ATLANTA -- Not long after the bleakest moments in Sunday's game, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surrendered the ball upon being jammed on fourth-and-1 late and then gave away the last of a 17-point second-half lead, Jameis Winston and his teammates stood taller than they had all season.
Their 23-20 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons was no work of art. But if strength is gained through the defeat of adversity, then Tampa Bay is right to not only feel good about wiping away a year-old nightmare but also better positioning itself for the future.
Winston's passing numbers -- he completed 16 of 29 for 177 yards and a touchdown -- were pedestrian. Yet the poise the rookie played with during his third straight game without a turnover, and on the winning drive, offered windows into the promise that made the former Florida State star the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Winston sure didn't look like a newbie while completing three third-down passes in overtime, when Tampa Bay went 68 yards on 15 plays over 7:08 to set up the 31-yard Connor Barth field goal that would hold up for the win.
"He was confident and calm," Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. "Each week, he has shown more leadership."
Plenty of other Bucs made huge plays as Tampa Bay exorcised the demons of a 56-14 loss in Atlanta a season ago.
Another rookie, linebacker Kwon Alexander, was the outright star of the day. He registered a game-high 11 combined tackles and assists, adding an interception and a fumble recovery with another interception called back.
The Bucs had four takeaways and did not turn the ball over once. Tampa Bay (3-4) has to like its chances all the more in preparing for a three-game run through NFC East teams New York, Dallas and Philadelphia. The Falcons (6-2) have beaten all three.
"We grew up," running back Doug Martin said after rushing for 71 hard-earned yards.
Or, as wide receiver Mike Evans said after catching three passes for 48 yards, the Bucs took last season's blowout as fuel to add to the fire of a terribly disappointing 31-30 loss a week earlier at Washington.
Several players remember the blowout in the Georgia Dome.
"Absolutely," Evans said. "That should never, ever happen again with the talent that we have, and we got our revenge."
The addition of Winston has helped. "He an awesome talent, and he's making all the right decisions," Evans said. "He's doing what coaches are asking."
Winston is playing within the system, but that doesn't mean he lacks the confidence to step out and take a risk.
When Smith called for the Bucs to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the two-minute mark in regulation -- even though Tampa had a 20-13 lead and the ball at its own 40-yard-line -- his rookie quarterback was ready to scrap conventional wisdom.
Never mind the notion of punting.
Winston said, "I got it," and even after the two-minute warning and a Tampa timeout, the Bucs went. He was stopped for no gain.
Martin embraced the idea that Smith "showed confidence" in the offense there, and the coach said he'd make the same call again.
"It was more about showing confidence in our offense," Smith said. "I wasn't the only one that wanted to go for it."
And after Barth's go-ahead field goal, a defense that gave up 496 yards stood up as well.
The Bucs entered the game ranked No. 4 in total defense but tied for last in points surrendered (29.8). With the help of four takeaways, they reversed that script.
Whatever it took, the Bucs found it, and they'll take it ... forward.
After not sacking Ryan all day, the Bucs got to him in overtime, when Henry Jones forced a second-down fumble. Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman recovered for a 2-yard loss, but Ryan threw incomplete on third down and on fourth down was rushed by Jones into a premature throw.
That fell incomplete, too, and the Bucs were left feeling good about themselves and their prospects.
"Keep pushing, keep pushing ... that's what we tried to do," Jones said. "[Not getting to Ryan for four quarters] puts a little anger in us."
Sure, Tampa Bay would rather not have given away that 17-point lead, but in the end, "It was good the way we finished the game," Smith said.
Martin agreed, saying, "We emphasize a lot getting over the hump because in the past we haven't. We overcame, and got over the hump."