The days of thinking playoffs have come to an end in Tampa Bay, but not before rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and other young Bucs whet the appetite of fans already looking forward to next year.

Even in the aftermath of Thursday night’s disaster and last Sunday’s flop, there remains a sense of optimism for 2016 and beyond. While there might not be much to play for in terms of continuing the season, Tampa Bay still has two more games left to see what they’ve got moving forward.

“It’s a lesson learned,” Winston said during his brief postgame press conference. “You’ve just got to learn a lesson and move forward. The season’s not over yet. What we wanted, our playoff hopes, they’re probably done. But the season isn’t over yet. We’re still going to compete. We’re still going to go out there and fight and try to go 8-8.”

FRANCHISE
The main reason why optimism didn’t get completely KO’d last night is Winston: Not so much for Thursday’s performance but for the entirety of his first 14 games as a professional.

From selecting him with the first overall pick last spring to naming him the starter during training camp, Tampa Bay went all-in with Winston and it’s paid off so far. He’s become the team’s single-season statistical leader for rookies in most major categories and added touchdown passes to the list last night. Winston’s second and final scoring hookup lifted his number to an even 20 and pushed him past Mike Glennon’s 19 set in 2013.

Winston added to his team rookie record for passing yards in a season by notching his first 300-yard game of his career in St. Louis. His 363-yard output ranks second in Bucs history for first-year signal callers, trailing only the 369 yards Vinny Testaverde aired it out for against New Orleans in 1987. Winston sits at 3,422 passing yards on the season and can make a realistic run at becoming the third rookie since 1970 to throw for 4,000.

Couple the statistical achievements with Winston’s presence on and off the field and it’s easy to see why fans and media members around the country believe Tampa Bay’s found its quarterback of the future.

EVALUATION TIME
The silver lining of Tampa Bay’s injury woes is that coaches and front office talent evaluators get to see backups in live, regular-season action.

Unfortunately that’s led to some ugly moments on the field and plenty of inconsistency lately.

The extended tryout of receiver Donteea Dye took another turn for the worse last night. Injuries again prompted the rookie to receive his third start after dropping a crucial late-game pass Sunday against New Orleans. Dye picked up right where he left off Thursday, dropping his first target after Winston hit him in the end zone while extending a third-down play with his legs.

Doing a better job to display his future worth to the team has been fellow rookie wideout Adam Humphries. He caught all six of his targets last night for 60 yards and looks to be a valuable role player and slot receiver who’s also gained the trust of Winston.

Rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander passed his entrance exams with flying colors and made his fourth-round selection look like a steal. Then came the four-game, season-ending suspension for testing positive for an undisclosed performance enhancer. The Bucs are good to go at linebacker with starters Alexander, Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah, assuming they bring back the latter for another year.

Depth is an issue, however. The team brought Bruce Carter in this past offseason to take over in the middle and got outperformed by Alexander. It wasn’t until the rookie’s suspension kicked in last week that Carter got his first start – and that ended with an injury. The fact that Tampa Bay called Orie Lemon back for the fourth time this season and had to start him on the strongside last night was troubling.

Then there’s the defensive line.

End/tackle William Gholston keeps making plays one moment then disappearing the next, all while sprinkling in a steady dose of boneheaded, temper-related penalties along the way. Howard Jones continues to get in on the occasional sack or splash play and could stick around but he’s a pass rusher only.

The 2016 offseason will be yet another attempt for the Bucs to find impact edge rushers.

NAY JUDE
This belongs up in the previous section, too, but it deserves to be separated.

The cornerback position has been shaken up more than any other on the defensive side of the ball and at least one portion of the equation is starting to crack. Jude Adjei-Barimah is looking a lot more like the undrafted free agent pickup he was in July than the Bucs’ future on the outside. His play has declined since taking over starting duties six weeks ago and that was epitomized last night when Rams receiver Kenny Britt toasted him for a 60-yard touchdown on a hitch-and-go route.

Following that late first-quarter failure, coaches switched to starter-turned-backup Johnthan Banks to take over. A 2013 second-round draft pick of the Bucs, Banks ended up playing 46 of 52 defensive snaps compared to just nine for Adjei-Barimah.

Tackling, especially in the open field, has been a positive for Adjei-Barimah, but his coverage skills are beginning to get exposed. Seeing if Banks gets his first start since Week 8 in Atlanta will be something to look for as the team prepares for Chicago.

IN THE RED
‘Tis the season and all head coach Lovie Smith ever wants for Christmas is defensive takeaways.

Players had been more than happy to oblige earlier in the year, but that request has since gone unfulfilled. Tampa Bay finds itself back in the red when it comes to turnover margin.

The Bucs failed to create a takeaway for the second game in a row and third time in the past four after recording at least one in the season’s first 10 contests. Tampa Bay’s lost the turnover margin by a combined 5-1 in those past four games, losing three.

Another close-but-not-quite moment came late in the second quarter when Lansanah couldn’t hold on to a catchable interception of Rams quarterback Case Keenum.

“There are a lot of plays like that where we were close but really far away,” Smith said of that missed opportunity. “Being close just doesn’t do it on a night like tonight. That is kind of the story, we were close, did a few good things, but didn’t play consistent football.”

SILVER LININGS (PART II)
Winston isn’t the only Buccaneer with season-long numbers reaching impressive heights.

Running back Doug Martin and receiver Mike Evans are busy setting personal or team records, as well.

Depending on what goes down Sunday in Minnesota, Martin is the NFL’s current leader in rushing yardage. His 91-yard, 18-carry performance allowed him to, at least temporarily, lead Vikings running back Adrian Peterson at the top of that list. Martin’s now at 1,305 yards and is 239 away from tying James Wilder’s single-season franchise rushing record set in 1984. Martin’s current total places him third all-time behind Wilder and his own mark of 1,454 posted during his 2012 rookie season.

As for Evans, the second-year wideout recorded his fifth 100-yard game of the season in St. Louis. In doing so, his 157 yards on nine receptions put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in as many pro seasons. Evans is the fourth Bucs receiver to ever post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, joining Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway and Vincent Jackson, and the first to do it in his initial two pro seasons.

With 66 catches and 1,046 yards, Evans is two receptions and five yards off last year’s pace with two games remaining. A stat to address this offseason for Evans and the entire offensive staff is his three touchdowns – nine short of the franchise record-tying 12 he hauled in last year.

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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macabee
macabee
5 years ago

It’s Friday Afterthoughts this time and after another disheartening loss, here’s what I’m thinking about. Over the last 40 years , I’ve been a diehard Bucs fan and never have I been more excited about our QB as I am about Jameis Winston. As an old school proponent of “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken”, I’m hesitant to suggest we change anything about our budding young star. But he is just getting started and like all novices, Winston will continue to grow and improve as a QB. As I re-watched the highlights of the last few games and particularly… Read more »

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
Reply to  macabee
5 years ago

Well this offseason will be big for Jameis as most of us know that this is his first real offseason with no baseball. Nothing to screw his delivery up . He can strictly focus on fundamental and with his work ethic he will. I can’t wait to see the new and improved Jameis next year. Everything else checks the boxes , especially the post game pick with Gurley were it looked like someone pissed in Jameis’ cheereos. This guy hates to lose and it’s going to catch on.

Horse
Horse
5 years ago

I feel the same as Macabee. I think most of us were saying we know we are getting blown out and hoping Winston would throw a TD or two and no interceptions. I was happy there was just one. I’m still very puzzled why dotson isn’t starting; he’s bigger, stronger, quicker, and younger. The pass rush is just a disaster, but now I’m also seeing issues at Safety and needing also another CB. If Martin leaves that means we will need another RB; with VJ nearing the end of his career, means another WR. There’s something missing with McCoy as… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

I have defended Mike Evans out here in the past but the truth be known, I believe he also lead the NFL in drops. Still, without a doubt, he is our best WR. He had a great game last night against a defense that stifled Megatron. Dontae Dye made a great grab last night but would have ended up on an NFL blooper reel if it wasn’t for jongrudens favorite whipping boy Luke Stocker. 3-13, huh jongruden. Despite the fact the Bucs got whipped in the first half, they didn’t fold and may have even won if not for a… Read more »

matador
matador
5 years ago

“…coaches turned to starter-turned-backup Johnthan Banks…” This is the same DB proclaimed a shut down corner by PR earlier this season – when I almost spit my drink up through my nose as I read it. The same Freeman- and McClown-loving bunch of buffoons that make PR what it has been ever since the site’s owner checked out a few years ago. You make the articles hard to read, absent the posters/audience doing your jobs for you in the post-article commentary. When they are not getting shouted down for being negative, that is.

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
Reply to  matador
5 years ago

The cool thing about the Internet is you don’t have to click the articles. Maybe you’re the bafoon?

Horse
Horse
Reply to  matador
5 years ago

matador, disagree and uncalled for as nobody is perfect.

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

Wow matador, for someone who likes to toss out harsh criticism, you should at least get your facts straight. The people who were responsible for Freeman and McClown were not the same “bunch of buffoons.” They were two separate regimes that made those decisions. As it is, I find PR to be the best and most informative site available to get fresh Buccaneer news and perspectives. No one is 100 percent correct on player evaluation, not even seasoned GM’s who have reams of evaluations on player performances. jongruden is particularly negative about the current Bucs and although I disagree with… Read more »

surferdudes
surferdudes
5 years ago

Let’s see, when Lovie got here we had pro bowlers Golson, Revis, and 1st round safety Barron. These players were not a “fit” for Lovies cover two. These players were replaced with the likes of Mike Jenkins, and Chris Conte. So now we’re lead to believe we need to draft a CB, and safety to “fit” Lovies system. Any of you trust this man? Yeah draft the best shut down corner in the draft, and tell him to play ten yards off the receiver, and see how well he plays. Same with a great D end. When you rarely blitz,… Read more »

jme0151
jme0151
Reply to  surferdudes
5 years ago

Perfect Surfer…..couldn’t have said it better!!!
Matador…..go find another site. These guys to a great job.

jme0151
jme0151
5 years ago

do

owlykat
owlykat
5 years ago

I am bummed to hear the Browns plucked Rannel Hall off our practice squad. Lovie that is on you, stubbornly keeping Dontae Dye starting when it is clear he is just a midget with stone hands. Glazers you have to take personnel decisions away from Lovie or next year will be another losing effort again and you will have to dump him. Licht is smart enough to know better than keeping Dye who is drowning this team in his incompetence! Also make Lovie hand defensive play calling back to Frazier who had the Defense going at the end of last… Read more »

ELBUCCS
ELBUCCS
5 years ago

I was out of the country for the live broadcast. All I could see was the ESPN ticker with the score. Based on that I was thinking the Buccs were getting blown away. Im watching on NFL Game Pass now. So far its clear the off season needs are mainly CB, DE & depth! Other than that better consistentcy executing on 3rd downs, short yardage, & red zone. They are making plays on both sides of the ball but missing too many tackles & too many completeable throws and catches. Its also clear they dont have the respect of the… Read more »

owlykat
owlykat
5 years ago

Go back and just watch our WRs on tape. Evans is not an excellent route runner to get open and instead has relied on his speed and height for his production. He also needs help on his mechanics which have resulted in too many drops this year. Sometimes Evans cuts off his routes and makes it appear that Winston has overthrown him or he’ll stretch to get it anyway and tip it into the hands of the other team for an interception. Not saying we should trade him; he needs an excellent WR Coach to teach him. ASJ has yet… Read more »