FAB 4. I Like The Edgy Winston Better
It’s been one hell of a year for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston – emphasis on the word hell.
Over a month ago I wrote about Winston’s penchant for turnovers in a previous SR’s Fab 5, calling him a “turnover machine” and imploring him to stop turning the ball over. That was right before one of the worst games of his career – his four-interception fiasco at Cincinnati that led to his benching, and rightfully so.
A few weeks ago in another SR’s Fab 5, I listed some of the things Winston has been dealing with mentally and emotionally and I think it bears repeating for some of our newer readers, so please indulge me as I quote from that previous column.
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 five 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.
It turns out, Winston dealt with it the right way.
A month ago, it looked like Winston’s career in Tampa Bay may be in jeopardy. But he’s looked like a brand new quarterback over the last two weeks since regaining his starting job. He’s accounted for four touchdowns and zero turnovers in wins against San Francisco and Carolina. He’ll need to continue to play turnover-free football against New Orleans for the Bucs to have a chance at keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with a win over the 10-2 Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Winston has emerged from his benching with a new edge about him. Like he’s got something to prove – which he does as he’s on the verge of earning $20.92 million with his fifth-year option. I like the new, edgy Winston.
It’s less smiling, less rah-rah and more centered and more focused. Winston is even more serious about winning, and it seems like Dirk Koetter’s message about taking care of the football is finally getting through.
“He’s always been a very intense guy,” Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin said of Winston. “Obviously this year’s different, it had to be different this year. He has been through a lot, but Jameis is one of those consistent people. It’s been great for him to kind of get a chance to watch, as much as that sucks and as bad as it can be. He’s turned it into a positive. He understands that we really have to limit turnovers if we’re going to win these games. So, I think he’s doing a great job. He’s a smart guy. He’s been able to take a negative and turn it into a positive.”
I think we’ve seen a return to the more edgy Winston we all saw after the season finale loss at Carolina during his rookie season in 2015 when he called out some of his teammates for not preparing as hard as the coaches did. These last two post-game press conferences have been all about winning and there has just been a different presence about Winston.
Others around One Buccaneer Place – now known as AdventHealth Training Center – have noticed as well. Let’s hope it continues.
“Jameis is continuing to improve everyday, and since I’ve met him, he’s been that guy,” Tampa Bay wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “He wants to be great, he wants to continue to get better everyday. You can tell by the way he carries himself. You can’t beat around the bush. He’s been through a lot this year, and for a guy to go through that, it’s got to take a toll on him.
“But to see him come in with a learning attitude after he got benched, and be hungry to learn from Fitz, you can tell that he’s learned a lot from those two weeks. Now that he’s back as our starter, those leadership characteristics that he’s always had are coming out. He’s got an edge and wants to prove a lot of people wrong.”