TAMPA, Fla. — Jameis Winston is quickly building an impressive NFL résumé and helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become relevant again.
The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft led the third game-winning drive of his career Sunday, using his arm and — surprise — his legs to beat the reeling Atlanta Falcons 23-19 and keep the surging Bucs in the middle of the race for an NFC playoff berth.
“Our guys kind of refused to lose,” coach Lovie Smith said.
With Winston leading the way, the Bucs believe anything is possible with four games remaining in the season.
“As we see it, the playoffs started and we feel like we have to win out,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt in that locker room We believe we can do it.”
Winston, coming off being named NFL offensive rookie of the month for November, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans with 1:39 remaining to put Tampa Bay ahead for good.
And while 2013 Heisman Trophy wasn’t known for his running ability in college at Florida State, he’s proving to be an effective ball carrier as a pro. He scored his fourth rushing TD on a 5-yard run in the first quarter, then scrambled up the middle of the field 20 yards on third-and-19 to extend the game-winning drive.
“I don’t like judging myself on individual things. But as a team, we’re coming around,” Winston said. “It’s living testimony that you can do anything you put your mind to. If you want it badly enough, you can get it.”
Lavonte David sealed the fourth victory in six games for the Bucs (6-6), intercepting Matt Ryan’s pass intended for Julio Jones on the first play of Atlanta’s final possession. The Falcons (6-6) have lost five straight, six of seven overall, after starting the season 5-0.
“That’s as tough as it gets for us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The finish was at hand. For us, finishing is about doing right longer, and we didn’t get that done.”
Winston completed 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
But it was his timely run and ability to break three tackles and gain another 10 yards after appearing to be stopped at the Atlanta 33 that typified what the rookie has meant to Tampa Bay, which has overcome a slow start to contend for a playoff berth.
“He’s a ballplayer,” Smith said, when asked if he’s surprised that Winston is a good a runner as he’s been. “For you that know him, it’s not like we are totally surprised that he would come through with a big play like that. ... In times like that we need one of our best players to step up and make a big play. He did it.”
Doug Martin rushed for 95 yards and one TD for Tampa Bay, which drove 80 yards in 12 plays to take the lead for good. Evans finished with five receptions for 61 yards.
Meanwhile, Ryan was 30 of 45 for 269 yards, including a 5-yard TD throw to Nick Williams that put the Falcons up 19-16 early in the fourth quarter. His interception was Atlanta’s only turnover of the game.
“It’s obviously a disappointing loss. We had opportunities, I thought, throughout the game to score more points,” Ryan said. “We didn’t come away with enough touchdowns. At the end of the game, obviously, you don’t what to turn it over on the first play of the drive. That was disappointing as well.”
Shayne Graham kicked four field goals, two of them in the final 1:01 of the opening half to give the Falcons a 9-6 halftime lead. Jones had eight catches for 93 yards, going over 100 receptions in a season for the second straight year. The league’s receiving leader has 102 for 1,338 yards through 12 games.