This was one of the easiest “winner” calls of the season. It had to feel good for every Buccaneer fan to see their quarterback play his best game of the year under the bright lights of Monday night football. Winston always seems to play well against the Falcons, but he took it up a notch this week, completing 27 of 35 passes for three touchdowns and 299 yards. His brilliance in the pocket and ability to evade defenders was on full display.
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Winston’s first touchdown pass came early in the first quarter on a short pass to O.J. Howard who glided down the field and into the endzone (side note: Howard is going to be a super star). His second score came in the early third quarter, on a play that we’ve all grown accustomed to: Jameis Winston on play-action from around mid-field heaving the ball deep to his favorite receiver, Mike Evans. As usual, Evans plucked the ball out of the air to bring the Bucs within a field goal. The third score came late in the fourth quarter, on a pass to Adam Humphries, which once again brought the Buccaneer deficit to within a field goal. With time running out Winston delivered a pair of nice throws to bring the Bucs within field goal range for a potential tie, but Patrick Murray missed.
Donovan Smith needed this one. The embattled Buccaneer left tackle has spent a decent amount of time on the losers list this season, but he balled out on Monday night and helped protect Jameis Winston from a tough Falcon pass rush. Atlanta sacked Winston just twice all night, thanks in large part to the play of Smith who was primarily matched up with former Buccaneer Adrian Clayborn. Smith even managed to have a Sportscenter-worthy play when he tossed a Falcons defender like a rag doll. When you can draw the attention of future hall of famer Joe Thomas, you’re doing something right.
Smith, a second round draft pick by the Buccaneers three years ago, is one of the teams’ most important developmental projects. Left tackle is an extremely valuable position and a difficult one to nail down in the draft or free agency, so figuring out whether Smith can be the answer is critical. It would cost either a massive amount of free agency money or a premium draft choice to replace Smith, but games like the one on Monday night will give Jason Licht some pause.