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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Antoine Winfield Jr. Made the Most of His Minnesota Homecoming

Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. grew up watching his dad star for the Vikings and played his own college football at the University of Minnesota, so the Bucs' Week One road win was especially sweet for him

Antoine Winfield Jr. spent much of his childhood rooting for the Minnesota Vikings and attending their home games, for obvious reasons. His father, Antoine Winfield Sr., was a standout cornerback who went to three Pro Bowls and spent the last nine of his 14 NFL seasons in Minnesota. The Vikings used to bring the younger Winfield joy. Now they seem to bring out the best in him.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Winfield Jr., a University of Minnesota star, in the second round of the 2020 draft and he promptly helped them win Super Bowl LV in his rookie season. Along the way, the Buccaneers got a visit in Tampa from dad's old team, and Winfield played a big role in the Buccaneers' 26-14 victory. His 11 tackles led the home team's defense and he also sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, causing a fumble that helped kill a drive that head reached the Buccaneers' eight.

Turns out that was only a warm-up act for Winfield's homecoming on Sunday, as the Buccaneers opened their 2023 season in the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Once again, the Bucs won, taking a 20-17 decision in a hard-fought game that turned on Chase McLaughlin's 57-yard field goal, and once again Winfield was one of Tampa Bay's main protagonists. Merely playing on the Vikings' home turf was a special experience for the fourth-year safety; making such a big impact was even better.

"It was awesome, it was a dream come true," said Winfield. "As a kid I watched my dad play and I always wanted to play here. To make big plays, at this level, here, is something special to me. I grew up a Vikings fan. I came to all the home games when I was younger. Just being out there, it was a special feeling for me to be out there and play at this level."

Winfield didn't wait long to start impacting the game. He was sent on a blitz on the second play of Minnesota's opening drive and his hit on Cousins caused a floater that was incomplete. On the very next play, rookie defensive lineman Calijah Kancey hit the Vikings' passer as he threw and Winfield came very close to intercepting the errant pass. Winfield later admitted he had a little extra motivation to come out firing.

"It's like that every week, every game, I have that same mindset," he said. "But especially this game because it's up here in Minnesota."

After nearly creating two turnovers on the game's first drive, Winfield completed the job on Minnesota's third drive. Ten minutes into the game, with each team still scoreless and struggling to maintain drives, Winfield blitzed again and found a clear path to the quarterback. He was coming from Cousins' front side, but Cousins was looking to his left and never saw the blitzer before contact. Winfield not only jarred the ball loose but also gathered it in at the Vikings' 18, leading to a Bucs field goal and the game's first points.

"Blitz was called, I saw Cousins looking the other way and came," he said. "I knew once I got there, just knock the ball out, force a fumble, and make the play."

Winfield's forced fumble was the first of three first-half takeaways that helped the Bucs stay in the game while the offense was finding its footing. The Buccaneers are hoping that becomes a trend.

"Huge, turnovers are one thing we have to get," said Winfield. "Our goal is to get three takeaways a game and the more turnovers you get, the more opportunities the offense has with the ball, and the more wins. That's our goal every week."

Tampa Bay's offense, meanwhile, did not turn the ball over once and that 3-0 turnover differential probably explains the Buccaneers' narrow win over a heavily-favored opponent on its home field. Either way, a win's a win, and this one felt particularly sweet for Minnesota's former son. Winfield definitely enjoyed his homecoming; Vikings fans probably wish he would stay away.

"It's a crazy feeling," said Winfield. "When I came out during pre-game, I was just looking around like wow, I remember being in the stands just watching."

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 1 matchup vs. the Minnesota Vikings.

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