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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com 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 Primetime Woes Continue
Let’s not beat around the bush. Nick Folk’s three missed field goals cost the Buccaneers a chance to upset the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football in Tampa Bay. The Bucs could have used those nine points in a 19-14 loss that puts the team at 2-2 on the season and snaps a six-game home winning streak dating back to last year.
Yet as bad as Folk was on Thursday night, a good deal of the blame for this loss falls on the shoulders of third-year quarterback Jameis Winston. Usually reliable tight end Cameron Brate didn’t do Winston any favors with four dropped passes before catching a late fourth quarter touchdown pass. And Dirk Koetter’s helter skeltor play-calling did little to get Winston into a rhythm early.
But Winston isn’t a rookie anymore. The training wheels are off and this is the kind of big-time, playoff-atmosphere game that he needs to show he can consistently win before he becomes an elite quarterback. This is the type of game that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger win. Heck, this is the type of game that Cam Newton won last week when he and the Carolina Panthers upset the Patriots in New England.
Winston has had a few fourth quarter comebacks, such as last year’s 17-16 win over Carolina and a 19-17 win at Kansas City, but he’s also had plenty of games where he’s fallen short in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay’s 26-20 loss at Dallas and a 37-32 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams last season come to mind.
The Patriots game reminded me of a lot of the Rams game from a year ago – albeit with fewer points. In both games the Bucs got down into the red zone and Winston had a chance to win it with a great throw. In both games that great throw never came and Tampa Bay lost.
“Just a bad decision on my part,” Winston said on his final pass, which was intended for rookie tight end O.J. Howard but was thrown too soon. “I didn’t give anybody a chance. Like I said, there’s two seconds on the game, the only thing that can hurt you is throwing the ball where nobody can get it and that’s what I did there. But, we’ll bounce back. It’s a learning experience for me. I’m happy the way we fought, we battled. We never gave up. The defense played phenomenal. Offensive line protected great. The receivers caught the football. Running backs ran hard. The quarterback has to make plays to win in NFL football. Quarterback has to make plays.”
Truer words have never been spoken from Winston.
The Bucs didn’t just draft Winston in the first round in 2016. He was the number one overall pick. Winston was the best player in the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s time for him to grow up and become a better playmaker.
Not just in crunch time, but throughout all four quarters.
You see Winston didn’t lose the game on the last play. That was just the play where he didn’t win the game.
Where Winston and the Bucs lost the game was in the first half when they trailed 13-7 and blew several opportunities by not converting a third down until less than two minutes remained in the third quarter. With Winston and the Bucs it was yet another maddeningly slow start in a primetime game where Tampa Bay now has a 1-4 record dating back to Winston’s rookie season in 2015.
A first glance at Winston’s stats would make you believe that he plays well in nationally televised primetime games. In his five appearances in night games Winston has completed 113-of-198 (57 percent) passes for 1,424 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
On the surface it looks like Winston out-dueled Brady as the Bucs’ signal caller completed 26-of-46 passes for 334 yards (56.5 percent) with one touchdown and no interceptions. But that wasn’t the case as 225 of Winston’s passing yards came in the fourth quarter. He only passed for 109 yards in the first three quarters and too many of his errant passes came on third downs that forced the Bucs to punt.
Therein lies the problem for Winston. He’s a notoriously slow starter in primetime games and it absolutely kills the Bucs’ chances of winning.
2015: 31-23 Loss at St. Louis on TNF
Winston: 29-of-50 for 363 yards (58 percent) with 2 TDs, 1 INT
First Half: 6-of-12 (50 percent) for 49 yards
2016: 17-14 Win at Carolina on MNF
Winston: 18-of-30 for 219 yards (60 percent) with 1 TD, no INTs
First Half: 9-of-14 (64 percent) for 85 yards
2016: 43-28 Loss vs. Atlanta on TNF
Winston: 23-of-37 for 261 yards (62.2 percent) with 3 TDs, no INTs
First Half: 13-of-19 (68 percent) for 136 2 TDs
2016: 26-20 Loss at Dallas on SNF
Winston: 17-of-35 for 247 yards (48.6 percent) with 2 TDs, no INTs
First Half: 6-of-12 (50 percent) for 81 yards, one INT
2017: 19-14 Loss vs. New England
Winston: 26-of-46 for 334 yards (56.5 percent) with 1 TD, no INTs
First Half: 8-of-16 (50 percent) for 71 yards
In three of his four losses in primetime, Winston has completed just 50 percent of his passes in the first half, including Thursday night’s defeat at the hands of the Patriots. Those shaky starts have contributed to the Bucs trailing in every primetime game at the half with the exception of the Panthers game last year, which is Winston’s lone primetime win.
2015: Bucs at Rams – Down 21-3
2016: Bucs at Panthers – Up 6-0
2016: Bucs vs. Falcons – Down 20-14
2016: Bucs at Cowboys – Down 17-6
2017: Bucs vs. Patriots – Down 13-7
In those five primetime games Winston has passed for just 422 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the first half, yet 1,090 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions in the second half while trying to play catch-up. And Winston’s furious fourth quarters have only resulted in one come-from-behind win.
What I can’t fathom is why Winston starts off so poorly in primetime games – the Falcons game from last year being the lone exception.
This was a guy that connected on 25-of-27 passes (92.6 percent) for 356 yards with four touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown in his first ever college game at Florida State, beating Aaron Donald and the Pittsburgh Panthers, 41-13 on the road. Ninety-two percent!
This was a guy that strolled into Clemson as a redshirt freshman weeks later and completed 64.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 444 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another in a 51-14 dismantling of the Tigers in Death Valley in a nationally televised night game.
This was a guy that won the Heisman Trophy in his first year of college football and then led the Seminoles down for a game-winning touchdown drive against Auburn in the BCS National Championship. It doesn’t get any more primetime than that.
This was a guy that overcame three first half interceptions to throw three touchdowns and lead Florida State back to a 42-31 win at Louisville in 2014 on ESPN’s Thursday night football – with Bucs general manager Jason Licht in attendance.
Where is that guy?
That’s the primetime player Licht and the Bucs thought they were getting in the 2015 NFL Draft.
That’s the player that Winston needs to become – like right now – under the lights, in the big games.
Part of the reason Winston struggled against the Patriots is that they changed up their defense and went away from the man coverage they played in the first four games of the season and played more zone coverage, at times only rushing three linemen and dropping eight in coverage to confuse Winston.
“Well, they have been playing almost entirely man coverage,” Koetter said after the game. “We had a feeling they’d make some changes and they mixed their zone coverages a lot more tonight. They mixed man and zone, but they gave us a lot of different looks. They dropped eight. They played a lot more two-deep, they haven’t been playing very much two-deep, so that’s a good job by them.”
But that still doesn’t explain him overthrowing wide-open receivers like he did twice with Doug Martin. Winston missed a golden opportunity on Tampa Bay’s first third down of the second half when DeSean Jackson used a double move to beat New England cornerback Malcolm Butler down the right sideline only to see Winston’s pass sail over his head. That would have been a big touchdown and given the Bucs a 14-13 lead – assuming of course that Folk would have made that extra point.
“The very first drive of the third quarter, it was like a third-and-four, DeSean ran that little double move up our sideline. That’s a couple feet off – that’s a 60-yard touchdown. DeSean got on top of his guy, we’ve got to hit him.”
In order for Winston to become an elite quarterback and for the Bucs to in turn become an elite football team, that’s a throw he has to, has to, has to hit.
“I missed him on a shot that could have been a touchdown,” Winston said. “Again, you’ve got to play perfect. You’ve got to execute. When the play is there, you have to execute the play. You can’t miss opportunities and that’s what happened tonight – missed opportunities, a ton of them, by me. Got to get better. Got to get better.”
Winston was disheartened at the podium has he spoke after another primetime defeat, putting the loss on his shoulders.
“I think we fought hard,” Winston said. “I think we really fought hard. Our defense played great. The game could’ve went either way, but at the end of the game, the quarterback has got to make a play. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to make a play at the end of the game. I can’t really sum up [anything] else but that. The quarterback has to make a play.”
Winston had a chance to win this game. With a 6-foot-6 tight end in Howard, the 6-foot-5 Brate and a 6-foot-5 wide receiver in Mike Evans, Winston needed to put one up like he did to former Florida State 6-foot-5 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to win a national title.
“I had one [chance] – it was a bad ball,” Winston said. “You’ve got to give him a chance. I had a tight end wide open – just got to give him a chance, got to give him a chance on the ball. Two seconds – got to give him a chance.”
Where Winston can give the Bucs their best chance of winning is not in the waning minutes of the game with a heroic touchdown pass. It’s being calmer under the lights in the first half and putting up more points earlier in the game so Winston doesn’t have to be a late-game hero in the first place.
Jameis Winston is a good quarterback, but sometimes good isn’t good enough.
It’s time for Winston to be great – especially in primetime.