About midway through the second quarter of Sunday's game at Carolina, Chris Godwin got a golden opportunity and he ran with it. That's pretty much what he's been doing throughout his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On the play in question, Godwin took a deep slant and ran through the back end of the Carolina Panthers' defense for 70 yards, the longest play of the season for the Buccaneers and the second-longest reception ever by a Tampa Bay rookie. The key on the play was the delivery of the football by Jameis Winston, who hit Godwin in stride just as he cut into a free spot in the zone above safety Colin Jones and underneath cornerback Daryl Worley. Worley's only shot to stop Godwin was to dive at his feet and he didn't make it in time, and the same fate befell safety Mike Adams when Godwin accelerated past him on a slant. The Bucs' rookie was eventually caught by Luke Kuechly at Carolina's 11-yard line.
"That was a beautiful throw by Jameis," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "We had him in the right coverage that we were looking for for that ball to go to that spot. Jameis put it right on the money and then Chris spun out of that tackle. Chris has done everything we have asked of him all year. We've asked him to be a backup – he has gone in as a backup and done a good job. We've asked him to play special teams – he has been a standout on special teams."
Indeed, Godwin has made two starts this year – one when Mike Evans was suspended for a game and then again this past Sunday when DeSean Jackson was out by an ankle injury – and he has answered the call both times. In his start against the Jets in Week 10, Godwin caught five passes for 68 yards, which was second on the team to Jackson and a career high for the rookie at the time. His 98 yards on three catches against Carolina gave him a new personal best.
For much of the Buccaneers' other 13 games, Godwin has filled in where needed, spelling both Evans and Jackson and even playing in the slot. As his playing time has increased, and he has consistently taken advantage of opportunities when called upon, so have his receiving totals. In the Buccaneers' first eight games, Godwin played roughly 17 offensive snaps per contest; in the last seven, he's been on the field for approximately 37 plays per game. He had eight catches for 83 yards in that first sample but he's grabbed 19 passes for 331 yards down the stretch.
But Godwin's rookie-season resume also includes six kick-coverage tackles, which ranks third on the team and is only one behind co-leaders Devante Bond and Keith Tandy. Godwin played 86% of the offensive snaps against Carolina and thus the team gave him a break from special teams play for the afternoon. Just the week prior, however, Godwin played on 38% of the team's plays in the kicking game and recorded a tackle while also soaking up 56% of the team's offensive snaps.
Godwin is no rookie just trying to pay his dues on special teams before graduating to full-time offensive work. The third-round draft pick out of Penn State wants to be involved in that phase of the game.
"That's one of the things when we first met Chris in the draft process, I remember him telling me that that was one of his strengths, that he was a guy that was willing to do whatever it took to help the team and he has definitely lived up to that," said Koetter. "I think he has proven that he is going to be a real solid player in this league."