Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. started a debate Monday night when he broke up a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass, but his overall play called for winning votes.
A referee threw a penalty flag but picked it up, letting the play stand as the Buccaneers edged the Giants 25-23. Many debated the call afterward, including the coaches per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. Winfield’s didn’t leave much debate on his candidacy for winning Defensive Rookie of the Year with another strong performance.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tabbed Winfield as the DROY at the quarter-season mark in early October. Pro Football Focus Tweeted Winfield as its current favorite Monday.
Winfield turned heads early, winning NFC Rookie of the Month honors in September. He posted 23 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in his first month.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians compared him to past Pro Bowl safeties — Budda Baker and Tyrann Mathieu — he coached in Arizona, the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud wrote.
“They both played the same position. They both were very, very mature, heady football players,” Arians said in an October press conference according to Stroud. “They came in and you couldn’t overload them. They studied and were overly prepared. [It’s] the same thing with Antoine – you see the same type of player, the same type of makeup, the same preparation that he puts in. I think that’s a very easy comparison for us having drafted those guys and drafting him.”
Winfield tallied another 21 tackles and an interception since September. He came up big in the Giants game Monday with seven tackles and the game-saving pass breakup.
Penalty or No Penalty
Winfield broke up New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones’ pass to wide receiver Dion Lewis in the end zone before the former Tom Brady teammate could get his hands on the ball. The flag came out quickly but, the referees decided differently afterward.
Newsday’s Tom Rock reported that referee Brad Rodgers explained their decision. Side judge Nathaniel Jones spoke with down judge Joe Phillips following the initial call, Rock wrote.
“The communication between the side judge and the down judge was that the defender contacted the receiver simultaneously as the ball came in,” Rogers said in a postgame pool report according to Rock. “In order to have defensive pass interference, it has to be clearly early and hinder the receiver’s ability to make the catch … In our communication on the field, the down judge and the side judge communicated about the action and believed that it was appropriate to pick that flag up.”
Tweets about it being pass interference or helping Brady’s team abounded, Sporting News’ Jacob Hancock wrote. Hancock also wrote that Brady called it a “great play” in the postgame press conference.
“I think he sensed the ball was coming and put his arm out. The ball hit him in the arm. It was a game-saving play for us,” Brady said, according to Hancock.
Winfield’s College Save
Winfield made a similar play last year in his senior season at Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand wrote.
Fresno State looked poised to beat the Gophers on a deep throw during overtime, but Winfield picked off Bulldogs quarterback Jorge Reyna’s pass to secure a 38-35 win. It helped the Gophers go 11-2, which led to an Outback Bowl appearance at the Buccaneers home field in Tampa last January.
Four months later, Buccaneers selected Winfield with the 45th pick in the second round of the NFL Draft.