Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Who are some of the best modern day quarterbacks in the league?
For argument’s sake, we’ll start with New England’s Tom Brady. Brady’s best attribute: he’s a winner. When the lights are brightest, Brady out-shines them. There is no moment, no scoreboard and no situation that he can’t handle. When your back is against the wall, Brady is there for you. Brady doesn’t have the best arm or the fastest legs, but you know what? For the last 20 years all that guy has done is win. He’s a winner. He finds a way.
What about Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers? Man, what an arm. Rodgers is arguable the greatest passer in football’s history. I’ve seen that guy make some throws that no one else can make. He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow up top, and his arm can be red hot down the field. Rodgers, too, steps up in big moments, but I think what separates him from anyone else is how he can put that pigskin in pin-point locations 50-60 yards down the field and make it look easy.
Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images
Tampa Bay fans can’t talk about top quarterback play without mentioning the man who has haunted them for years. Yes, I’m talking about Drew Brees. Brees had shoulder surgery right before he came over from San Diego to New Orleans, and many thought his arm would never be the same. I never thought Brees had the strongest arm during his time with the Saints, but you know what he could always depend on? Accuracy. Brees’ accuracy over the last 10 years has been stellar. He’s posted just one season below a 65 percent completion rating, and has had five seasons of over 70 percent accuracy.
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t at least mention Russell Wilson. Wilson has been hung out to dry by the Seattle Seahawks for years. He’s constantly elevating that entire offense with athleticism and a stellar arm far beyond the talent around him. He’s had zero offensive line talent to work with, and yet Wilson is a guy that you can depend on to give you a chance to win every week. People link Wilson with being erratic, but he really isn’t. You watch him make these wacky plays, but that’s often because he has to. He’s calm in chaos; always.
When you think of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and all that he could be, there are elements of each of those quarterbacks I named that exist within him. Winston has the winner’s will like Brady, as was evident by the clutch final touchdown he threw to Chris Godwin on the last drive of the 2017 season.
He sometimes looks like he has the arm of Rodgers, like when he threw the 55-yard bomb of a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins in 2015. He’s shown accuracy that’s been Brees-like, at times.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The touchdown pass to Cameron Brate in the Packers game in 2017 being an example of that. And he’s shown to pull off the seemingly impossible like Russell Wilson, as we all remember the Houdini escape of a sack and long throw to Mike Evans back in 2016 against Chicago that won Play of the Year.
But there is a characteristic in all four of the aforementioned quarterbacks that is the main reason they are listed as the top signal callers in the league when Winston is not. Surrounding those individual traits they boast is consistency – and Jameis Winston, to this point in his career, has been anything but consistent.
For the last three years, Winston has been Mr. Hot & Cold. One week he could come out on fire and get you an early lead, the next he could take an entire half just to warm up. Because of this, his wins and losses have been spotty, too; Winston is just 18-27 as a starter. He’s also missed time for injury, and 2017 was littered with on and off performances due to the nature of who he is combined with inconsistent health.
That was him three years into the league.
Before this preseason, if you asked me who Jameis Winston was a passer, I would have told you he could hit a football-sized window 35 yards down the field in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown one pass, and completely overthrow an open receiver by five yards for an interception on another. That’s just who he was.
But then this preseason happened.
One of Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s favorite phrases is “preseason games don’t count, but they do matter.” And let me tell you, for Winston, you better hope they matter. Because for what feels like the first time since he put on a Buccaneers uniform, we saw three straight top-tier performances out of Winston.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by Getty Images
Now, look, some of you will come at this claim and say that it was against second-team players in the second quarter of meaningless exhibition games versus vanilla defenses, but I don’t care at all – and here is why. Winston has the talent to be one of the better quarterbacks in this league, he just doesn’t show it enough.
So when I see a pin-point pass that comes from a perfect read and a good presence around the pocket, it wouldn’t matter if he made such a throw against second- or third-team defenses. If the ball got to where it needed to go at the speed and accuracy in which it needed to get there, we all know Winston is good enough to do that against first-team players. And you know what? In the last three preseason games, that’s what he did.
Over the last three games, Winston has posted a total of 388 passing yards with three touchdowns, zero interceptions, a completion percentage of 72.3 and a quarterback rating of 120.4, the highest of snap-averaged quarterbacks in the entire league.
Simply put: Winston is having one hell of a preseason. And the worst part about it is that it might all be for nothing.
For the first time in his career, we’re seeing real consistency from Winston. We’re seeing it in how he practices, in his mechanics, in how he’s working with his receivers, and it’s translating to the games. And you know what? It’s about to all go away.
For the next four weeks, Winston won’t be taking a single game snap. For three of those weeks, he won’t even be taking a practice snap. Heck, he won’t even be taking mental snaps with his team, as he won’t even be allowed in the building during his suspension. Winston will start his three game suspension this weekend after the team’s final preseason game (in which he won’t play), and chances are the momentum he’s gained during this preseason will be all for not in the short term.
But it doesn’t have to be all for not in the end.
For the first time in his life, Winston will be without football. He will be forced to watch his team play on a television screen without him. He’ll have to watch his teammates get criticized withouthim. He’ll have to watch them celebrate without him.
I hope it humbles him.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The only way the Bucs get out of this three-game suspension with a chance to make something of this season is if Winston becomes who he has never been before upon his return. The only way this works is if this new perspective of the game, of this team and of himself takes hold and he truly becomes a different guy than the one we’ve seen over the last three years. Make no mistake: the player Winston has been since he was drafted in 2015 hasn’t been good enough and still won’t be good enough upon his return. They need him to be better; they need him to be consistent.
The Bucs need Winston to play like he did in the preseason – all season.
If you’re a fan, it should sting watching Winston play well this entire preseason just for him to go away and cool down and possibly extinguish his hot streak again. And the only way he catches fire is if he looks at all of this through a different lens when he comes back.
The Bucs don’t need the Jameis Winston they’ve had for the last three years to come back after his suspension. They need a new Jameis Winston – one who has evolved in many different ways.
The preseason showed us that the evolution of his talent might be coming to fruition, but the answer to the rest of his potential evolution, as a consistent player, an accurate passer, a consistent teammate, and a man who hold himself accountable with consistent integrity, won’t truly be answered for another four weeks.