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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Winston’s Improvement Drives Bucs Offense

In last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column I documented Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston’s struggles in prime time games since entering the league as the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Winston’s 1-5 record in night games is currently a stain on his promising young career.

This week I’ve researched Winston’s start to the 2017 and compared it to the first four games of the 2016 season to see if there was any improvement – and if so, in what categories.

The results are very promising.

Although the offense has only scored eight more points through the first four games than it did a year ago, the Bucs are 2-2 instead of the 1-3 record Tampa Bay had through the first month of the season last year. Winston’s improvement this season has a lot to do with that.

Last year Winston completed 78-of-130 passes (58.2 percent) for 1,077 yards and had eight touchdowns, eight interceptions, two fumbles and was sacked 10 times while compiling a 72.9 QB rating.

This season Winston has completed 94-of-154 passes (61 percent) for 1,198 yards with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and no fumbles lost for a 92.4 QB rating. Despite throwing 24 more passes this season than he did at this time a year ago, Winston has been sacked three less times.

Winston has 121 more passing yards, five less interceptions, two less fumbles a two-percent completion percentage increase and nearly a 20-point QB rating improvement than he had at this juncture in 2016.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston
QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images

“That’s really impressive to look at and see how much he has improved with the turnovers,” said Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries. “And that is us as a team, as well. It is one of our biggest points of emphasis going into every single year. If you win the turnover margin you will more than likely win the game. That’s a good thing moving forward.”

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter is pleased with the lack of turnovers from the offense thus far.

“I think the New England game is only the second game in the least three years that we’ve won the turnover margin and lost the game,” Koetter said. “I think we’re something like 18-2 or 19-2 – something like that. The Cardinals are almost exactly the same way. We go over that with the team every week and both teams are real similar. It’s cliché, but the stats back it up that if you win the turnover margin you’ve got a great chance to win the game.”

So far the Bucs have only won one more game than they did last year after the first quarter, but keep in mind that Tampa Bay missed the playoffs by just one game last year. Maybe that one first quarter win this year in the team’s 2-2 start will be a catalyst for the Bucs making the postseason this year.

Through four games, Tampa Bay’s offense ranks sixth in the league in total yards with 374 yards per game, and the passing attack ranks third with 288 yards per game. The Bucs have amassed 1,496 yards through the first four games of the 2017 campaign, which ranks second in team history behind the team’s 1,498 yards that it produced in 2003.

Winston already has had three consecutive 300-yard games over the past three weeks after having three in all of 2016 and two 300-yard games during his rookie season.

Although Winston had one more passing touchdown and one more rushing touchdown through the first four games last year, he also lost a fumble against Los Angeles that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown and had a 60-yard pick-six against Arizona to essentially negate those scores.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson - Photo by: Getty Images
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson – Photo by: Getty Images

That brings us to Tampa Bay’s fifth game of the 2017 season, which is a return to Arizona to face a Cardinals team that handed the Bucs their worst loss of the 2016 season, 40-7, in Week 2. It was also Winston’s worst performance of the 2016 season and one of the worst games in his career.

In that game, Winston was 27-of-52 for 243 yards (4.7 avg) with one touchdown, a career-high four interceptions, including a pick-six, a fumble, and a 39.2 QB rating.

The Cardinals played a good deal of man coverage and also some Cover 2, doubling Mike Evans on occasion and taking away deep routes. That forced Winston to have to be patient in the pocket, which he wasn’t. As a result Winston’s longest pass of the game was a 24-yarder to Adam Humphries.

Evans was targeted a whopping 18 times last year at Arizona, but finished with just six catches for 70 yards and one touchdown. Two of Winston’s four interceptions were on throws to Evans last year. Winston’s first interception was a deep ball overthrown to Evans. His last interception was a last-play Hail Mary to Evans, who was double covered in the end zone.

It will be interesting to see how Winston fares this year against the Cardinals, who are 2-3 this season and were 0-1 last year when they faced the Bucs. Arizona just lost one of its top pass rusher, 3-4 outside linebacker Markus Golden, to a season-ending knee injury. Golden had 1.5 sacks of Winston last year. This year the Bucs must contend with another outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who leads Arizona with five sacks.

The good news is that Tampa Bay’s offensive line, whose talent was questioned by some heading into the 2017 season, has performed well in pass protection thus far. That level of play will have to continue in Arizona for Winston and the Bucs to grab their first road win of the year and avenge last season’s loss.

While Winston and Koetter love the explosive plays in the passing game, if the Cardinals come out and play zone instead of man coverage, as the Vikings did three weeks ago and the Patriots did on Thursday night, Winston will have to be more patient and accurate with the check-downs and underneath passes. If Winston and the Bucs have success with that approach – in addition to running the ball – early in the game and move the chains, march down the field and score touchdowns, the Cardinals may abandon that approach and go back to man coverage in order to bring a safety down in the box to help stop the run.

Koetter also needs to be more patient with the running game. Doug Martin averaged 7.9 yards per carry at halftime after carrying the ball seven times for 55 yards, but he only received six carries in the second half, despite the fact that the Bucs never trailed by more than nine points at any time in the game. Martin finished with 74 yards on 13 carries (5.7 avg.) and one touchdown.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images

“If we are getting the Doug that we’ve seen at his best – and he did look good the other night in the 25 snaps that he got – it gives you an explosive back, a back that can turn a four-yard gain into a 12-yard gain and once a while a 12-yard gain into a 50-yard gain,” Koetter said. “Next to that turnover thing, as we always say, explosives [are] the next biggest thing. We actually had our most explosive plays of the year in the New England game – we had nine. We were there on turnovers and we were there on explosives and we still got beat.”

If Winston continues to protect the ball and is patient and accurate with his throws, if Martin continues to run the ball well, and if Koetter doesn’t abandon the ground game too early, the Bucs should very well have revenge in the desert against the Cardinals on Sunday.

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  1. Why is most of your Article about the Offense and it’s the Defense which is clearly the main concern? Our offense is fine as long as Koetter utilizes all the tools he has and lets Winston loosen up with some short easy 5 yard passes with hooks and comebacks to help get him in sync.
    The Defense is a whole other story. We’re short on healthy DE’s from the get go and we don’t seem to put enough pressure to actually force the QB to throw earlier than planned; usually the QB has plenty of time and then some to find multiple targets. I know this is an unpopular opinion because it’s negative; well it is what it is. Wwhy do we have one DE on the PS; why not 3 or 4; this is where good scouting comes in to help when we have continue injuries with smaller, or past their prime, or pass rushing versus lack of run stopping or vice versus players. It doesn’t help when our CB’s are playing less aggressive. Not sure if any of the 4 who are questionable are going to play. Just my thoughts here, but Smith has to utilize his best players available for the game and make adjustments to his defesive scheme; in other words, get more aggressive and take more chances. What good is it to have a left DE who is a good run stopper, but no threat as a pass rusher; seems to me he might be more fit to be part of the DT rotation or in on obvious rushig plays, but definitely not a DE when it’s a passing situation. How on earth did we ignore our pass rushing issue in the last draft when it was a real issue; somehow the GM and Coach bought into the smaller Spense and Smith would be the answer.

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    • Horse,

      I share your sentiment, but as you know the kind of DE help you describe is not walking around out there. The Bucs have heard you. They’re trying to get DE help as DE Ryan Russell is hurt and will be MIA for a few weeks. They brought in Lamarr Houston for a look, but no deal, signed with Texans. There is DE Owa Odighizuwa, but he is coming off a 3 game PED suspension. Was a highly rated DE coming out of UCLA as 3rd pick, but has been released several times – worked out for the Pats, but not signed – too risky.

      And as you suggest, the Bucs have added 3 Beefy DEs to the PS:

      79 O’Connor, Patrick DE 6-4 270 23 R Eastern Michigan
      71 Ward, Channing DE 6-4 279 24 1 Mississippi
      78 Webster, Larry DE 6-6 276 27 4 Bloomsburg

      This pass rush problem has persisted far too long, but evidently not easy to fix. The 2018 draft is loaded with DE talent, but there’s no guarantee – Myles Garrett, picked #1 in 2017 draft just played his first game last week. We’re trying, just gotta try harder. Go Bucs!

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      • Macabee, thank you. It’s hard for me to let this go especially when Coach Smith isn’t taking more responsibility about his pass rush. I didn’t realize there were so many DE’s on the PS; I hope it’s a revolving door and we luck out and find someone. What’s your thoughts on Alexander, David, Ward, Russell actually being Active on Sunday?

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        • No harm Horse, just a devoted Buc fan that wants to win. I get it! Re LBs Alexander and David are back at practice although limited. I think David plays, Kwon a game time decision because of the excellent play of stand-in MLB Kendell Beckwith. LB Adarius Glanton is also playing at a high level. I’m not too worried about LBs our deepest position. Aside from CB Grimes, I’m a little concerned about cagey old QB Carson Palmer picking on the other CBs especially if they play off their man. Let’s hope VHIII has a good game.

          Here is Greg Auman’s tweet on DE Ryan Russell: Bucs DE Ryan Russell hasn’t practiced all week due to shoulder, so he’s safest bet to be not playing Sunday. Some big names still uncertain.

          Horse Keep an eye on newly acquired DE Will Clarke. The Bucs say they are impressed with his pass rush talent. Love your passion and fearless desire to express it. Go Bucs!

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          • Macabee; Thank you, I always enjoy your posts. I am a loyal fan since 1976, but I also know how difficult it is in the NFL to win. We need some luck at times and not wait for it to happen; sometimes we have to show we aren’t predictable in the game both on offense & defense. I know it’s easier to say than do. Surprised Marpet has an injury. I’ll keep an eye on Clark, thank you for the info.

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    • Horse, I beg to differ with you on the current state of offense vs. defense.

      On offense, we may be top 10 in yards, but the scoreboard doesn’t count yards, only points. Being 17th in PPG is not sufficient given the offensive talent we have. We should be well up in the top 10 in points scored, but we’re far from it.

      The thing about piling up yards is that many or most of them seem to come in the second half or fourth quarter, as we’re scrambling to catch up. Just as it was last week vs. the Patriots … our offense was literally dead, except for Martin’s running, through the first three quarters. Opposing defenses tend to get tired by the fourth quarter, and if their team has a lead,as NE did, defenses also tend to let their foot off the gas pedal. So those late yards may look good on a stat sheet, but if they don’t result in points scored, then, literally, what’s the point?

      Sure, special teams gets a good share of the blame last two weeks for missed kicks … but remember, other than XPs, the only reason FGA matter is because we’re not scoring TDs. Through four games the Bucs rank only 20th in red zone scoring efficiency (50%). The top 9 teams all rate greater than 61% in RZE

      Defensively, we’ve been destroyed by injuries with large numbers of starters not suiting up or playing on hobbled ankles. It’s really hard to judge a team that doesn’t have its starters on the field. Last week against the Pats, we still had 4 of 11 starters not suiting up, yet we managed to hold the league’s best offense to only 19 points, less than 2/3 of their weekly total in the prior four games. Overall, even with all the injury absences, the Bucs still rank 14th in points allowed, which is several ranking positions better than our offense in points for.

      At this point our offense needs to focus on starting strong – as Coach Koetter keeps saying is necessary, to play all four quarters of every game – and finishing drives with touchdowns. If our offense had done that in the previous four games, we’d be 3-1 or maybe even 4-0. We also need a stronger commitment to Doug Martin and the run game. And our defense needs to get healthy again, particularly Kwan Alexander and Lavonte David, and get Will Clarke, our new DE replacing Jac Smith, to step up and deliver the sacks that Smith was supposed to deliver this season. The young defenders need to keep learning and getting better.

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      • Naplesfan, I hear you. I thought Pats had a good game plan: don’t make it an offensive contest when you don’t have to. Arizona will play the same way. This is the reason why I am suggesting to give Winston more short pass options in the beginning; Brady does it all the time. Do I think we are going to win? Yes I do. The reason is I don’t believe we will be out coached on offense and defense 2 games in a row. It’s the good to great coaches who adapt to the players they have for each game. Most teams have have injuries in key positions thru out the season; we’re not uniques in this area.

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      • Totally agree with you. People keep using yards to illustrate how effective Winston is. Bottom line- he does not put the ball in the end zone enough. It’s not just on JW, Koetter desires some blame as well. I think our defense plays ABOVE it’s talent level and our offense plays BELOW it’s talent. That falls on both JW and DK.

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        • I agree with that analysis.

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        • Yup, Bucnut.

          My analysis of the offense is not focused on Winston, though he is the leader and most important member of the offense. Last week it was a combination of his off target throws, dropped passes (inexplicably by Cam Brate, of all people!), not running Martin enough (that’s on Coach Koetter), penalties (that killer penatly by Gholston .. geez that was horrible). Just a lot of things not clicking on the offense for three of the four quarters. That’s not the kind of performance that anybody should settle for, let alone celebrate by pointing to total yards gained, but only14 points on the board.

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    • I don’t know what games you’ve been watching, but the defense has been doing their job. Regardless of who’s playing and who’s not playing. They just limited Tom fuckin Brady to 14 points while Winston played like a rookie, as he has all season long. This is going on 10 games now, including preseason, that he looks like crap. He had a messily 100 yards going into the fourth quarter against a garbage defense. The two glaring issues he still hasn’t improved on are the two more important traits for a QB: accuracy and decision making. How the hell do you keep overthrowing a 6’5 receiver? I mean, he’s been playing with him for a few years now, and he still continues to airmail the ball to everyone. The issue here is the offense and the QB. He has arguably some of the best weapons in the league! Goff would kill to have our weapons, and look how he’s performing.

      I’m just tired of everyone sugar coating it for Winston. All these comparisons and these stats, etc etc. The stats tell you a totally different story then what’s happening on the field. If you didn’t watch the Thursday Night game but looked at the stats, you would say, Winston, played pretty good! No, he didn’t. He couldn’t even convert a third down until the fourth quarter.

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      • you are spot on! D- is not the problem. It’s the offense and our “franchise QB”!

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      • Another thing about JW is his play action has really slipped since last season. There’s 6-12″ air showing. He still doesn’t look off his receivers. His coach has 2 players !!

        1st three games, like yrs past, we ran on 1st down approx 3/4 time. 4th game, we actually passed on 1st down in 1st quarter. BUT, w/o play action. This is Pop Warner stuff.

        I really appreciate all the articles and the comments. My nephew and I have a bet on Cardinal game as he lives in Az. We’ll meet o’er Thankgiviang. I can taste my gin/tonic already

        Aloha from Big Island

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    • D held the Pats to 19 points. That was a game on the Offense in general and QB in particular.

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    • horse- I agree with some of your comments, but here are some facts. 1- the Bucs have spent a ton of money and draft picks to buy “weapons for Winston” at the expense of investing in the defense. The D- is playing fairly well given the talent level and investment. The offense is 26th in the league in scoring. In my mind this is ALL on the offense, Koetter and Winston. They just have not delivered, period. The reason I am not optimistic about this team is because I don’t believe that Winston is an elite QB. He is an elite LEADER, but in my mind an average QB. I keep coming back to Andy Dalton. IMO that is what Winston’s career will look like, perhaps a little less. Actually Dalton was making the playoffs by his second year and IMO the Bucs will miss the playoffs again this year. By the way, I woudl love to be wrong with i just said. I think too many people including PR keep looking back to his college days and reading that into his career in the NFL. For all of the talk about JW changing the culture into a winning one, we are just an 8-8 team with really strong talent. JW has had the opportunity to lead many comebacks and by in large has disappointed. Bottom line- the guy is just an average QB and we need to change our focus and draft defense, let Winston hand off to a great running backs and manage the game. We should trade Djax/and invest in D talent, RB and O-line and turn JW into a game manager.

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      • I meant to say that we have the look of an 8-8 team. I have a question for PR and any other posters. Please name me 2 Winston signature wins. He’s been here 2 1/4 years and I can think of 1. On the other hand, I can think of 5 blown end of game opportunities. Is that elite QB play?

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        • He has 7 game winning drives and just one last week! But as usual, you’re invisible from the boards after those games. You’re trying too hard at this point, just pick another team.

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          • two weeks ago I meant.

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          • Sorry that’s just wrong. Look at his pedestrian play during the winning streak last year. In the two biggest games of the year at Dallas and NO he was horrible

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          • Just wrong? How do, because t doesn’t fit your trolling? You asked for two games I gave you 7 and then you want to focus on your specific two games. One of them when our right guard was getting thrown around like a rag doll. Jameis isn’t going anywhere get used to it or get a new team.

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  2. Speaking of DE has anyone head Gholston name called in a game this year? I know he is not counted on for sacks but I have not heard his name on a running play.
    He really needs to step up IMO.

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    • not his role

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  3. just goes to show turnovers & explosives are important but scoring & making your damn kicks is the most important

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  4. I would really love to see Winston hit some guys ON THE RUN. Lets get some YAC !!
    Like the one ball to Desean last week. YAC baby YAC.

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    • And Martin needs at least 20 touches a game.

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  5. We need to start using the phrase OVER RATED to talk about Winston. MOST of hi stat come in garbage time. Bottom line, he is a GREAT leader, but average QB. All Bucs fan should get ready for an Andy Dalton type of career for Winston.

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    • Bucnut, you are such a clown.He hasn’t been perfect, but you were invisible as usual after games like he had against the Giants. You can’t wait to throw complaints and bitch very sub par game he has. Move on already.
      And statements like your last one are clear troll attempts that fail.
      Average QB is your boy down in Tennesse, who probably won’t play again this week.

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      • Look at some facts, like his QB rating. go back and look at the games, which I have and he picks up a lot of his yards during garbage time. The guy is an ok QB, GREAT leader but NOT someone who can carry a team on his back. My point is that we need to forget about more weapons on offense and build a GREAT D, get a GREAT RB and O-line and turn JW into a game manger. We should limit his decision making, have him hand off a lot, and use play action with the great tight ends we have. We should trade D-jax to a team with a QB that can utilize his skills. We should run a bunch of 2 and 3 tight end sets and take decision making out of his hands.

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  6. Here I am chiming in from the back of the train again. I am late to the party again. Maybe someone will read this on Saturday. :-J

    I just listened here on the internet to the last couple of sessions Dirk had with the press. Here are a few thoughts to throw out.
    On the game against the Cards:

    Mike Evans will do much better against Patrick Peterson this year.

    The 100+ yards from DeSean Jackson bodes well for this week. Also, we now have four receivers with 200+ yards in the first four games. This is a first in Buccaneer history.

    Doug Martin is back and will contribute much to the balance in our attack. More running plays will happen unless we are not somehow behind by a bunch early in the game again.

    Hopefully, we won’t need more than one or two field goals this week. Our “new” field goal team only has had three days together. They are all pros …but …

    Our O-line is doing better than last year at this point. Yes, this means they are improved.

    Actually, there was some improvement on our D-line last week. Good push up the middle, two sacks and the Patriots were held to 19 in our loss. (Of course a loss is unacceptable.)

    I suspect that when we get Alexander and David back starting (not this week), we may see Beckwith, Bond, Glanton and Lynch thrown in to the mix more often. I look for the 3-4 to be used more frequently. I see this happening at least for the interim until our DEs get up to speed. If this does happen it will be after this week.

    I know that Koetter did not actually say all of this. I am trying to guess by what he does not say and by what hints he gives in what he does say in reply to some of the questions.

    Go Bucs!!!!!!!!

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  7. Winston is fine. People are seeing what they want to believe and not what is in front of them. Winston’s progress is remarkable given the circumstances.

    People saying defense isn’t an issue are ignoring the Bucs pass defense is ranked 31st in the NFL and total defense is 30th. Bucs are also ranked 32nd in the NFL in terms of sacks with four. The 31st ranked team (Jets) have seven sacks.

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    • He’s not fine. That’s the thing! The people who are looking at it realistically, and not with bias can see exactly what the issue is here. Winston is holding this team back. There are no excuses for his play this year. All the weapons he has, the oline has done a good job of keeping him clean and giving him time to find open receivers, and the defense has kept games manageable for him to win the game for us. He just hasn’t done it. We should’ve blown out the Giants and the Pats, but Winston barely got it done against perhaps the worst team in the league, and a bum defense.

      An overwhelming amount of Bucs fans are seeing what they want to see. Like you, they just look at the stats and think stats mean everything and he’s doing a good job. “Remarkable given the circumstances”??? What are you getting at? The circumstances that our defense has kept us in it to win it, yet he can’t get it done? The fact that he has a pretty good oline this year that’s given him plenty of time to go through reads and find the open guy? The weapons on offense he has at his disposal? Which is it, cause I’m getting tired of this bias talk that he can’t do anything wrong. Wake the fuck up.

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      • you are spot on. An average NFL QB( think Case Keenum) with these weapons would be putting up 28+points per week

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    • Bucs D is 14th ranked in points against, which is the ONLY meaningful stat for defenses. Bucs O is ranked 17th in points for, and that is the ONLY meaningful stat for offenses.

      Ws and Ls are the only meangful statf for teams, and points for being more than points against, game after game, is what delivers Ws. Everything else is just explanation for the points for and against., and fodder for internet argument.

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  8. “Winston already has had three consecutive 300-yard games over the past three weeks”

    ….and played poorly to below average in two of them. It’s not just numbers.

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    • Right- he gets most of his stats in garbage time.

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      • It’s good to see the WInston haters in full force stroking each others comments.

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        • I have no hate for JW. If he starts playing like an elite QB, I’ll be leading the parade in saying so. At this point, he is nothing more than an average NFL QB

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