It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston’s four interceptions – including a pick-six on his first pass of the game – proved to be the difference as the Bucs’ rally came up just short in a 23-20 loss. Tampa Bay’s four-game losing streak came to an end, as did the 7-8 Bucs’ chances of finishing with a winning season.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Winston Is The League’s Cardiac Kid

Watching Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is not for the faint of heart.

While he continues to throw some mind-numbing interceptions, Winston also makes some spectacular throws to pile up the yardage and the points. He’ll make your heart race one minute – and your heart stop the next.

Call him the Cardiac Kid – the guy with the heartbreaking turnovers.

Without Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and playing with a broken thumb, Winston threw four interceptions and just one touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 23-20 loss to Houston. While his turnovers were to blame for the Bucs’ loss, Winston was also the reason they almost came back to win with his 335 passing yards keeping the team in the game.

Until they weren’t.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images

“We just turned the football over,” Winston said. “When you said what was missing, it’s Chris and Mike Evans. The top receivers in the league right now. You can answer a question of what’s missing, [but] I can’t turn the football over.”

For the fourth time this season, Winston’s first pass of the game was picked – and for the fifth time this season, he threw a pick-six in a game. Saturday’s pick-six by Houston cornerback Bradley Roby put Tampa Bay in an early 7-0 hole.

Winston has also thrown an interception on the first drive six times this year.

Ugh.

On Tampa Bay’s next possession, Winston threw what appeared to be another pick-six, but a 15-yard illegal blindside block penalty negated the score and set Houston up at the Tampa Bay 25. That was fortunate for the Bucs as their defense was able to hold the Texans to a field goal. With 11:29 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay trailed 10-0.

Winston’s third interception came early in the second quarter following a fumble recovery by linebacker Devin White, yet the Bucs defense stiffened and forced a punt.

Winston wasn’t the only turnover culprit in the first half. After a 10-yard run, Peyton Barber fumbled the ball at the Tampa Bay 40 yards for the Bucs’ fourth turnover of the first 20 minutes of the game. That led to Houston building a 17-3 lead. The Bucs would tie the score at 17-17 at halftime after he hit Justin Watson with his first touchdown pass of the game with seconds left in the second quarter.

While Winston led the Bucs to 17 first-half points, the offense only scored a field goal in the second half, and Winston’s last-ditch effort to draw Tampa Bay to a tie or grab the lead failed with his fourth interception of the game with 1:31 left in regulation.

“When we protect the football and I protect the football we score points,” Winston said. “No one has stopped us this year when I protect the football. No one.”

On Saturday, Winston surpassed Dan Marino (19,422) for the second-most passing yards by a quarterback from their rookie season through their fifth year, and trails only Peyton Manning (20,618). With 19,536 yards in his career and one game left, Winston won’t surpass Manning, but he will join an elite class of quarterbacks next week.

After throwing for 335 yards in Saturday’s loss to Houston, Winston now has 4,908 passing yards and needs just 93 yards to eclipse 5,000 yards this season. That could happen in the first quarter of next week’s game against Atlanta.

When Winston reaches 5,000 yards, he’ll be the first Buccaneers QB to do so, and will become the eighth quarterback in NFL history to do so. The other QBs to accomplish that feat include Super Bowl winners Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, in addition to Dan Marino, Patrick Mahommes and Matthew Stafford.

Stats are nice, but wins are what is important – and Winston knows it. In order for the Bucs to win he can’t throw four interceptions. It’s as simple as that.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“My primary focus is going into a football game and having a turnover-free football game,” Winston said. “That’s my primary focus. When I do that, I’m going to be a good quarterback – a great quarterback.”

Winston has been a turnover machine since entering the league with over 100 in his five years in Tampa Bay, which is the most in the NFL. He knows that he can’t turn the ball over – but still does.

“[He is] the same guy that threw four touchdowns last week – he [drove] a couple [of times] to tie it for us,” Arians said. “The last [interception] was a poor decision, but we had our chances to win. It’s a team game, not  a one-man game. He didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t help us win the game.”

STATEMENT 2: NFL Officiating Is Awful, And It Continues To Hurt The Bucs

I don’t cover other NFL teams, but I can’t imagine that there is another team in the league that has more calls go against it than Tampa Bay. That unfortunate trend continued on Sunday.

So let me get this straight. There was no pass interference on the Houston defensive back that was obviously face-guarding and interfering with Breshad Perriman on Tampa Bay’s second possession. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians challenged the call – and lost – which was a travesty. After the game Arians was clearly not satisfied with the referee’s explanation.

“That the ball and [the defender] got there at the same time – they must have been looking at a different tape than me,” Arians said.

Bucs WR Breshad Perriman

Bucs WR Breshad Perriman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Yet there was a phantom holding call on Bucs cornerback Jamel Dean?

And where was the obvious missed facemask call on Cameron Brate’s first catch of the game on the third possession?

Then Bucs wide receiver Ishmael Hyman gets flagged for a weak holding call on fourth-and-2, negating a big first down run by Peyton Barber. And on Houston’s next possession, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David had an obvious forced fumble while making a tackle, but the officials blew the play the day with forward progress, which negated a big takeaway opportunity for the home team.

And that was just in the first quarter as the Bucs trailed 10-0. But those blown calls and non-calls mattered.

We all know that the Bucs have screwed themselves enough this year with poor play and self-inflicted wounds. But they shouldn’t have to beat both the Texans and the vision-impaired officiating crew.

NFL officiating has been absurdly awful this year, and an absolute embarrassment for the league.

It’s one thing to miss a call. It’s another thing to challenge and obvious miss – and then blow the call again by not overturning it, which is ridiculous.

After a brutal first quarter, the calls seemed to even out and went back and forth the rest of the game, but the refs did appear to miss a blatant targeting a defenseless receiver call on Houston after Perriman picked up 19 yards on a reception on Tampa Bay’s final offensive drive.

The refs also missed a really big delay of game call on a 39-yard throw from DeShaun Watson to DeAndre Carter that came on third-and-6 in the fourth quarter. The ball was snapped after the clock reached zero and that play helped set up the Texans’ game-winning 37-yard field goal with 7:11 left in regulation.

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs have had their share of bad calls go against them this year, both New Orleans games stand out as horrifically called games against Tampa Bay, as does the Tennessee game when a potential game-winning scoop-and-score by safety Andrew Adams was denied because of an inadvertent whistle. Yet Saturday’s game against Houston might have taken the cake.

The injury-depleted Bucs had a Herculean effort trying to beat a playoff-caliber Texans team with the AFC South division title on the line, but to try to beat Houston and really, really poor officiating proved to be too much.

And that’s a damn shame.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Why Is Tampa Bay’s Special Teams Awful?

Aside from the punting of Bradley Pinion and the kicking of Matt Gay, Tampa Bay’s special teams have been awful this year. Dare Ogunbowale returned the first two kickoffs for 15 and 17 yards – the second of which was an inexplicable return, as he should have stayed in the end zone for a touch back. Also in the first quarter, Matt Gay’s 54-yard field goal was blocked by Houston, which denied the Bucs their first points of the game.

Bucs K Matt Gay

Bucs K Matt Gay – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs also had to burn a timeout on a punt with 7:18 left because they were missing a player on the field.

In the fourth quarter, Ogunbowale muffed a kick return and only ran the ball out to the Tampa Bay 17. The blocking for Ogunbowale was poor, but so too was his decision-making in terms of running the ball out of the end zone instead of taking the touch back.

“The defense – they played winning football today,” Arians said. “Our special teams and offense did not. We started on the 17-yard line about every kickoff [because of] guys just not getting their man blocked.”

Then trailing by just three points, rookie Spencer Schnell fair-caught a punt at the 4-yard line with 21 seconds left instead of letting the ball potentially roll into the end zone for a touch back. That would have given the Bucs better field position to start what could have been a game-tying scoring drive had the team gotten into Matt Gay’s field goal range.

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong’s return units have really struggled all season, and Saturday was no exception.

QUESTION 2: Who The Heck Is McElroy?

Bucs tight end Codey McElroy is promising role player, and a name to know in the future. McElroy made his first NFL catch on Saturday, using his big, 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame to box out a Texans defender and haul in a 30-yard strike from Jameis Winston at the Houston 4-yard line. Ronald Jones II would score a 4-yard touchdown on the next play to cut the Texans’ lead to 17-13 with 1:57 left before halftime.

Bucs TE Codey McElroy

Bucs TE Codey McElroy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

McElroy is an interesting story as he played basketball at Oklahoma State and baseball at Eastern Oklahoma State, Texas and Cameron University before playing a few games at tight end at Southeastern Oklahoma, a Division II school. The 27-year old McElroy spent time with the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys, but was never on an active roster since being activated from Tampa Bay’s practice squad on Thursday due to Tanner Hudson’s head injury.

The Bucs have loved what McElroy did on the practice squad, showing great hands and athleticism. He’ll be back next year and have a chance to compete with Hudson and Antony Auclair for a roster spot.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Pierre-Paul Will Be Back With The Bucs In 2020

While the priority re-signings this offseason in Tampa Bay will be quarterback Jameis Winston and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, whose 16.5 sacks lead the NFL, next in line will be outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. While Barrett was attempting to break Warren Sapp’s single season sack record on Saturday, Pierre-Paul notched three QB captures to push his season total to 6.5 despite missing the first six games of the year with a neck injury.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But here’s an even more impressive statistic. The Bucs are 5-4 since JPP’s return after starting the season 2-4 without him.

Pierre-Paul’s vocal leadership has been just as important as his pass rush down the stretch. He’s raised the level of effort and play of Tampa Bay’s defense, which has been a Top 10 defense since Week 8. Pierre-Paul wants to return to the Bucs and Tampa Bay wants him back in 2020.

PREDICTION 2: Bucs, Winston Finish 2019 With A .500

The Bucs will win next Sunday and sweep the Falcons. Tampa Bay is the better team and will finish second in the NFC South division for the first time in years. Jameis Winston will also play better in the season finale than he did on Saturday against the Texans.

And Winston will return in red and pewter in 2020, which is something PewterReport.com has been talking about for a while – despite the team officially confirming that. On Saturday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Bucs will be bringing Winston back next year, but after the game, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians refuted it.

“There has been no decision on any player,” Arians said. “We don’t make those decisions until the season is over.”

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