see.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

While teams typically downplay the hype of individual matchups – especially when the two players are never on the field at the same time – the Bucs and Rams will at least make an exception for this game.

“Yes, that’s a good point,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday, acknowledging the added interest. “I talked about Todd Gurley earlier [this week]. We did a lot of work on him. He was a special player in college, coached by a great coach in Mark Richt. He’s played that way, come on to the scene quickly and just watching him run – he can do it all. He’s a big back, can run inside the tackles with power and make you miss in the open field with great speed.

“And of course, I could talk the rest of the night about our guy, Jameis Winston. If you haven’t seen him play – and we haven’t been on the national stage – then that in itself is enough to watch the game.”

Many would agree with Smith’s assessment that Winston and Gurley’s fast rise to stardom is enough by itself to make this a must-see game.

In Gurley’s case, the 10th overall pick is already one of the NFL’s premiere running backs. Despite missing the first three games of the season while still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in his senior year at Georgia, Gurley remarkably ranks fourth in the league with 975 yards and eight touchdowns. His four-game stretch of at least 120 yards rushing (Week 4-8) is as impressive as any streak this season, and he’s fresh off a 140-yard performance in last Sunday’s win over the Lions.

As for Winston, it goes without saying how instrumental he’s been in the Bucs’ overall improvement and how much promise he’s brought to the franchise in just his first season.

Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher returned the praise towards the Bucs’ rookie.

“Just to watch him over time and watch the games and watch him kind of develop – they’re expanding the offense with him now,” Fisher said. “His feet are good, the ball is always in the right position, release is good, accuracy – it’s hard to complete every pass; you can’t do that, but his accuracy is good and he’s mobile. And that presents problems for you. Anytime you can extend plays with your legs, which he’s done numerous times, it becomes a problem for you defensively. As you guys know, I think, really, one of the marks of a good young quarterback is what he’s doing on third down. It’s hard to convert third downs as we know, but he’s doing a great job at it.”

Winston and Gurley, for their part, have known each other since high school when they were teammates in the USA International Bowl, and remain friends to this day. While both downplayed the race for Rookie of the Year, an award many believe is down to them, the rookies’ traded compliments and expressed their excitement to compete against each other on Thursday night.

“He’s definitely my boy, so it’s always good seeing him do well,” Gurley said. “We stay in contact and check up on each other, so it’ll definitely be fun playing against him this Thursday – my first time playing against him.”

“I text Gurley throughout the week,” Winston said. “I always tell him good job and he does the same. We just try to keep up with our rookie class. Me and Gurley, we go all the way back. That’s my guy. I’m very happy for him.”

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders. Contact him at:
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5 years ago

Well as a die heard Buc Fans,Up here in Texas its all Cowboys or Texans Talk. But Thursday its going to be Qb vs QB and RB vs RB. I hope the running backs put on a show.I think if it comes down to qb’s I believe James Winston has come a long way since Pre-season GO Bucs

Deacon Blues
Deacon Blues
5 years ago

Really.. With the headline? Are TG & JW 2 way players. They are not going H2H. Nice try to hype a matchup that is not happening.