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FAB 1. Winston’s Last Stand?
Sunday might be Jameis Winston’s last stand with the Buccaneers.
No, I’m not saying another poor outing or another loss will cause Winston to be benched or that the team will necessarily turn to Ryan Griffin down the stretch.
I’m saying another multiple interception game – and I feel it coming – coupled with another loss – I feel that coming, too – will be a turning point for the Bucs’ brass and the Glazers when it comes to possibly bringing Winston back to be the quarterback in Tampa Bay for 2020.
Winston has played well against Atlanta before, winning his first three games against the Falcons, including two on the road. But the Bucs are 0-4 against the Falcons with Winston at quarterback, dating back to 2016.
Yet Winston has had success against these NFC South foes despite the team’s losses. In seven games against Atlanta, he’s completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,985 yards with 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. In both games last year, which were decided by a total of seven points, Winston completed 68 percent of his passes, threw for 395 yards in Atlanta and 345 yards in Tampa Bay, while tossing a combined eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
But in his last five games, in which Tampa Bay is 1-4, Winston has thrown 13 interceptions and fumbled eight times and only thrown eight touchdowns. While not all of those turnovers are Winston’s fault – head coach Bruce Arians suggested that only 10 of Winston’s NFL-leading interceptions are his fault – it’s fair to say that Winston isn’t playing as well as he did from Week 2 to Week 5 when he threw 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions while guiding Tampa Bay to a 2-2 record during that span.
It’s fair to say that Winston certainly isn’t trending up right now.
When Bucs general manager Jason Licht selected Winston out of Florida State with the first overall pick in 2015, Licht thought Winston had the “it” factor.
It turns out he does.
Although it’s not the “it” factor the Bucs were hoping Winston for as he won a national title, a Heisman Trophy and lost one game at FSU in his two seasons as a starter.
Instead it’s been a different kind of “it” factor.
It’s an “it” factor that includes one part head-scratching poor decisions, one part bad luck and an awful lot of turnovers.
The first word in the phrase “bad luck” is “bad.”
Call it what you want – bad luck, bad mojo, a black cloud – wherever Winston goes, turnovers seem to follow.
In five years in the NFL, Winston is approaching a whopping 100 turnovers between his 76 interceptions and his 18 lost fumbles, according to NFL.com. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise as Winston threw 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions as a two-year starter for the Seminoles.
“We’ve got to quit giving it away,” Arians said. “It’s not a talent issue. It’s a performance issue. We’re turning the ball over.’’
I like Winston. I applauded this team’s selection of him in 2015. I’ve stood up for him, defended him and waited for him to turn into a winner – something other than a turnover machine. For all that Tampa Bay has invested in Winston from the first overall pick to the tens of millions of dollars to all the time and patience, I want Winston to be the team’s franchise quarterback. I’ve waited for that.
But after five years I’m still waiting.
And so are you.
And so are the Bucs.
Will it happen in his sixth year – his second season with Arians?
Will it ever happen, or is Winston just destined to be a bad luck turnover machine?
If we are to only evaluate Winston only on this year as Arians has said, which is what I wrote about last week, then he has a 3-7 record as a starter with a league-high 18 interceptions as a fifth-year quarterback. Not good.
The interceptions aren’t all his fault.
The losses aren’t all his fault.
But no current starter has even come close to turning the ball over like Winston has in the league within the last five years – or even the last decade. Eli Manning and Blake Bortles were close, but both are now backups.
Coming off his second game with four interceptions or more this year with a four-INT performance in last week’s 34-17 loss to New Orleans, I just feel like we’re about to see another multi-interception game from Winston in Atlanta on Sunday against a rejuvenated and re-inspired Falcons defense that has recorded 11 sacks and four interceptions in the last two games. For the Bucs’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.
The Winston apologists will lament the fact that he hasn’t gotten help from a defense that has ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in points allowed over the last three years. Nor has he gotten help from a consistent running game or from an offensive line that has given up 40 sacks and 41 sacks over the past two years, and is on pace to surrender 57 sacks this season.
Those apologists certainly have some legitimate points, but Winston is also not free from blame.
Winton’s penchant for being the cause of – or at least a contributor of – turnovers reminds me of former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, the team’s first-round pick in 2008. Talib had talent, but it seemed like he had a black cloud hanging over him wherever he went.
Talib got into a fight with fellow rookie and Bucs teammate Cory Boyd at the NFL Rookie Symposium upon being drafted. He was suspended one game in 2010 after getting in a fight with a taxi driver.
In the 2011 offseason, Garland, Texas police issued a felony warrant for Talib for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly fired a gun at his sister’s boyfriend. Chargers were ultimately dropped due to insufficient evidence and character issues involving the boyfriend.
In 2012, Talib was suspended for four games for using Adderall without a prescription. Despite his talent, the Bucs felt like he was a bad influence on the team and another suspension waiting to happen. Not wanting to deal with another headache, Tampa Bay traded Talib to New England later that year where he spent two seasons.
Talib, who became a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, spent four productive years with Denver where he won Super Bowl 50. But on June 5, 2016, Talib reported that he was shot in the leg outside a Dallas strip club. He later revealed that he lied and falsified the police report, and actually shot himself in the leg.
Winston has had a few major, well-publicized off-field issues, but not the volume of incidents that Talib has had. The off-field issues are what have dogged Talib throughout the years. For Winston it’s been the turnovers on the field.
Unless the Bucs don’t win another game this year and Winston winds up with more interceptions than touchdowns (he’s already close), I suspect Arians and Licht will use the franchise tag on him in 2020. Winston certainly hasn’t done anything this year to warrant the faith that comes with a long-term contract extension.
The Bucs will have a few month after the season to determine if they want to roll the dice and sign another veteran quarterback – as Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Los Angeles’ Philip Rivers and New Orleans’ Teddy Bridgewater might be available – or roll the dice with one more year of Winston. If it’s anybody but the 27-year old Bridgewater, look for the Bucs to draft a quarterback next year to be the heir apparent once Dalton or Rivers hangs it up.
If Winston returns, don’t rule out the Bucs drafting a quarterback in the first or second round to compete with him in 2020. Since I have already profiled some of the veteran QB options the Bucs may have next year in a recent SR’s Fab 5, let’s take a look at some of the top quarterbacks that will be available in next year’s NFL Draft.