FAB 2. What’s Wrong With Winston?
It didn’t take reading my post-game 2-Point Conversion column for Dirk Koetter to do the right thing and bench Jameis Winston in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick after a four-interception meltdown performance at Cincinnati. A simple look at Winston’s turnovers – 11 this year since returning from a three-game suspension – and the fact that Tampa Bay is a league-worst minus-13 in the turnover margin category was all Koetter needed.
Winston is playing his worst football at the absolute worst time. The Bucs had a real chance to be 4-3 entering a tough road game at Carolina this week. If Tampa Bay had been minus-two in the turnover ratio last Sunday they probably beat Cincinnati, especially if Winston didn’t throw an ill-time pick-six. If the Bucs are even in the turnover ratio they likely kill the Bengals.
But that didn’t happen. The Bucs were minus-four instead, thanks to Winston and a defense that hasn’t generated a takeaway since the Pittsburgh game in Week 3.
The timing of Winston’s sudden free fall into Turnoverville, not only coincides with the attempt of the Bucs to make a playoff berth, but also the fact that Tampa Bay was planning on paying Winston $20.92 million in his fifth-year option, which the team picked up in May for 2019. That option year is only guaranteed for injury, so the Bucs could yank that offer and make him a free agent in the offseason.
Tampa Bay doesn’t want to do that. But it doesn’t want to pay $20.92 million for a guy that is an interception-waiting-to-happen, either.
Winston has played in 48 games in his NFL career and has 50 interceptions and 21 fumbles thus far. That’s 71 turnovers – an average of nearly 1.5 turnovers per game. According to @NFLResearch, Winston has thrown two or more interceptions in five consecutive games – all four appearances this year and the 2017 season finale. That’s tied for the most in the NFL since 1990. His 13 interceptions in those games are the most in a five-game span over the last five years.
Some people still don’t grasp how badly Jameis Winston is playing. Maybe this will help:
Ryan Fitzpatrick passer rating: 119.3
NFL average passer rating: 93.9
Jameis Winston passer rating: 74.7
It’s not just that he’s getting outplayed by Fitz. He’s getting outplayed by EVERYONE.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) October 31, 2018
When Koetter looks at the performance of Fitzpatrick and Winston this year, it’s not even close. If Fitzpatrick plays well in Carolina and beyond and keeps Tampa Bay in playoff contention with some wins down the stretch, there is a real chance that Winston may not see the field again this year.
Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have thrown almost the exact same number of passes this season.
Fitzpatrick has 369 more yards and 7 more touchdowns, while Winston has 5 more interceptions, 5 more sacks and 2 more fumbles.
Fitzpatrick is the better QB and it’s not close. pic.twitter.com/4HyvGDeJ2e
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) October 31, 2018
“What’s getting us beat is we’re minus-13 in turnover margin – that’s what’s getting us beat,” Koetter said. “All that other stuff, that’s all a small part of it, but if we fix the turnover margin, we’ll be fine.”
Winston is one of six quarterbacks this year that currently has a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio, joining the likes of Bills quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen, Cardinals quarterbacks Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen, and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. That’s an ugly QB group to be in.
Here is a list of all of the starting quarterbacks in the league this year, when they were drafted, what their team’s record is with them as the starter and what their touchdown-to-interception ratio is.
Patriots QB Tom Brady (2000: Round 6) – 5-2 record – 16 TDs/7 INTs
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (2012: 8th overall) – 4-4 record – 8 TDs/5 INTs
Jets QB Sam Darnold (2018: 3rd overall) – 3-5 record – 10 TDs/10 INTs
Bills QB Josh Allen (2018: 7th overall) – 2-3 record – 2 TDs/5 INTs
Bills QB Nathan Peterman (2017: 5th round) 0-2 record – 1 TD/4 INTs
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (2017: 10th overall) – 7-1 record – 26 TDs/6 INTs
Chargers QB Philip Rivers (2004: 4th overall) – 5-2 record – 17 TDs/3 INTs
Broncos QB Case Keenum (2013: UFA) – 3-5 record – 10 TDs/10 INTs
Oakland QB Derek Carr (2014: 2nd round) – 1-6 record – 10 TDs/8 INTs
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (2004: 11th overall) – 4-2-1 record – 14 TDs/7 INTs
Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2011: 2nd round) – 5-3 record – 17 TDs/8 INTs
Ravens QB Joe Flacco (2008: 18th overall) – 4-4 record – 12 TDs/6 INTs
Browns QB Baker Mayfield (2018: 1st overall) – 1-4 record – 8 TDs/6 INTs
Browns QB Tyrod Taylor (2011: 6th round) – 1-1-1 record – 2 TDs/2 INTs
Texans QB Deshaun Watson (2017: 12th overall) – 5-3 record – 15 TDs/7 INTs
Titans QB Marcus Mariota (2015: 2nd overall) – 2-3 record – 3 TDs/5 INTs
Titans QB Blaine Gabbert (2011: 10th overall) – 1-2 record – 1 TD/1 INT
Colts QB Andrew Luck (2012: 1st overall) – 3-5 record – 20 TDs/8 INTs
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (2014: 3rd overall) – 3-5 record – 9 TDs/8 INTs
Redskins QB Alex Smith (2005: 1st overall) – 5-2 record – 8 TDs/2 INTs
Eagles QB Carson Wentz (2016: 2nd overall) – 4-4 record – 13 TDs/2 INTs
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (2016: 4th round) – 4-4 record – 8 TDs/4 INTs
Giants QB Eli Manning (2004: 1st overall) – 1-7 record – 8 TDs/6 INTs
Rams QB Jared Goff (2016: 1st overall) – 8-0 record – 17 TDs/5 INTs
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (2012: 3rd round) – 4-3 – 16 TDs/4 INTs
Cardinals QB Josh Rosen (2018: 10th overall) – 2-3 record – 5 TDs/6 INTs
Cardinals QB Sam Bradford (2010: 1st overall) – 0-3 record – 2 TDs/4 INTs
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo (2014: 2nd round) – 1-2 record – 5 TDs/3 INTs
49ers QB C.J. Beathard (2017: 3rd round) 0-5 record – 8 TDs/7 TDs
49ers QB Nick Mullens (2017: UFA) 1-0 record – 3 TDs/0 INTs
Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky (2017: 2nd overall) – 4-3 record – 15 TDs/6 INTs
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins (2012: 4th round) – 4-3-1 record – 16 TDs/4 INTs
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (2005: 24th overall) – 3-3-1 record – 13 TDs/1 INT
Lions QB Matthew Stafford (2009: 1st overall) – 3-4 record – 14 TDs/6 INTs
Saints QB Drew Brees (2001: 2nd round) – 6-1 record – 14 TDs/1 INT
Panthers QB Cam Newton (2011: 1st overall) – 5-2 record – 13 TDs/4 INTs
Falcons QB Matt Ryan (2008: 3rd overall) – 3-4 record – 15 TDs/2 INTs
Bucs QB Jameis Winston (2015: 1st overall) – 1-2 record – 6 TDs/10 INTs
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (2005: 7th round) – 2-2 record – 13 TDs/5 INTs
Winston stands out like a sore thumb – and for all the wrong reasons.
So what is it going to take for Winston to play smarter football, make better decisions and reduce the amount of turnovers he has? Maybe it was getting benched. Winston has never been benched before.
He’s been suspended before. Winston was suspended for a game at Florida State. He was also suspended for the first three games this year.
Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken were asked this week about long of a leash Fitzpatrick will get. Both coaches responded by saying they are focused on this week against Carolina, which is an indication that Winston’s benching may not be permanent unless Fitzpatrick comes in, lights it up and wins several games over the next two months.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeSean Jackson are 6-for-7 on passes of 20 or more air yards this season (with three TDs). With Winston, Jackson is 1-for-6. In five games with Fitzpatrick, Jackson’s scored 60.7 fantasy points. In four games with Winston, Jackson’s had 22.7 fantasy points.
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) November 1, 2018
Koetter has said time and again that Winston is a professional. But he’s also human – a 24-year old human. So what’s causing Winston to regress this year, especially this year when Koetter’s offense has taken off and left the gravitational pull of the Earth?
Winston was lauded for his ability to compartmentalize his very public sexual assault accusation and still play at a high level at Florida State. While that was a doozy of a problem to have to deal with in college, it was one issue. Winston had to deal with that issue and the intense spotlight that went with it, go to school and play quarterback for the Seminoles. That’s it.
This year, Winston has a myriad of issues he’s dealing with. The first is the fall-out from his alleged groping incident of a female Uber driver in Arizona from two years ago. That resulted in a three-game suspension, and the league put Winston on notice that his next off-field incident could result in a season-long ban from the NFL.
While Winston was away, he saw a quarterback come in and play better than he ever has with back-to-back NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and three-straight 400-yard passing games, which was an NFL record. Fitzpatrick instantly captivated the city of Tampa, forged belief in him within the locker room and FitzMagic become a national phenomenal after beating the Eagles in Week 2.
For the first time in his football career, Winston was not “the man” on his football team. Fitzpatrick was – and still is.
Winston also lost his captainship this year, which was another first.
Winston has just been benched for the first time, too. Getting suspended is one thing, but this is the first time a coach has told him that the team is better off playing another quarterback. That has to sting.
He’s thrown just six touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the first time and has the worst TD-to-INT ratio of his life.
Don’t forget being a first-time father with a son born less than 30 days before the start of training camp.
And he’s living with a woman for the first time – Winston’s fiancée Breion Allen, who is the mother of his child.
And he’s switched agents for the first time.
And he’s seeing a counselor as mandated by the NFL as part of his league discipline.
And he’s being sued in civilian court by the Uber driver he allegedly groped.
This isn’t a list of excuses on Winston’s behalf, as I believe wholeheartedly in benching him and starting Fitzpatrick. I’m just trying to identify what might have caused Winston to be “off” this year upon his return from his three-game suspension. These are all legitimate issues that he’s had to deal with in 2018.
So think of all the voices Winston has in his ear on a weekly basis.
His father, who has played a major role in Winston’s life.
His baby boy, who is now four months old.
His new agents.
His personal coach, George Whitfield, who worked with him during his three-week hiatus from the team.
His quarterbacks coach, Mike Bajakian.
Monken, his offensive coordinator.
Koetter, his head coach.
Do you think all of those voices are singing in concert and telling him the exact same thing? No, of course not.
He’s getting different advice and different direction from different people, and he has had to learn how to discern what’s right and which advice to follow at an incredibly young age. And Winston has undoubtedly struggled to do it.
That’s a lot of personal pressure for any 24-year old to deal with in essentially a contract year as his $20.92 million fifth-year option is only guaranteed for injury. The Bucs can pull that offer at any time and make him a free agent.
And yes, some of those voices were needlessly put in his life by Winston’s own doing. Winston put himself into this situation by his own poor decisions on and off the field. He addressed the media on Thursday and said that his benching was “humbling.”
“It’s a setback,” Winston said. “But it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. It just tells you that you’ve got to continue to get better. I’ve never been in this situation before, so I have to learn from it and I have to grow from it. I have no choice.”
That’s the scary part about Winston moving forward. He’s never been in this situation before.
Winston has always been the best football player.
He was a top QB recruit in high school. He was a national champion and a Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State at Florida State. He was the Seminoles captain. He was the number one overall draft pick. He went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and had back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons in his first two years in the league.
Now for the first time in his life, Winston is not the best. And I don’t know if he knows how to deal with it. I don’t know if he knows how to overcome this and significantly reduce the amount of turnovers.
Time will tell, and it will be fascinating to see how the rest of this season plays out over the remaining nine games. I do think the Bucs will give him time to try to figure it out.
Right or wrong, I don’t think Tampa Bay is ready to give up on Winston just yet.