Bucs QB Jameis Winston and WR Mike Evans - Photo by: Getty Images
There’s not a lot of joy around the Tampa Bay Bucs organization this holiday season.
Missing out of the playoffs is one thing, but getting as close as the Bucs did this season only to let the opportunity slip away?
That can be infuriating.
Throwing the whole, “Hey, technically they’re still alive,” scenario out there somehow just adds to the frustration, too. Maybe because it further highlights this season’s slip-ups and recent shortcomings that created the Tampa Bay’s current reality.
In addition to handling their own business and beating the Carolina Panthers, the Bucs need five other teams to win – Indianapolis, Dallas, Tennessee, San Francisco and Detroit – and the New York Giants and Washington Redskins to tie. The gods of all the world’s religions combining powers to benefit the Bucs may only be able to pull off five of those seven.
Qb Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
So if you’re scoreboard watching during the 1:00 p.m. Bucs vs. Panthers game, maybe nursing a New Year’s hangover, and things start to go downhill, try to train your focus on some positives. They are out there.
Jameis Winston, the 22-year-old quarterback holding the keys to the franchise’s future, can set a few more impressive records with a solid finish to 2016.
If Winston throws for 277 yards or more against the Panthers he’ll set a new standard for passing yards by NFL quarterbacks in their first two pro seasons. Winston sits at 7,930 yards and in second place behind the 8,196 yards Indianapolis Colts signal caller Andrew Luck amassed through his first two seasons.
In Week 5’s 17-14 Monday Night Football win at Carolina, Winston went 18-of-30 for 219 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He averaged 306 yards in the Bucs’ two games against the Panthers as a rookie.
Winston can also climb the rankings of second-year pros in terms of touchdown passes thrown. Dan Marino set the bar ridiculously high from 1983-84 by tossing 68 scores, but Winston can crack the top three with a big game against Carolina. He posted 27 of his 49 career touchdowns this season and is in fifth place. Winston’s three back from tying Peyton Manning (1998-99) and Russell Wilson (2012-13) with 52, four back from Derek Carr (2014-15) and his 53, and five back from 54 and sole possession of second place behind the Miami Dolphins legend.
There are some franchise records in Winston’s grasp, as well. His 34-yard touchdown to wideout Mike Evans last weekend that pushed his season total to 27 tied him with the mark set by Josh Freeman in 2012. The 277 passing yards against the Saints allowed him to jump Brad Johnson (3,811 in 2003) into third place for most by a Bucs quarterback in a single season. Freeman’s 4,065 yards in 2012 is the current benchmark and Winston would surpass it with 178 yards against Carolina. Winston rookie effort of 4,042 yards ranks second.
WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark LoMoglio/PR
Evans can join in on the action, too. The third-year receiver needs one more touchdown reception to tie the single-season team record he set at 12 as a rookie in 2014.
Also in reach is the single-season franchise mark for yards receiving. Mark Carrier holds the record with his 1,422-yard campaign in 1989. Evans sits in fifth place at 1,256 and needs 167 on Sunday to get on top of the list. The only time Evans has gone for 167 or more came in 2014 when he torched the Washington Redskins for 209 yards and two scores on seven catches. The budding star eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times this season, topping out Week 9 against Atlanta when he caught a season-high 11 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Evans can set a personal milestone with nine catches Sunday, which would put him at 100 for the first time in his career. The only other Bucs player to hit triple digits in that stat category came when receiver Keyshawn Johnson hauled in 106 in 2001.
Jameis’s development is the silver lining of the Bucs missing the playoffs. We all know he will be working this entire off season to get better. Hopefully a few draft picks spent on the offense and a more mature wiser Jameis should be enough to get this offense into a top tier scoring offense next year.
The second year for a QB is supposed to be the most indicative of how a QB’s career will pan out. Jameis did start the season throwing a bunch of picks. Which was very concerning because it looked like he took a serious step backwards. Then he stopped throwing the picks but seemed to be gun shy and was constantly over throwing his receivers. Then they went on the winning streak as the defense really stepped it up. Not perfect but encouraging enough that I think we will be next year’s sleeper pick for the Super Bowl. I believe in Jameis that much.
The only thing the players and coaches care about now is just winning the game, beating a divisional opponent at home and finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2010. Personal records for individual players mean next to nothing.
“Just win baby, just win!”
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