Everything changed. One piece of cloth, and the world was different. One call, and everything changed.
For the Tampa Bay Bucs, disaster turned to fresh hope, and catastrophe turned to a second chance.
Because of it, the Bucs won a game that appeared to be lost Sunday afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys.
To reset the situation, the Bucs trailed Dallas by a field goal with 54 seconds to play, and quarterback Jameis Winston was going to try to vault the line with the winning touchdown. But as Winston leapt, the ball came out. Evidently, he had fumbled away the Bucs’ last chance.
There was a flag on the play, a defensive hold against Dallas defensive back Jeff Heath. It gave the Bucs a first-and-goal from the one, and Winston bootlegged it in on the first play. Tampa Bay won its fourth game, double its number from a year ago, with a 10-6 victory.
It was Winston’s first fourth-quarter comeback.
“That’s just life in the NFL,” Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith said. “Talk about 60 minutes, you can’t relax until the end, and it’s a roller-coaster you go through, but you have to hang in there.
“Right away, we saw one of our guys was held. I thought it was a good call. Of course, I thought it was a good call.”
Asked again about the fumble, Smith grinned.
“What fumble? There was a penalty called on that play, so why are we talking about that? You know what we should be talking about? How about that last run of Jameis to get it into the end zone to win it? That’s what we should be talking about.”
Winston, too, feigned amnesia when asked about the fumble. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Winston had a few plays he would want to forget about, including his first two interceptions in a month. For the day, he hit 22 of 39 for 264 yards, but his rating was only 55.9. Still, he took his team 56 yards for the winning points.
For Bucs, receiver Mike Evans caught eight balls for 126 yards.
Dallas’ controversial players didn’t fare well. Receiver Dez Bryant caught five passes for only 45 yards, and defensive end Greg Hardy had only one tackle.
The Bucs’ defense played its best game of the year, holding the Cowboys to only 42 yards rushing on 21 tries (and holding Darren McFadden to 32 yards on 17 tries). Dallas got its only points from placekicker Dan Bailey, who hit field goals of 42 and 53 yards.
The Cowboys weren’t as upset over the defensive hold, it seems, as they were that on a last deep pass to Bryant when pass interference wasn’t called and Bradley McDougald intercepted.
“I know he was going to call it, but he didn’t,” Bryant said. “It just threw me off my target.”
The Bucs are now on the road against Philadelphia Sunday.