The Jets gave Kellen Winslow Jr. a tryout in June and it paid them dividends today as the Green & White claimed an exhilarating season-opening 18-17 triumph over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He scored the team's first TD of the 2013 campaign, had an enormous reception on the game-winning drive and finished with a team-leading seven catches for 79 yards.
"He's a tremendous receiver. We all know that," said head coach Rex Ryan. "He's so darn competitive and that's why he fits so well with this team, with this group of guys because everybody competes in this group."
With Geno Smith leading the way, the Jets know they will experience the normal ups and downs that come with starting a rookie. But the 30-year-old Winslow Jr. should make the transition easier and he did just that in Week 1. Trailing by two with just 29 seconds on the game clock, Winslow Jr. gained 25 yards on a pass from Smith and that got the Green & White rolling on their final possession that ended on Nick Folk's 48-yard field goal.
"We actually just made that play up. We had like (29) seconds left," Winslow Jr. said. "They were playing deep. I ran about 20 yards and came back and he hit me."
"To make that huge catch at the end, holy cow, and then he runs with it some," added Ryan. "(It's a) big play."
Trailing 14-5 late in the opening half, Smith and Winslow Jr. got the Jets back in the game with a much needed score. On a 2nd and 16 from the Bucs 25-yard-line, Smith got great protection from his offensive line and found Winslow Jr. for an 18-yard gain. Then the possession culminated when Smith — taking advantage of a good pocket once again — looked to his left and fired his first pro scoring pass to Winlsow Jr. for a 7-yard TD.
"That's what they brought me here for, to make plays for the quarterbacks," said Winslow Jr.
The Jets tight end depth took a hit earlier in the second stanza when Jeff Cumberland absorbed a vicious blow from S Dashon Goldson on a deep Smith ball. Cumberland did not return and Goldson was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul. That made Winslow's efforts all the more important on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
Last season, Winslow Jr. appeared in only one game with the Patriots and caught one ball. By halftime, he had already quadrupled that mark with four catches for 33 yards and the score. Smith stayed with the hot Winslow Jr. hands in the third, hitting No. 81 for a 10-yard gain after the tight end had released from a block. Later on that same drive, an 11-yard hookup on third down didn't result in a first, but helped the Jets pin the Bucs back for a drive start.
The Buccaneers probably weren't surprised by Winslow's production. After all, Winslow averaged 73 catches and 792 yards as season with the Pewter Pirates from 2009-'12. But shortly after Greg Schiano took over, they cut ties with Winslow Jr. in March of 2012.
"It feels really good," said the new Jets TE. "I was real emotional before the game and I had to control myself. But it felt real good and I'm glad we came out with the win."
After basically a lost season in 2012, Winslow Jr. could be a very important player for Smith and the entire Jets offense this season. On Thursday night, he gets a crack at another one of his former clubs as Winslow and the Jets will line up in Foxboro, MA against the Patriots.