NFL Wire News

Bucs winning, Winston vaults from goat to ‘rare leader’


The Sports Xchange

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off an emotionally-charged win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome, marked by the outpouring of support for linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose teenage brother was murdered in their hometown in Alabama on Oct. 30.

Despite playing with a heavy heart, Alexander had 11 tackles, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

How much of the emotion will carry over to Sunday’s 4:05 ET game against the New York Giants remains to be seen.

The Bucs (3-4) are attempting to win two games in a row for the first time under coach Lovie Smith. After a shaky start, quarterback Jameis Winston has not turned the football over in three consecutive games and has emerged as the leader of the football team.

“We’re going to go where he wants us to go,” center Joe Hawley said. “That’s the NFL for you, it’s all about having a good quarterback. He’s improving each week and we’re ready to follow.”

Veteran Logan Mankins, a six-time Pro Bowl guard and perhaps the Bucs’ most respected player, says the team is completely now behind their kid quarterback.

“He’s exciting,” Mankins said. “He’s making a lot of plays and he seems to be improving every week. That’s all we can ask for. It doesn’t matter if he’s a rookie or not. If he’s going to be the leader and we’ll go with him and we love playing for him, we love blocking for him. He does some things that really excites us and gets us going.”

General manager Jason Licht is not surprised Winston took over the leadership so quickly.

“He’s rare,” Licht said. “He’s a rare leader.”

Smith said Winston earned his new status with near perfect play the past three games, in which the rookie has passed for 683 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for another score.

“Pre-game speeches, I think they can only go so far,” Smith said. “But what you follow is when you see someone by his play. And that’s what Jameis is doing as much as anything.”

The peaks-and-valleys play Winston displayed early in the season has leveled off into a winning performance on Sundays. The Bucs have averaged nearly 30 points per game the past three weeks and Winston is a big reason why.

The Giants may get a boost from the return of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, as New York is last in the NFL in sacks with nine. Pierre Paul lost a finger in a Fourth of July fireworks mishaps, and has an outside chance of playing Sunday.

“He really doesn’t show a whole lot of difference, to be honest with you,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Pierre-Paul. “They really do a nice job of making what appears to be a large thing for him to wear in practice. I don’t know how comfortable he is with that or how long that will be something he’ll do. But he was able to, a couple of times (Wednesday) that I noticed, get his hands in there and defend against the run, get his arms locked out, steer the offensive tackle, that type of thing.

“He was able to do that a couple of times (Wednesday), so I think it’s just a matter of getting used to the padding, the glove and all the things he wears in practice, which he won’t wear to probably that degree in the game. He will have to go through the whole rigmarole of putting both hands down and using his hand the way he would try to use it normally. So he’ll go through all of that and I’m sure there’ll be a learning curve there as well.”

INJURY NOTES: WR Vincent Jackson (knee) did not practice Wednesday and could miss Sunday’s game against the Saints. … DT William Gholston (knee) practiced on a limited basis with a brace Wednesday but should be able to play Sunday. … TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis and has a chance to return for Sunday’s game against the Giants. … DE Jacquies Smith (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and isn’t likely to play against the Giants. … RT Demar Dotson (knee) practiced Wednesday and is eligible to return from IR-designated for return. But he worked with the scout team Wednesday.

SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. Giants lead the series 12-6, including wins in the past three games. Giants won 41-34 at home in 2012 in their most recent meeting.

GAME PLAN: The Bucs have an identity on offense running the ball with Doug Martin and Charles Sims and setting up play-action for quarterback Jameis Winston.

But Tampa Bay could be without wide receiver Vincent Jackson again this week. That means not many reliable targets for Winston, although there is a chance he gets back tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has not played since Week 2 after sustaining a shoulder injury.

Winston has gone three games without a turnover, a remarkable achievement for a rookie quarterback. The Giants are last in the NFL in sacks with nine, but they could get back defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul this week.

The Giants are coming off a huge passing day against the Saints, with quarterback Eli Manning throwing six touchdown passes in a loss. Three of those went to wide receiver Odell Beckham, who could have his way with either cornerback Johnthan Banks or Mike Jenkins.

Defensively, the Bucs will be without one of their best run stoppers, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who is out for the year with a pectoral injury.


–Giants WR Odell Beckham vs. Bucs CB Johnthan Banks. Beckham is coming off one of his best games of the season with eight catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Banks looked shaky in his first start back from a knee injury.

–Giants WR Eli Manning vs. Bucs secondary. Manning had a career passing game with six touchdowns against the Saints last Sunday. The Bucs have only two interceptions this season from their secondary, none by cornerbacks.

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