It’s been a long time since the Bucs have played a game in Tampa. In fact, when the Bucs take the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for their Week 10 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals it will have been 48 days since their last home game against the Giants in Week 3.
In that time frame the Bucs have played five games, lost four straight, taken their bye week, traveled to London, Los Angeles and Seattle and essentially watched their playoff hopes crumble before their eyes as they currently sit at 2-6. To Jameis Winston and the rest of the Bucs roster, a return couldn’t come soon enough.
“I’m just hyped to be in front of our Bucs fans,” Winston said on Wednesday. “To have a regular week and routine, but I’m very excited to be back in Ray Jay.”
In an unprecedented string of games away from home it initially looked as though the road trip’s impact could be mitigated after a shootout win against the Rams, the reigning NFC champions, but that sentiment quickly fell apart as Tampa Bay was unable to find another victory. As much as head coach Bruce Arians will steer away from saying it, the rest of the season has now become about evaluating what the Bucs have at their disposal and how that will look heading into the 2020 season. Tampa Bay has a lot of one-year contracts and players hitting the free agent market this upcoming off-season, but they also have a franchise quarterback who has yet to prove whether he’s earned a spot moving forward in his contract year.
“I think the most important part is just making sure that I’m getting better every day,” Winston said about what he needs to show over these final eight weeks. “Making sure I’m giving the team a chance to win. If I’m doing that, we’ll win and that’s pretty much it.”
With a new staff it takes time to get acclimated, both offensively and defensively, and after two consecutive 5-11 seasons it’s becoming more apparent that Arians’ preseason optimism about how good this team could be was just that, optimism. At the season’s midpoint the defense has improved on a unit-by-unit basis, increasing turnovers while building the NFL’s best when it comes to stopping the run, but the young secondary has ensured that Tampa Bay is still one of the league’s worst scoring defenses.
Offensively the Bucs are really find their groove after a rocky start, specifically in the form of Tampa Bay’s two top wideouts, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Early on it appeared that not only did the team need time to adjust to a new system, but that new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich had some learning on the fly to do himself as just a second-year play-caller.
“We’re all starting to learn each other,” Winston said about how the team is improving. “That goes into the play calls, that goes into me understanding the concepts, that goes into me knowing when to throw the ball away if something breaks down, that goes into protection with me and Ryan Jensen being on the same page. We’re starting to get it, we’ve got to continue to get better, we’ve got to continue to learn from each other and we’re going to turn things around.”