- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was a thing of beauty, a highlight replayed again and again this week. Jameis Winston takes the snap with 1 second to go in the half, drops back, ducks under two defenders, rolls out and, just before he's hit, launches a 55-yard bomb to Kenny Shaw in the end zone.
In an instant, a game that looked like a potential upset was turned on its head. The crowd, which smelled blood in the water after Boston College held its ground for 29 minutes, 59 seconds, was silenced, and the Seminoles took their first lead. And Winston, already a hero after just three games in a Florida State uniform, added another chapter to his growing legacy.
"The stadium was turned up, everybody was loud, and they really thought they had a shot," Shaw said. "Then you get the touchdown, and you could hear a pin drop. We built on that."
To review the final scores of Florida State's four wins this season -- an average margin of victory of 36 points -- is to underestimate how difficult the road has been. In spite of those four double-digit wins, the Seminoles have actually trailed in three of those first four games. Their largest first-quarter lead this year was 10-0 against FCS Bethune-Cookman, and the defense has struggled in the early going every time out.
But the difference between those sluggish starts and the lopsided finishes has largely been Winston and Florida State's prolific offense. When the chips are down, Winston has played his best.
"It's very easy to pick up your intensity when you're behind, but when you're a great team, you've got to always have that intensity," Winston said. "You want to play like you're always behind. You've got to play like the chip is always on your shoulder."
Always his harshest critic, Winston might be overstating things a bit, but it's true that his numbers when Florida State is playing from behind have been remarkable. With the opposition ahead on the scoreboard, Winston has completed 16-of-18 passes this year for 272 yards (15 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns.
"He's a great competitor," Shaw said. "Everybody on the team, nobody likes to lose, and in situations like that, championship teams go through things like that. We all get together and say we've got to pick it up."
Florida State would prefer to run out front from the start, but Winston's success under adversity has instilled a supreme amount of confidence in his teammates that has translated to huge momentum swings during games.
After falling behind 7-0 in the opener against Pitt, Winston's first touchdown throw to Nick O'Leary sparked a 31-3 run.
Nevada took a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter before Winston charged back, leading the Seminoles to touchdowns on six consecutive drives. They finished by scoring the final 59 points.
A defensive score gave Florida State an early lead against Bethune-Cookman, but Winston and the offense were on the field for less than 3 minutes during the first quarter. Again, six consecutive touchdown drives followed, and Winston's day was done before the fourth quarter began.
Then last week against Boston College, the offense sputtered early and the Eagles moved the ball effectively. BC led 17-3 with 11:19 to play in the first half. Winston, of course, led Florida State to points on seven of its next eight drives, six of which resulted in touchdowns, including the bomb to Shaw.
"It definitely is fun being out there playing with him," receiver Rashad Greene said. "The play is never over with with Jameis. You never know."
Actually, they do know. That's the point.
After Shaw's highlight-reel catch against Boston College, he got to thinking about a similar catch he'd made in practice earlier that week. Florida State was practicing its two-minute drill, and the receivers worked on their scramble routes. Just like in the game, Winston eluded the defense and uncorked a bomb that found Shaw in the end zone. The lone difference, Shaw said, was that he had two men covering him in practice as opposed to the single coverage he got in the game.
"It's weird now that I think about it," Shaw said. "But it's not something we didn't see."
It's something they've seen from Winston repeatedly since the spring. While the freshman quarterback has been a revelation on the national stage, his teammates have been privy to the heroics on the practice field for months.
That's where the confidence comes from to play so flawlessly when the chips are down, and why it's so easy for the momentum to build to a fever pitch.
"It's really not unexpected from me, because I've seen the work being put in and the time and effort," Greene said. "It's not really a surprise."
The key now, Winston said, is to turn those heroics in the face of adversity into mundane throws in ideal circumstances.
Leading the charge when the chips are down is nice, he said, but building a big lead from the outset is the goal.
"Our guys, we thrive under pressure," Winston said. "If we can learn how to play like we're always under pressure, we're going to be a great team."
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