TAMPA — As Chandler Catanzaro lined up for the winning kick in overtime, right tackle Demar Dotson was consulting with the biggest eye in the sky.
"I was praying that Chandler would go out there and redeem himself,'' Dotson said.
Catanzaro, who had missed another extra point Sunday, also pushed a 40-yard field goal wide right that would have beaten the Browns on the final play of regulation.
By now, you probably know that a lot of hopes were spinning end over end for 59 yards toward the goal post in the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium in the Bucs' 26-23 victory.
And while there were redemptive powers riding on Catanzaro's right foot, a lot of players and coaches were seeking absolution.
We'll get back to Catanzaro, who had tears in his eyes as he recounted thanking his teammates after the game for giving him another chance.
There were no shortage of sinners Sunday, and all of them needed that kick to go through the uprights.
Start with Jameis Winston.
Last week, the Bucs quarterback played statistically one of his best games in a loss at Atlanta, his first start since returning from a three-game suspension. But Winston had lost 10 of his previous 11 starts before Sunday.
The Bucs are now 3-12 in the 15 games in which Jameis Winston has thrown multiple interceptions, tying him with Blake Bortles of the Jaguars for most in the NFL. #Bucs #Buccaneers #Browns #CLEvsTB @TB_Times @tometrics https://t.co/z50Nj2GMeh— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) October 22, 2018
He passed for 365 yards and was the team's leading rusher with 55 yards against the Browns, including a diving 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter. But Winston's mistakes should have cost his team the game long before Catanzaro had a chance to win it.
Winston lost a fumble and threw two interceptions. The last one, which came in overtime when he threw to the ball to linebacker Jamie Collins as if he were the intended receiver, gave the Browns the ball at midfield. But the defense stood up, forcing a punt.
"For myself, I think it's just being smarter with the football,'' Winston said. "That's the only way I can put it on myself. For mine, I threw it straight to the guys.''
The Bucs got the ball back when Antony Auclair forced Browns punt returner Jabrill Peppers to fumble and Isaiah Johnson recovered at the Browns 48 with 3:12 left in OT.
But on first down at the Cleveland 36, Winston held the ball for about seven seconds and took a 12-yard sack.
"We didn't run the play that (offensive coordinator Todd Monken) sent in,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "I'm not sure what happened, but there's no excuse for that. We were already in field-goal range. I mean, you cannot take a sack there.''
It was the kind of game that burned eyes and turned stomachs, Tom Jones writes. Every time you looked up, one team was trying to out-stink the other. #Bucs #Buccaneers #Browns #CLEvsTB @TomWJones @TB_Times https://t.co/3WfuvzuOvU— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) October 22, 2018
For good measure, Winston took one on second down, too, although he didn't have a chance, moving the ball back to the Bucs 45.
Redemption came when he connected on third and 29 with DeSean Jackson on a 14-yard pass to the Browns 41, giving Catanzaro a shot.
"He ran a great route, I put it where he could catch the ball, he actually stopped the clock and we got the right amount of yards for Chandler to make the immaculate field goal,'' Winston said.
For the defense, Sunday was a chance to redeem itself from being the worst in the NFL. Coordinator Mike Smith was fired Monday. Linebacker Lavonte David said that Smith's replacement, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, simplified some coverages. Linebackers watched film with the defensive backs to improve communication.
The Bucs responded with a season-high five sacks, including two by former Browns defensive end Carl Nassib. Unfortunately, the win came with a big price as middle linebacker Kwon Alexander suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his knee 18 seconds before halftime.
For Koetter, the prospect of going 2-4 with a fourth straight loss, might have made him an endangered coach. It was a huge game, against a team that had lost 23 straight on the road, as he had been reminded all week.
"Me personally, I look at every week as must,'' Koetter said. "You guys did a good job of making us aware of that.''
Koetter said he had confidence that Catanzaro had the leg to make the field goal. He made a 60-yarder for the Cardinals in 2016 and connected from 61 yards in practice last week.
Punter Bryan Anger, who holds for Catanzaro, said the wind was blowing from west to east.
"It's a little risky and a little scary to start it outside the upright, but that's what he had to do,'' Anger said.
As the ball sailed over the goal post with a few yards to spare, fans and the Bucs sideline erupted.
"In those situations, I always kind of black out,'' Catanzaro said. "I get in the zone and can't really remember much. But I'll watch it on video, and I'll have fun watching it.''
What he will see is everyone who bleeds pewter and red raising their arms to the heavens.
"God is good,'' Catanzaro said.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud.