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FAB 1. Winston’s Woeful Start
Did you know that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston became the team’s all-time leading passer in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to San Francisco?
It’s only fitting that Winston, who now has 14,822 yards, passed Trent Dilfer (12,969 yards), Josh Freeman (13,534 yards) and Vinny Testaverde (14,820 yards) in Tampa Bay to make history.
All four of those quarterbacks were first-round draft picks by the Bucs and three of those four didn’t get contract extensions from the team after their rookie deal expired. Will Winston, who is in his fifth-year option, follow down that dubious path?
He will if he keeps throwing interceptions, which is another thing he has in common with Testaverde, Dilfer and Freeman – a high amount of picks that stem from poor decision-making. All four quarterbacks have thrown their share of mind-numbing interceptions, the latest of which came from Winston on Sunday on an ill-advised screen pass which was returned for a game-clinching touchdown by the 49ers.
Winston, a Heisman Trophy-winning national champion at Florida State, was supposed to be different – a game-changer at the QB position in Tampa Bay. He was supposed to be a winner, losing just one college game in two years with the Seminoles.
Instead, since becoming the first overall draft pick in 2015, Winston’s record as a starter in Tampa Bay is 21-34, including Sunday’s loss to the 49ers in which he threw three interceptions with two of those being returned for touchdowns.
Because of Winston’s penchant for turnovers, Winston is now 6-18 over the last three seasons as a starter, and that includes Sunday’s loss.
Bucs’ Record With Winston As The Starter
That’s far from winning football.
Stop me if you’ve heard this all before, because in my 24 years of covering the Bucs – I’ve just about seen and heard it all before.
I’ve heard Dilfer promise the local Tampa media again and again after loss after loss that he would become a great quarterback one day. He never did.
I’ve heard Freeman struggle to find the words after three-interception games with that bewildered, deer-in-the-headlights look he would have in his post-game press conferences. He never found the words – or stopped making bad decisions.
I didn’t see Testaverde play in Tampa Bay, but I know that his franchise-record 112 interceptions in six years with the Bucs were 42 more interceptions than Dilfer threw in his six years with the team. Testaverde’s 267 career interceptions rank second behind Brett Favre’s 336 as the second-most in NFL history.
With Winston … I just don’t know. I want to believe in this guy – and I have since he was in five straight PewterReport.com mock drafts in 2015 – but he sure is making it difficult with days like Sunday, isn’t he?
After his three-pick performance against San Francisco, Winston has now thrown 61 interceptions, which ranks as the sixth-most in Tampa Bay history. Two more picks and he’ll move past Steve DeBerg into fifth place. With seven more interceptions this year – and you know they’re coming – he’ll move past Freeman’s 66 and begin to challenge Doug Williams (73) and Dilfer (80) for second place behind Testaverde.
This is nothing new. I’ve written about Winston’s interceptions before and implored him to stop turning the ball over before in an SR’s Fab 5 last year, sensing disaster was just about to happen.
And it did.
That column came out on the Friday before Winston’s four-interception meltdown in Cincinnati last year in a 37-34 loss that prompted Dirk Koetter to bench him – and justifiably so.
Are we asking a leopard to change his spots here?
The maddening thing about Winston is that he does make plays – great plays – and score touchdowns. His 89 TD passes are the most in Tampa Bay history, and he’s thrown 28 more touchdowns than he has interceptions.
That’s a better TD-to-INT differential than Brad Johnson, who had 64 TDs and 41 INTs (23), Jeff Garcia, who had 25 TDs and 10 INTs (15), Mike Glennon, who had 30 TDs and 15 INTs (15), Freeman, who had 80 TDs and 66 INTs (14), Brian Griese, who had 32 TDs and 26 INTs (six), Shaun King, who had 26 TDs and 20 INTs (six) and Craig Erickson, who had 34 TDs and 31 INTs (three).
All other notable Bucs QBs, including Testaverde, Dilfer, Steve DeBerg, Steve Young and Chris Simms, all have more interceptions than touchdowns in their Tampa Bay careers. Bucs Ring of Honor member Doug Williams finished his time in Tampa Bay with 73 touchdowns and 73 picks.
There are 15 games left in the season, and Winston just played in his first real game in a different offense than the one he played in under Dirk Koetter for the first four years of his NFL career. Playing well on Thursday night in Carolina and coming out with a win would quickly turn around the narrative surrounding Winston. Is that too much to ask of a player in a big contract year? Winston has helped engineer some tough road wins in the past in Philadelphia, Kansas City, San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta and even Carolina. It can be done – if he can avoid the critical turnover.
Regardless of the system, or the quarterbacks coach, or the offensive coordinator or the head coach, shouldn’t a fifth-year quarterback like Winston know better than to make an errant throw on first down when that screen pass was covered up by the 49ers defense? Shouldn’t he know by now to throw the ball in the dirt?
That’s what I asked Arians in Monday’s press conference.
“He was under pretty good duress, but yeah, you would hope,” Arians said.
The Bucs were hoping Winston would be the long-awaited savior at the quarterback position – a dynamic playmaker that could go toe-for-toe and throw-for-throw with the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in the NFC South.
The Bucs were hoping that Arians, “the quarterback whisperer,” would be the one to turn Winston around and have him cut down on his driving-killing and win-preventing turnovers.
Time is running out for Winston to prove that he can be Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback.
And hope is running out, too.