There’s a case to be made for Jameis Winston’s third-and-10, never-say-die scramble as the NFL’s offensive play of the year. It certainly was the highlight of an excellent offensive performance by the Bucs in Sunday’s 36-10 rout of the Bears, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
To set up play, though, let’s take it back a series.
Coming out of the half, momentum was on Chicago’s side. While the Bucs thoroughly outplayed the Bears to that point, turning four takeaways into 17 points while defending 6 of 7 third down attempts, Chicago hit an improbable – some would say lucky – 50-yard Hail Mary to make it 17-10 heading into the tunnel.
Just like that, a one-sided half turned into a one-score game. But the Bucs didn’t panic.
“We talked at halftime … let’s not let one lucky play ruin an excellent half of football,” coach Dirk Koetter said of what he told his team in the locker. “It’s just human nature to be a little bit down when you get hit by one of those right before half.”
Players didn’t stay down for long, if at all.
“Things like that, you’ve just got to brush off,” said running back Doug Martin, who started his first game since straining his hamstring in Week 2. “Next play. That’s with penalties. That’s with anything that doesn’t go our way. Just brush it off and line up and play the game.”
Showing maturity as a team, that’s what they did. And that brings us back to “the scramble,” which was trending on Twitter in no time. Facing third-and-10 and the possibly of a three-and-out to begin the third quarter, Winston rolled right, rolled left, turned back right and into the end zone, ran 10 yards up the field and heaved up a prayer of his own.
Before seeing Mike Evans come down with the 50-yard pass (39-yard gain), his first reception of the game, Koetter was hoping for a different decision during the 12-second scramble.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
“Throw it away!” Koetter said, when asked what he was thinking as the play unfolded. “Throw it away! Get down! Do anything! Don’t take a safety!
“We talked about that [with the media] earlier this week. The thing about Jameis, he’s going to do some things we don’t plan for,” Koetter said. “He’s going to do some things that I don’t like. But Jameis is going to make some plays because that’s who he is. I always talk about that fine line. You can’t coach that out of him. He’s a special player in that respect.”
Winston, who finished the game with 312 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception, was just trying to avoid a bad start to the second half.
“You cannot start the second half with a three-and-out,” Winston said. “We didn’t want to do that. I tried to do whatever I could to make a play for them and it worked out well.
“When you pull the ball down and the protection breaks down, the first thing you do is think, ‘How can you extend the play and get out of here?’ The linemen, they just kept blocking. They didn’t give up. There was one time I thought I ran out of the end zone, but I saw Ali Marpet continuing to block. He had a nice cutback and Mike was wide open.”
It was the type of play that energizes the entire team. Right tackle Demar Dotson, who conceded that the offensive line wasn’t at its best Sunday, said after the game: “No. 3, he’s got heart.” Evans, familiar with scrambles like that from his college days, called it a “backyard football” play that ended with a “great ball.”
From that point on, Tampa Bay never let up. Winston hit Freddie Martino on first down for a 43-yard touchdown, which was the inexperienced receiver’s first and a great story in itself. And the defense held the Bears to 68 yards in the second half, sacking Jay Cutler twice and recording a safety along the way.
The Bucs, now a game and a half behind Atlanta for first place in the division, got a much-needed home victory Sunday in convincing fashion. The turning point was Winston’s miracle scramble and throw.
“That’s a two-way street. That helps us sometimes. It hurts us other times – but you’re got to love that kid, the way he battles,” Koetter said of Winston. “There’s just something about him. You can see why he’s popular with his teammates. He was in college and he is here as well.”
“[The home win] felt good,” Koetter said. “Let’s do it again in a couple weeks against Seattle.”