2-Point Conversion: Winston’s Turnovers Doom Bucs Abroad
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. The Bucs
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Winston’s Turnovers Doom Bucs Abroad
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston threw a career-high five interceptions and fumbled twice against Carolina in a 37-26 rout by the Panthers. The loss drops the Bucs to 2-4 on the year, while a four-game winning streak by the Panthers has them at 4-2 and ready to challenge New Orleans for NFC South supremacy.
Winston just can’t shake the fact that he’s been a turnover machine dating back to his days at Florida State.
Winston’s first pass in the United States since joining the NFL after being drafted first overall in 2015 was a pick-six. On Sunday in London, his first European pass attempt was also intercepted, although James Bradberry didn’t take this one back for a Panthers touchdown. It just set up a field goal to give Carolina a 3-0 lead – a lead the Panthers would never relinquish. Carolina led 34-10 early in the fourth quarter before Tampa Bay rallied when it was too late.
Some things never change.
Winston, who has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season, remains a turnover waiting to happen. The last time he had a performance this bad was when he had three interceptions and a fumble in a 38-35 loss at Cincinnati last year – a game in which he was benched.
The Bucs turned the ball over seven times against the Panthers and were minus-six in the turnover battle. Punt returner Bobo Wilson had a costly turnover on a muffed punt in the fourth quarter after the Bucs were attempting a comeback after only trailing by 16 points.
Winston’s turnovers aren’t the only things that don’t seem to change. Tampa Bay also can’t seem to win abroad.
The Bucs haven’t won a game in London in three tries. Aside from falling to the Panthers this year, New England beat Tampa Bay 35-7 in the Bucs’ first trip to London, and then saw Chicago triumph over Tampa Bay 24-18 in 2011.
The Bucs also haven’t won a home game in 2019, as this year’s trip to London was technically a home game – even though it was overseas. As a result, the Bucs are now 2-4 on the season and 1-2 in the division, losing back-to-back games against NFC South foes New Orleans and Carolina.
Winston was playing his best football a few weeks ago when he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing four touchdowns against the Rams. Now he is suddenly playing his worst as Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said to Winston, who was sacked seven times, was attempting to do too much once again.
“Throw the damn ball away,” Arians said. “He has a habit of trying to be Superman, and that’s been a problem in the past. The fumbles haven’t occurred this year until today, but again, trying to make something out of nothing, and it’s just a matter of knowing when to quit on a play.
“The fumbles, we have to get rid of those. We have to start throwing balls away and we don’t need to take those sacks.”
Winston finished the day completing 30-of-54 passes for 400 yards with one touchdown and five picks. Not all of his interceptions were entirely Winston’s fault, as Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans didn’t fight for the ball hard enough on Winston’s first pass.
“We had a really good game plan in and didn’t execute,” Evans said. “I played like [expletive].”
When asked if this was his worst game as a pro, Winston told on himself and uttered an uncomfortable truth, “No, I’ve had a lot of bad games, but hopefully I’ll play more good games than bad games.”
Arians, known as the “quarterback whisperer,” has to reach Winston and reach him fast, as the Bucs QB is in a critical contract year – and at 2-4 the 2019 season is quickly slipping away. If Winston continues to have multiple-turnover days like he did on Sunday the Bucs won’t have a choice other than to pass on signing him to a long-term contract extension.
“As the quarterback, you can’t have a bad day,” Winston said. “That’s just the business because if a quarterback has a bad day, then things are escalated and we lose the game.”
STATEMENT 2: Winston Was Under Siege All Day
Winston’s bad day wasn’t all on him. Evans didn’t play his best game despite catching nine passes for 96 yards, and Tampa Bay’s offensive line was awful in pass protection for most of the game as Carolina registered 10 quarterback hits, in addition to seven sacks and five interceptions.
“We didn’t pick up their pressures when we needed to,” Bucs left guard Ali Marpet said. “It was really just [losing] one-on-one match-ups and that’s never good enough. We’re still very frustrated. We’re still very pissed off. It wasn’t just one side of the line or the other. Everybody played really bad and lost their one-on-one match-ups. We’ve got to play better as a unit and we have to play better individually for this offense to work.”
After getting sacked six times in last week’s 31-24 loss at New Orleans, Winston suffered six sacks – in the first half – against Carolina. Former Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy beat right guard Ali Marpet for a sack to set up second-and-17 in the first quarter before nose tackle Dontari Poe sacked Winston for a loss of four to set up third-and-21 as the Panthers jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
Things didn’t get any better in the second quarter as McCoy, who finished with a game-high 2.5 sacks, and Bruce Irvin split a sack of Winston before Irvin beat right tackle Josh Wells and hit Winston’s arm as he was throwing, which caused a wobbly pass to get intercepted by former Bucs cornerback Javien Elliott at the Tampa Bay 36. Four plays later, McCaffrey scored his second touchdown of the game, this time on a 25-yard screen pass to give the Panthers a 17-7 lead.
The Bucs threatened to score in the second quarter, but once Tampa Bay got into Carolina’s red zone, defensive tackle Vernon Butler recorded back-to-back sacks and forced fumbles, the second of which was recovered by Irvin at the Panthers’ 29-yard line to snuff out a Bucs’ scoring opportunity.
Things just couldn’t go right for Winston as he heaved a perfect deep throw to Evans, who had gotten behind the defense but couldn’t bring in the ball after bobbling it several times. Had Evans made the catch, the Bucs would have had the ball at the Panthers’ 25-yard line.
“Absolutely, those are plays I’m known for making,” Evans said. “I just did a bad job of tracking the ball today. I could have had a couple. Jameis threw it up and trusted me and I didn’t come down with it. I have to be better.”
Winston has been hit around 20 times and sacked 13 times in the past two weeks. He’s growing increasingly uncomfortable in the pocket and that’s leading to indecision – as well as poor decisions from Tampa Bay’s quarterback.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Where Will The 2-4 Bucs Wind Up?
Over the past decade the Buccaneers have started the season 2-4 four times, including this year. Does that provide an indication of where we think Tampa Bay’s record will wind up? You bet it does.
Tampa Bay has finished no better than 7-9 in any season in which it started off 2-4, and that was in Greg Schiano’s first season as Bucs head coach in 2012. The last two times resulted in a double-digit losing season.
The Bucs still have 10 games to go after their bye week, which comes at a great time. But with games coming up against winning teams like Seattle (5-1), New Orleans (5-1), Houston (4-2) and Indianapolis (3-2), winning six out of the last 10 games to get to 8-8 seems unrealistic at the moment.
QUESTION 2: Why Is Wilson Returning Punts?
Tampa Bay has a very stagnant return game all season under new special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. While most of the kickoffs that have been sent T.J. Logan’s way have ended up in the end zone for touchbacks, the Bucs’ punt return game has been awful as well.
Bobo Wilson entered Sunday’s game averaging just 3.3 yards per return. Against Carolina, Wilson averaged a paltry two yards per punt return and muffed two punts, with his second one becoming a turnover in the fourth quarter – just when the Bucs had cut the Panthers’ lead to 16 and made a defensive stop.
“Yeah, the punt drop was huge in the game,” Arians said. “We were fighting back, got within two scores I think at that point in time, and had it going pretty good. Just catch the damn ball. It’s not that hard.”
When I asked Arians after the game why Wilson was still returning punts despite not doing anything at all in the return game this season he said, “Nobody has taken it from him yet. That’s the problem. We’ll be looking at it.”
There is a reason why Wilson was an undrafted free agent. He just doesn’t have the explosiveness necessary to make the first guy miss or turn the corner and return a punt up the sidelines. And if he can’t catch the ball, what good is he doing back there returning punts?
It’s time to give rookie Scotty Miller or T.J. Logan a shot at punt returns. And if Arians wants to send a message to his team about making mistakes he could cut Wilson, who doesn’t do much as a reserve receiver, either.
Speaking of reserve receivers, how far has Justin Watson fallen down the depth chart? Wilson and Miller both have seen more action than Watson has as the team’s third receiver, replacing the injured Breshad Perriman.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: There Will Be Changes Coming In The Bye Week
I’m not exactly sure what will change in Tampa Bay during the bye week, but I would suspect a roster change and/or a depth chart change of some kind to be made. The coaches and front office don’t even know right now because they have yet to look at the film and do the necessary post-game self-scouting, but losing two games in a row, and three of the team’s last four games should be cause for alarm in Tampa Bay.
Arians is not one to stand by and let teams flounder. He’s the kind of head coach that likes to shake things up rather than let things stand pat. Maybe it’s parting ways with Wilson or promoting rookie cornerback Jamel Dean or giving him some more snaps. Benching rookie Mike Edwards for veteran free safety Anthony Adams was a smart move as the secondary seemed to be a little tighter in holding Panthers QB Kyle Allen to 227 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs secondary had surrendered over 300 yards passing in each of the last four games.
Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul will practice next week while the Bucs have the entire week off to rest during the bye. Should he be cleared to play Tampa Bay will need to make a corresponding roster move whenever he is activated to the 53-man roster. But I sense another change or two is coming down at One Buc Place in order to shake things up during the bye week.
PREDICTION 2: Tampa Bay Won’t Finish Higher Than Third In The Division
Last week I predicted that the Bucs’ loss at New Orleans will cost Tampa Bay a shot at the NFC South title. That’s looking more and more prophetic. Losing back-to-back division games – this week to Carolina in London – drops the Bucs to 1-2 in the NFC South and will ultimately cause Tampa Bay to finish no better than third in the division this year.
New Orleans is now 5-1 and 1-0 in the division, and Carolina has won four games in a row to improve to 4-2 on the season and is now 1-1 in the division. There are still a lot of games left, but the Saints and Panthers are winning games by creating takeaways on defense and with stellar play from their backup quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t generating enough takeaways and the Bucs’ starting quarterback had an awful performance in a must-win game. This team seems destined for somewhere between 5-11 and 7-9 this season, unfortunately.