Winning TD catch fuels Chris Godwin's offseason momentum

Receiver Chris Godwin caught a 39-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds against the Saints while being covered by Ken Crawley in Week 17 last season. Said Bucs receiver Mike Evans of Godwin: "He's going to be a No. 1 in this league, and soon." Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't just the play of the game in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-24 win against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17 last season -- it was the play of the season. And if what the coaches and players at the Bucs' organized team activities are saying is true, there should be many more of them in wide receiver Chris Godwin's future.

On first-and-10 at the 39-yard line with 15 seconds to go, quarterback Jameis Winston hit Godwin along the right sideline. Cornerback Ken Crawley draped himself all over Godwin's body the last 10 yards, but Godwin still managed to dash his way into the end zone, giving him his first NFL touchdown catch.

"For me, it was kind of just a big [weight] off my shoulders," Godwin said. "Like when you first get into the league, you have milestones that you want to get to, whether it's first catch, or first touchdown -- I'm just thankful it was able to come my first year."

The week before against the Carolina Panthers, he'd been stopped 1 yard shy of the end zone and wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton still puts in the tape of it to remind him.

"I give him a hard time that Bobo [Wilson] got a touchdown before he did," Fulton said, laughing. "But ultimately, it just gives you confidence. You go out and make plays like that on an NFL stage in a pressure situation, at the point we were at in our season ... it's just another step of maturity and confidence. Now when we get to a similar scenario -- that's nothing to him, he's done it before, he knows he can do it."

The play did wonders for his confidence. It has carried into 2018, and he has had arguably one of the best offseasons of any Bucs player.

"It's kind of like a night-and-day difference, just how comfortable I am. Coming in, like I have my routine that I do every day, it just allows me to come out here and play a lot faster," said Godwin, adding he learned a lot from the different matchups he had with opposing cornerbacks.

"I think the biggest difference is that in college, you may have like four really good guys that you go against," Godwin said. "And in the NFL, every week, you have a guy that's in the top 1 percent in the world at what he does. So it's just understanding that and coming prepared every day to get better and really compete on every single play."

"One thing that I would like to improve on is my play speed," Godwin said. "I want to keep playing fast and keep getting more and more comfortable, so that when I'm getting in and out of my routes, I'm creating more and more separation and helping my team as much as I can."

The work has already started to pay off.

"He's going to be a No. 1 in this league, and soon," wide receiver Mike Evans said. "He has all the tools. He's a smooth route runner, [he's] strong, he can do it all. He'll block. I mean, he's just the complete package, a really good player and he's going to continue to get better."

Godwin, 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, has benefited from more first-team reps and more balls thrown his way with DeSean Jackson continuing to do the bulk of his offseason work in California, and that's meant establishing a better rapport with Winston, who's become a huge fan.

"Chris Godwin always has good days. He's definitely a superstar for us," Winston said.

Evans and Jackson have the two spots secured on the outside, but there's still plenty of ways Godwin can get involved. Evans and Jackson can move into the slot, which has been occupied by Adam Humphries, and Godwin's been cross-trained to play there, too. But on plays that involve more of a vertical emphasis, it would make more sense to use Godwin instead of Humphries, because of Godwin's success rate on deep passes and contested catches. Godwin also made several key plays on special teams last season.

"I see him as a starter," said offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who also served as the wide receivers coach last season. "He's earned the right to be a starter. Now, whether it works out that way or not, I don't know. But he's earned the right, finished the year that way. Whatever we've asked him to do, he's done it well and he's only going to continue to get better. Why? Because he's big, he's fast, he's physical, he's smart and he's going to continue to develop. And it's important to him. He takes care of his body, does it exactly the way you want."

As for the play that everyone is still buzzing about, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim 5-11 season?

"I think it's being conscious of the past but not harping on it," Godwin said. "That was a great play in my career thus far, but that's not the only play I'm trying to make. I look back on it as an accomplishment, but I'm trying to take it day-by-day and keep improving so that I can make more catches like those."