FAB 2. Where Does Winston’s Bad Season Opener Rank?
As I sat there and watched in disbelief as fifth-year quarterback Jameis Winston threw not one, but two pick-sixes in a 14-point loss to San Francisco on opening day, I wondered how this bad performance stacked up against some other travesties I’ve watched in over decades of covering the Buccaneers.
I’ve seen a lot of jaw-dropping, bone-headed quarterback play sink Tampa Bay’s ship on opening day through the years. Where did Winston’s 2019 stinker rank among the Week 1 defeats?
Here is a list of some awful Week 1 performances by Bucs QBs in the modern era – going back to Tony Dungy’s first game as Tampa Bay’s head coach in 1996.
1. Trent Dilfer vs. Green Bay – 1996
The slogan was “A New Day In Tampa Bay” as Dungy took the helm after Sam Wyche was fired after a 7-9 finish to the 1995 season. But it ended up being more of the same for the Buccaneers, who were the personal whipping boys for the NFC Central champion Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre and the Packers came to town and thrashed the Bucs 34-3 on opening day with tens of thousands of Cheeseheads in the Big Sombrero cheering them on.
Dilfer was 13-of-30 (43.3 percent) for a mere 123 yards with four interceptions and no touchdowns and he was sacked once in the loss. The Bucs never had a chance in this blowout loss.
2. Trent Dilfer vs. New York Giants – 1999
Dilfer single-handedly blew one of the greatest defensive performances in Bucs history with four big blunders in a shocking 17-13 loss to the Giants in the home opener. Tampa Bay’s defense held New York to just 107 total yards, including 28 rushing yards on 25 carries, and the Giants were just 1-of-13 on third down. Quarterback Kent Graham completed 12-of-24 passes for just 91 yards and the Giants had just 79 net passing yards once sacks were factored in.
Dilfer completed only 15-of-31 passes (43.8 percent) for 174 yards with one touchdown and three costly interceptions against a very good New York defense. He was also sacked twice in the game and fumbled with Giants defensive lineman Christian Peters scooping up the loose ball and scoring a critical touchdown in New York’s upset win.
3. Josh Freeman at New York Jets – 2013
This was the first game of Freeman’s contract year and he was in a fog from the start (there is a shocking story behind this one). On the Bucs’ first possession, Freeman took back-to-back delay of game penalties because he couldn’t hear the play call over the crowd noise (begins at 4:00 mark of the video below). The Bucs called a timeout and then had unnecessary back-to-back delay of game penalties because Freeman was so out of sorts.
Another Freeman blunder was taking a safety after he wasn’t ready for a shotgun snap that went through the back of the end zone and he kicked the ball out of the end zone before slamming himself into the goal post. He then went on to complete 15-of-31 passes (43.8 percent) for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception and was outdueled by Geno Smith as the Bucs blew a winnable road game in Week 1.
4. Chris Simms vs. Baltimore – 2006
The Bucs were coming off an 11-5 record in 2005 and a home playoff loss to Washington, and were eager to get that bad taste out of their mouths. The visiting Ravens had different idea and destroyed Tampa Bay 27-0 as Baltimore’s stars shined that day. Ray Lewis had one of two sacks of Simms, who completed 17-of-29 passes (58.6 percent) for 133 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns.
Cornerback Chris McAlister had a 60-yard pick-six to give Baltimore a 14-0 lead, and the other interceptions came from nose tackle Haloti Ngata and safety Ed Reed. Simms would lose the next two games over the next two weeks, and also his spleen in a Week 3 loss at home to Carolina.
5. Jameis Winston vs. San Francisco – 2019
Yes, Winston’s three-interception game against San Francisco last Sunday ranks as the fifth-worst season debut by a Bucs quarterback in the modern era. Three interceptions, including two pick-sixes, gets him on the list as Winston completed 20-of-36 passes (55.5 percent) for 196 yards with just one touchdown and those three costly picks. Winston was also sacked three times and fumbled once in addition to fumbling a snap – both were recovered by Tampa Bay.
Winston’s 2019 season opener bumped his NFL debut in 2015 down a notch. Winston, the first overall pick in 2015, was outplayed by Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, who was drafted one spot behind him and threw four touchdowns while completing 13-of-15 passes (86.7 percent) for 209 yards and didn’t have a turnover in a 42-14 beat down by the Titans. Winston completed 16-of-33 passes (48.4 perent) for 210 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and he had his first career pass go the other way for a pick-six. Winston was also sacked four times.
To be fair, Winston has also shined on opening day, even winning the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award in 2016 by completing 23-of-32 passes for 281 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in a 31-24 upset win at Atlanta in Dirk Koetter’s first game as head coach in Tampa Bay.
Yet the best opening day performance by a Bucs QB in the modern era came last year in New Orleans when Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered a 48-40 upset of the Saints by completing 21-of-28 passes (75 percent) for 417 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Like Winston in 2016, Fitzpatrick was given the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his tremendous game in the Big Easy.