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Bucs get dramatic lift from Alexander

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were galvanized by the inspired play of linebacker Kwon Alexander in a 23-20 win at Atlanta Sunday.

Alexander led the team with 11 tackles, forced and recovered a fumble and added an interception, playing just two days after learning his teenage brother had been murdered in the family’s hometown in Alabama.

Coach Lovie Smith said the Bucs rallied around Alexander before, during and after the game. He was presented with the game ball by guard Logan Mankins.

“Yeah, that was his best game,” Smith said of Alexander, a fourth-round pick from LSU. “You know the plays, the interception was big too, but to take the ball away — it’s one thing to get a tackle, but then to cause a fumble, recover the fumble and then get positive yards too. How many rookies would even be thinking about that?

“I should get away from the rookie part, because that’s not a rookie play by any means there. We all know what he was going through and that takes an awful lot to be able to stay focused like that throughout the game. At this time you were helping another part of your family do something that was important to them. It was a great game, one that he’ll never forget.”

Credit Smith for getting the Bucs ready to play after blowing a 24-point lead at Washington a week earlier. When the Bucs watched a 17-point lead evaporate Sunday against the Falcons, he must have had a case of deja vu.

Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston played his third straight turnover-free game. He passed for one touchdown and ran for another score.

But Winston’s most impressive contribution was leading the team’s 16-play overtime drive that ended with a field goal that proved to be the game-winner. The drive included completed passes for three third-down conversions.

“Offensively, needing to put together a good drive to score points in overtime, (we) were able to do that,” Smith said. “I don’t know exactly how many, 15 plays or whatever. Big third downs, a lot of guys had to step up — protection had to be good, running backs had to be on top of their game, wide receivers catching the ball, of course Jameis (Winston) throwing, O-line blocking, all of it — just a great drive.”

Smith said Winston is becoming more of a vocal team leader each week.

“And that happens with confidence,” Smith said. “The more each day you see that you do something different and you cash into that role, especially at the quarterback position.

“He is more vocal. And I know you guys know Jameis, (so) that’s saying an awful lot — Jameis is more vocal — because he likes to talk a lot (laughter). Which is a good thing. But he is going to be our leader. He’s not a captain yet, but he is in that role and we should see him in that role even more Wednesday and, of course, the next game and it will keep going on.”

–Kicker Connor Barth went 3-for-3 in field-goal attempts Sunday, including the game-winning 31-yarder. He is 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts and 8-for-8 in PATs since joining the Bucs.

–Defensive end William Gholston has a mild knee sprain and did not finish Sunday’s game at Atlanta.

–Defensive end Jacquies Smith was wearing a boot after Sunday’s game on his sprained right ankle.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B plus. Jameis Winston had his third straight turnover-free game and threw a touchdown pass. Playing without wide receiver Vincent Jackson was tough, and wide receiver Mike Evans had to leave the game briefly in the second half. He was 3-for-3 passing on third down on the game-winning drive for a field goal in OT.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. The Falcons have one of the best run defenses in the NFL and the Bucs had to work for it, but they managed to rush for over 100 yards behind running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims with some big yards after contact.

–PASS DEFENSE: D. Matt Ryan threw for 397 yards and Julio Jones had a huge day. But the Bucs got the takeaways when they needed them and a big sack in OT to hold onto the win.

–RUN DEFENSE: B. The Bucs did a decent job on the NFL’s leading rusher, Devonta Freeman. He was held to 88 yards rushing and 4.2 yards per carry. His only breakout run was a 20-yarder.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Connor Barth was perfect on three field-goal attempts and consistently booted the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks.

–COACHING: A. Credit Lovie Smith for getting his team to shake off blowing a 24-point lead to the Redskins and then hanging on in OT after things got away from the defense Sunday at Atlanta.


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