My nominee for Buccaneers play of the year is a scramble and pass that broke the spirit of the Chicago Bears and helped end a six-game home losing streak at Raymond James stadium.
When looking back at the last Buccaneers season, a lot of memorable plays come to mind. Whether it be catches, interceptions, throws, tackles or punts, the 2016 Bucs were ripe with big plays and were one of the more entertaining teams to watch when they were rolling. While a great deal of these plays have an argument for “best of the year”, I know for certain which one comes to mind first. The play that had my jaw on the floor, my eyes wide open, and my voice alternating between “throw the ball away!” to “that may have been the greatest play I’ve ever seen!”.
First, let’s set the stage. The then 3-5 Bucs were playing host to the Chicago Bears, and were coming off of two straight losses, most recently a 43-28 drumming at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The team hadn’t won a home game in what felt like an eternity, and fans were teetering on the edge of revolt. If ever a team needed a mid-season win, the Bucs needed this one.
Coming out of half-time the Bucs led 17-10 behind a strong defensive effort and a Cameron Brate touchdown catch. However the offense as a whole had yet to really take flight and after a last second 50 yard touchdown from Jay Cutler to Cameron Meredith to close the first half, momentum seemed to be swinging in the Bears’ favor. The Bucs would receive the second half kick-off, but soon found themselves in a 3rd and 10 situation on their own 23 yard line.
Jameis Winston received the snap from the shotgun and just seconds after a short drop back, eluded the first of many pass rushers. Rookie Bear Leonard Floyd looped around two offensive linemen, and then buzzed past Jameis Winston, narrowly missing his target. Attempting to both escape and regain his balance, Winston scrambled backward into the Buccaneer end-zone with Floyd and Willie Young in hot pursuit. After an assist from rookie guard Caleb Benenoch, Winston juked one more Bear defender, and finally threw the ball away. 39 yards later, Winston’s pass landed squarely in the mitts of a backward-diving Mike Evans. The following play Winston tossed a 43 yard touchdown pass to Freddie Martino. In a series of two plays Chicago’s spirit was broken, and the Bucs would go on to win 36-10.
.@Jaboowins escapes the ENTIRE Bears pass rush. And still finds Mike Evans for 39 yards.
Within this play we can see what makes Jameis Winston and Mike Evans so special. For Winston, his uncanny ability to dodge defenders is truly rare, something only a handful of quarterbacks can imitate. In 2016 Winston was clocked as having the second highest average time between snap and pass, which highlights how much time he buys himself with his legs. For Evans, we saw his spectacular catch radius on full display, as Bears cornerback Tracy Porter was helpless to defend against his huge frame.
In most games there’s a turning point where the game could go in two very different directions. This play was the turning point for the Bucs. Had they come even a yard short of the first down they’d have punted back to the Bears who would have then had an opportunity to tie the game. Instead of laying down and letting the defense save the day, Jameis Winston and Mike Evans decided to take the game into their own hands like they did so many other times during the 2016 season.
This play could be split into two nominees – the scramble, and the catch. Both were spectacular in their own right, and worthy of their own spotlight, and together I think they form the best play of the Bucs 2016 season. Vote for it in today’s poll if you agree.