TAMPA, Fla. (AP) A rejuvenated Doug Martin is healthy for the first time in three years and not the least bit surprised that he’s re-establishing himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Neither are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3), who are off to their best start since 2012, when the soft-spoken, versatile fourth-year pro was a rookie and finished third in the league in total yards from scrimmage.
”I never doubted myself,” Martin, coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing performances that not only bolstered his confidence but showed how much a productive running game can mean to a young quarterback.
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Jameis Winston failed to take advantage of Martin rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown against Carolina two weeks ago, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble in a 14-point loss to the Panthers.
The No. 1 overall draft pick rebounded from his worst outing as a pro, serving as more of a game manager and putting the ball in Martin’s hands early and often during Sunday’s 38-31 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back responded with 123 yards rushing and three touchdowns, scoring on a pair of 1-yard runs and using a nifty cut to get into the end zone on a 10-yard reception.
”When I go into a game, I just think about if I do my job and play hard, then everything else will fall into place,” Martin said. ”find a way to do my job and just keep on punching and something eventually is going to pop.”
The Bucs ran for a season-best 183 yards against the Jaguars, relieving some of the pressure off Winston to carry the offense.
The rookie attempted just 19 passes, completing 13 while throwing for 209 yards and one touchdown without an interception. Tampa Bay ended a stretch of 25 consecutive games with at least one turnover.
”Of course the running game is a quarterback’s best friend,” coach Lovie Smith said Monday. ”That and the check-down … and we were able to get all that going.”
Three years ago, Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. The Pro Bowl selection also had 49 receptions for 472 yards and one TD to rank third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage behind Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson.
After injuries limited him to 17 games and a combined 950 yards rushing over the past two seasons, Martin reported to training camp this summer feeling as good physically as he had since entering the league as a first-round draft pick out of Boise State.
He looked good in practice and even better in preseason games, spawning hope that he could revert to the form of his stellar rookie season.
With 405 yards on 90 carries through five games, Martin is tied for second with Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman and Arizona’s Chris Johnson behind NFL rushing leader Matt Forte.
The 26-year-old has 11 receptions for 94 yards and is sixth in the league in total yards from scrimmage.
”Doug ain’t no joke, man. … I tried to tell you all what I saw in the offseason and camp,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
Smith has been impressed, too.
”As we talk about our football team, we haven’t been consistent. Doug Martin, though, has,” the coach said. ”It’s been pretty much the same type of play from him each week. … We just need everyone to have consistent play like that.”
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