TAMPA — Five weeks ago, Peyton Barber had 88 rushing yards for the season. On Sunday, he finished as the Bucs’ leading rusher for 2017, closing out an impressive finish to the year.
Barber rushed for 71 yards — including a 1-yard touchdown on the opening drive — and finished with 423 yards on the season, edging Doug Martin, who struggled in the final month and finished with 406.
"It’s definitely been a blessing," said the second-year back from Auburn. "I have to thank God first of all, thank the offensive line for opening the holes for me. I know I still have a ways to go."
That offensive line started the night with three starters on injured reserve and lost RT Caleb Benenoch to a knee injury. LT Donovan Smith said the line came together and blocked well down the stretch to help Barber get going.
"The guys in our room are pretty dope, and you see that," Smith said of the depth, pushing through a grueling season with 16 straight games. "Guys are able to step up and fill that void."
Martin finished with three carries for minus-3 yards in what could be his final game in a Bucs uniform. Barber’s yardage is the fewest ever to lead the Bucs in a 16-game season, with the previous mark being Lars Tate’s 467 yards in 1988.
STOLEN TOUCHDOWN: First-year S Isaiah Johnson was in the right place at the right time, scooping up a fumble for a 7-yard touchdown when the Saints fumbled on a punt return.
He was only in on that special teams unit because S Keith Tandy was tired from extended play at safety after T.J. Ward left the game with injury. Josh Robinson stripped the ball and Johnson got his first touchdown since his college days at Kansas.
"I had to thank Keith Tandy. He was tired. I was only in because he was on defense. I basically took his touchdown," Johnson said. "Josh made a hell of a play. It wouldn’t happen without Josh Robinson. I just saw the ball on the ground."
LATE MILESTONE: WR Mike Evans needed 54 yards to get to 1,000 for the fourth straight season — only the third NFL player ever to do so — and he needed a big final drive to pull it off.
Evans had just two catches for 21 yards the entire game until that final 95-yard game-winning drive. He caught two passes for 9 yards each, then came up with a 16-yard sideline pattern to get the Bucs in Saints territory. With that catch, he got to 1,001 yards — he’s also the first Bucs player to get four such seasons in his career.
RECORD THROW: Winston’s touchdown pass to Godwin with nine seconds remaining not only gave the Bucs a last-minute win, it also gave him a piece of history.
Winston passed Dolphins great Dan Marino for most touchdown passes before a quarterback’s 24th birthday — it’s the 69th of his career, passing Marino’s 68 for the record.
Winston overcame three interceptions for the first time in his career — he had been 0-4 when throwing three or more interceptions before Sunday.
THIS AND THAT: LB Nigel Harris made his Bucs debut on special teams, becoming the first player to play his high school (Hillsborough), college (USF) and NFL ball in Tampa. ... DE Ryan Russell had sacks in each of the last two games of the season, including one Sunday. DT Clinton McDonald had the Bucs’ other sack Sunday, giving him five for the season, trailing only Gerald McCoy for the team lead. ... The game-winning score made WR Chris Godwin the fourth player to get his first career touchdown reception in 2017, following TE O.J. Howard, WR Bobo Wilson and OT Leonard Wester.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.