For the first time since a 24-17 win over the Carolina Panthers last December 2, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went wire-to-wire in beating the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. Playing as heavy underdogs in the L.A. Coliseum against an unbeaten Rams team, the Buccaneers scored a touchdown on their opening drive and never trailed on their way to a stunning 55-40 victory.
That might seem to make this weekly exercise in finding each game's turning point, well, a moot point. If you believe that to be true, ask yourself this: At one point during Sunday's game did you feel certain the Buccaneers were going to win? Was it about the time Ndamukong Suh was scooping Jared Goff's fumble off the turf with a minute to play? Or was it a few seconds later after you swept the field making sure you saw no yellow flags?
The scope of Tampa Bay's upset in L.A. was so big that even the surest fan can't be blamed for chewing her fingernails down to the last second. Fortunately, this one didn't get away like Week Three's game against the Giants did, and the Buccaneers had a very happy four-hour plane ride back to Tampa.
However, even the weight of history didn't think the Buccaneers were a sure thing after they opened up a quick 21-0 lead halfway through the second quarter. The Bucs never relinquished their original lead, it's true, but they did at point fall under 50% win probability, according to the charts on ESPN.com. When was that? Read on.
This season, we're looking for the final Turning Point in every game. After each Buccaneers contest we're going to find the moment when things swung in favor of the eventual winner and never swung back. We're going to do so using the aforementioned "Win Probability" charts on ESPN.com. At any given point in the game, that chart displays the percentage that each team could be expected to win, based on data from similar situations in thousands of historical games. Unless one team gets above 50% at the very beginning of the game and never dips below that mark, there is going to be a single point where the team that eventually wins goes from underdog to favorite for the final time.
Week Three Turning Point: Chris Godwin's Drive-Extending Third-Down Catch in the Second Quarter
Outcome: Tampa Bay 55, L.A. Rams 40
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Peyton Barber run) at 10:53 of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead
To be clear, the Buccaneers were not expected to win this game. Even as they started the game-opening drive with completions of 17 yards to Chris Godwin and 13 yards to Cam Brate, they were riding at about 25% on the win probability chart. Peyton Barber's three-yard touchdown run at the end of that drive got the graph's line close to switching over to the Bucs' side, but not quite, and it would dip down as low as 67.0% in the Rams' favor as they took a second quarter drive into Buccaneers territory.
Jordan Whitehead's interception ended that drive and pushed the Bucs into the favorites category for the first time, but it wouldn't hold, despite a steep climb in the graph in the next five minutes. The Buccaneers turned Whitehead's interception, plus another pick by Lavonte David, into Godwin touchdowns on ensuing possessions, and after the second score the Bucs' win probability peaked (for the moment) at 92.6%.
The home team brought that line crashing back towards middle ground with a pair of touchdowns before halftime. Still, history still considered the Buccaneers slight favorites after Gerald Everett's touchdown catch made it 21-14 with three minutes left in the half, with a win probability of 52.43%. It wasn't until later in the ensuing drive that the Rams took their final lead on that chart.
The Bucs started that drive at their own 25 and got one first down on a catch by – who else? – Chris Godwin. A three-yard Barber run and an incomplete made it third-and-seven at the Bucs' 39, and it was at this point that the win probability chart finally decided the Rams were the favorite. Presumably, the third-and-seven was considered a tough one to convert, and failure would give the surging Rams a chance to tie the game before halftime. After that second-down incompletion, the Rams were considered favorites by 53.0%, even with a seven-point deficit on the scoreboard.
Godwin caught a career-high 12 passes in Sunday's game for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He had many crucial plays, and not all of them were catches. In addition to his own two scores, he got the final first downs right before touchdown runs by Barber and Ronald Jones, and he got another touchdown drive started with a 17-yard catch, leading to Cam Brate's scoring grab on the first play of the fourth quarter.
However, it was a somewhat unassuming little 14-yard catch in the second quarter that was the final turning point on the Bucs' win probability chart for the afternoon. Facing that third-and-seven described above, Jameis Winston looked where he had been looking all afternoon and found Godwin on a 14-yard completion out to the left. That kept the drive alive and flipped the win probability back in the Bucs' favor, to 51.6%. It would continue to climb, all the way to 76.8% after that drive ended in Jones' five-yard touchdown run (on which Godwin had a key block). Though it got back to nearly even when a 58-yard field goal by Greg Zuerleins made it 28-20 later in the second quarter, it would remain on the Bucs' side the rest of the way.