- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Once Jameis Winston finally went down, he bounced right back up and signaled first down.

The young quarterback’s 20-yard scramble up the middle on third-and-19 not only gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a chance to beat the Atlanta Falcons 23-19 on Sunday, it reinforced the surging team’s belief that the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft has what it takes to lead a strong stretch run that will result in a playoff berth.

“It really doesn’t surprise you because of the heart he’s got. He’s always motivating you,” tackle Demar Dotson said. “You can get a penalty, a holding call, anything, he’s still motivating you. He never wavers. When you have a guy that never wavers, that guy can take you anywhere. His heart and his faith are just unbelievable.”

The Bucs (6-6) won for the fourth time in six games, remaining one game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the final NFC wild-card spot.

With Winston playing like he’s been the past two months, the Bucs are confident they can hang in the race after rebounding from a 1-3 start.

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner’s third game-winning drive as a pro covered 80 yards in 12 plays.

Winston finished it with a 6-yard TD throw to Mike Evans. Still, it was his timely run and ability to slip off the pile and gain an additional 10 yards after appearing to be stopped at the Atlanta 33 that typified what the 21-year-old has brought to a rapidly improving offense.

“The guys were gassed. Our O-line was gassed,” Evans said. “We wanted to score a touchdown, not a field goal, and we did that. We kept fighting. Jameis made the play of the year … we just kept fighting.”

Lavonte David sealed the victory intercepting Matt Ryan’s pass intended for Julio Jones on the first play of Atlanta’s final possession. The reeling Falcons (6-6) have lost five straight, six of seven overall, after starting the season 5-0.

“That’s as tough as it gets for us,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “The finish was at hand. For us, finishing is about doing right longer, and we didn’t get that done.”

Winston completed 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also scored his team-leading fourth touchdown rushing on a 5-yard run in the first quarter

“None of us wanted to go overtime. We wanted to put it away. We knew that was our chance,” Bucs center Joe Hawley said. “Overtime, we didn’t want to have to drive the field again. We were right in position and Jameis ran it, threw it, did whatever he had to do to help us win. It was amazing.”

Some things to know about Falcons-Buccaneers:

MATTY ICE: Matt Ryan completed 30 of 45 passes for 269 yards, a 5-yard TD throw to Nick Williams that put the Falcons up 19-16 early in the fourth quarter. His interception was Atlanta’s only turnover. Atlanta scored on four straight possessions during one stretch, but settled for field goals each time. “It’s obviously a disappointing loss. We had opportunities, I thought, throughout the game to score more points. We didn’t come away with enough touchdowns,” Ryan said.

RARE SWEEP: Tampa Bay swept the season series between the NFC South rivals for the first time since 2007. They improved to 3-1 in the division after going 0-6 last year.

CENTURY MARK: Despite Atlanta’s slide, Julio Jones continues to post impressive numbers. The NFL receptions leader had eight catches for 93 yards, boosting his season totals to 102 receptions for 1,338 yards.

STEADY MARTIN: RB Doug Martin had another strong performance for Tampa Bay, rushing for 95 yards on 25 carries. His 1-yard TD run gave the Bucs a 13-12 lead in the third quarter.

BEEN AWHILE: The Bucs have missed the playoffs the past seven years. “We haven’t had six wins in a long time. We should feel a lot better,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “We’ve come a long ways. We have a long ways to go, but it’s fun to watch the guys grow each day.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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