TAMPA, Fla. -- The last time Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin faced the New Orleans Saints, it proved to be one of his worst games as a pro. He caught just one of 10 targets in that contest last December. That game kicked off a difficult spell for Godwin, who was getting his first real action as a starter -- in three weeks, he mustered just four catches despite being targeted 19 times.
“It was a rough stretch for me,” said Godwin, 23, now in his third year and currently the Bucs’ top receiver on offense, just ahead of Pro Bowler Mike Evans. “It’s not easy to play in the NFL. Things happen. Guys have rough patches. Guys have slumps. Guys struggle. The harder it is, it makes the good performances and the wins feel so much better. The path to success is never linear -- a lot of peaks and valleys.”
Fast forward to 2019, and Godwin has had two 100-yard receiving games in the past four weeks, including a career-high 172 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Bucs’ 55-40 upset over the Los Angeles Rams last week. Not bad for a guy who has been battling an injured hip.
Godwin has the third-most receiving yards in the league (386), behind Cooper Kupp and Keenan Allen. He’s also tied with Cupp, Evans, Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Will Dissly, Kenny Golladay and Tyrell Williams for most receiving touchdowns in the league (four).
In other words, as Evans has put it, “He’s balled out.”
What’s changed for Godwin? For one, he’s firmly entrenched in the role as head coach Bruce Arians’ slot receiver, a spot that was occupied by Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis and Hines Ward in Pittsburgh during Arians' previous coaching stops.
But unlike other offenses, which typically place a smaller, shiftier guy inside, Arians’ slot role is a heavy combination of not just receiving but run-blocking, which helps set up their play-action and some of the big shots quarterback Jameis Winston takes downfield.
“That’s why I love when a guy has the breakout games of  catches or whatever for 170 yards, because he’s doing all that grimy work,” Arians said of Godwin. “You throw him screen passes in the red zone, not just because [he’s] good at it [but] because [he] deserves it. He blocked Clay Matthews better than our tight ends did a couple of times."
Evans is thrilled for Godwin’s success.
"He can do it all. He can catch short passes, get yards after the catch -- he’s really the unsung hero," Evans said. "What he does in the run game is crazy. I had to do that my rookie year. I know how hard that is. He’s been doing it for the past three years. He’s a hell of a player. He works hard as hell and he deserves everything he’s getting.”
Godwin took on Matthews on Peyton Barber's 7-yard run up the gut. Then on Ronald Jones’ 5-yard touchdown run, he took on John Johnson III. On Jones’ 24-yard outside run in the fourth quarter, just as Jones had the presence of mind to spin and stay in bounds, Godwin’s block on veteran safety Eric Weddle helped Jones advance five more yards down to the L.A. 6-yard line.
“I think blocking is more of a mentality than anything else,” Godwin said. “Some guys just really don’t want to do it. And I’m like, ‘That’s fine.’ I don’t think that makes anybody less of a receiver. I just know that for me, I try to be the most complete receiver I can be. I take pride in blocking, springing plays for the running back and for the wide receivers -- I take pride in doing all that stuff.”
And he continues to benefit from the attention Evans, a two-time Pro Bowler, gets with teams shading coverage to his side of the field, or in the case of this week’s opponent, the Saints, being shadowed by top cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
“When Mike is getting double-covered, Chris always finds a way to get open and make plays,” Winston said. “He’s been doing that all year. ... Chris accepts that load. He takes it and he gets open and catches the football. ... Just his work ethic and how he comes in every single day with a purpose -- it shows up. He's a great leader."