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Jacquizz Rodgers proving to be just what surging Bucs needed

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Bucs staying true to identity as run-first team (1:59)

ESPN Buccaneers reporter Jenna Laine has all the details on Jameis Winston's news conference threads, how the Bucs got back to their roots as a run-first football team and looks ahead to the three-game home stretch in Tampa Bay. (1:59)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin went down with a hamstring injury in Week 2 and Charles Sims went to injured reserve with a knee issue on Oct. 10, things weren't just looking grim for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- they were looking dire. Quarterback Jameis Winston was averaging 44 passing attempts per game and was tied for second in the league with interceptions.

Insert Jacquizz Rodgers, who had his second straight 100-yard rushing performance on Sunday with 154 yards -- a feat he never accomplished in his five previous seasons -- and things are looking much, much brighter for the Bucs, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-17.

"I've been waiting on this moment so my job is to take advantage of it," said Rodgers, who wasn't even on an NFL roster in Week 1. "I feel like I've got that swag I had in college, where you go in and you know you're going to touch the ball a lot of times and it just helps you run with a lot of confidence, knowing that you're not gonna just get the ball five times. It helps me get in a groove, I'd say."

Rodgers rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his three seasons at Oregon State.

"He's always been a complementary player and he's just getting a chance," said head coach Dirk Koetter, pointing out his time behind Michael Turner and Steven Jackson in Atlanta."Man, just Google 'Oregon State versus USC from 1947 or whatever year it was (laughs). You’ll see."

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Rodgers' 97 rushing yards after contact Sunday was the third-most of any player in the NFL this season. The Niners gave up 119 total rush yards after contact, the most they've given up in a single game in the last five seasons.

"He’s a good between-the-tackles runner," Koetter said. "That power that he broke that's probably the longest run. 'Go Quizz go!' Man, he got off. That was awesome. Man, that was awesome for him. He's doing a great job.”

The Bucs are now 2-0 with Rodgers starting and have improved to .500 after starting the season 1-3. They produced a total of 249 rushing yards against the 49ers, the fourth-most in team history and the first time that they've ever run and throw for at least 240 yards each in a single game. In the past two games, they have averaged 181 yards on the ground.

Feeding Rodgers the ball not only exploited a 49ers rush defense that had given up 174.5 rushing yards per game, but it also helped take the pressure off Winston, who produced another strong game. Prior to Week 5, Winston was averaging 44 passing attempts per game. In each of the past two games, Winston has had exactly 30 passing attempts.

What was most impressive, though, was the fact that they remained committed to the run despite being down 14-0 in the first quarter.

"That's what this team is about -- never giving in, fighting, playing four quarters," Rodgers said. "Coming out here, we knew it was gonna be a four-quarter game, a 60-minute game. Our job was to keep plugging and keep plugging and come away with this victory like we did."

Rodgers, 26, was among the Chicago Bears' final roster cuts. When he got the call from the Bucs, he didn't even bother moving his belongings from his Chicago apartment to Tampa, because he didn't know how long his stint would last. If he keeps this up, the Bucs won't want to let him leave.

And they shouldn't. The Bucs are 1-3 this season and 2-6 going back to last season when rushing for less than 100 yards. They're also 0-2 this season and 0-5 in the past two seasons when Winston has had 40 or more passing attempts.

The Bucs' next opponent -- the Oakland Raiders -- is giving up the third-most rushing yardage in the league (132.2 yards per game).