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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston looked like “Franchise QB” Sunday

Jason Cole

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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It has taken only four games for Jameis Winston to duplicate something he had done only once in his first four seasons.

For the third consecutive game, Winston surpassed the 100 mark in quarterback rating. In the grand scheme of football, that’s not really important. The fact that Tampa Bay went 2-1 in those games (and only a missed field goal short of winning the third game) is the more important factor.

The deeper issue is that Winston may have finally made the important change from sloppy, error-prone quarterback to secure, confident passer.

Because, he happened to do a little of both on Sunday in Los Angeles. In leading the Buccaneers to a 55-40 victory, Winston was his sometimes-stunning self in getting the Buccaneers to a 21-0 start, 28-14 lead at halftime and a 45-34 lead with 9:05 remaining in the game.

That’s when the Buccaneers needed a five- or six-minute drive to take control of the clock. A score at the end of that drive would have been good, too, but the critical part was to take time off the clock. On the third play of that drive, the Bucs faced a third-and-9, Winston dropped back with all the confidence of new coach Bruce Arians and fired a deep out to the left side.

That was then picked off by Rams cornerback Marcus Peters and returned to a touchdown that cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 45-40 with 8:11 remaining. This was the classic Winston moment, the terrible interception that has plagued him at every moment of his career. His propensity for turnovers is the reason the Bucs have picked up an option for the fifth year of his contract but have yet to invest in him seriously.

Clinging to that five-point lead, the Bucs got the ball back and now needed to both take time off the clock and get at least a field goal. These are the type of game-closing drives that separate the merely talented from the franchise-leading quarterbacks that get $100 million in guaranteed money. The type of money that Jared Goff, the opposing quarterback on the day, got before this season started.

Now in his fifth season, Winston needed this drive. He also needed the test came on the third play of that drive. This time facing a third-and-6 situation, Winston hit Mike Evans for 12 yards. Winston fired right into the teeth of the Rams defense. It wasn’t a swing pass or screen into a safe spot of the field. By the end of the drive, the Bucs had a field goal, a 48-40 lead and were on the way to finished a 55-40 victory.

This is the genius of Bruce Arians. He doesn’t find excuses for quarterbacks to be careful. He finds moments for them to make confidence-building, game-changing plays. He did it with Ben Roethlisberger. He did it with Andrew Luck. He did it with Carson Palmer.

Bottom line, Arians pushes quarterbacks to take advantage of their given talent. Arians doesn’t tell quarterbacks to avoid interceptions. That’s expected. You don’t become a great quarterback by throwing passes to the other team.

But you also don’t become great without making big throws in big moments. You don’t become great without going toe-to-toe with one of the best passing attacks in the NFL and coming out on top, the way Tampa Bay did against the Rams on Sunday. Winston was integral to that by going 28 for 41 for 386 yards and four touchdowns. His interception was his only real blemish. Only one other throw – a long heave on third-and-10 that would have been a de facto punt – was even close to being picked off.

All of that shows up in the quarterback rating, which serves as a strong indicator that Winston and Arians are on the right path. While there is more work to do before that big contract could happen, this may be the stretch of his career when Winston looks back and understands that everything started to come together

Jason Cole is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector who has covered the NFL since 1992. He has worked for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, Yahoo Sports! and Bleacher Report. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Giant with Plaxico Burress and Heart for the Game with Simon Keith.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs QB Winston practiced Wednesday despite ankle sprain

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Embattled Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston suffered a sprained ankle near the end of Sunday’s 34 – 17 loss to the Saints. However, when the Buccaneers took the field Wednesday for the first meaningful practice for their upcoming game with the Falcons this week, Winston was able to give it a full go.

This according to coach Bruce Arians who talked about his quarterbacks status after the workout:

Winston was injured when Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson fell on his left leg in the fourth quarter Sunday, but limped around and stayed in the game. He subsequently threw an interception to New Orleans defensive back Marcus Williams on the next play. Williams ran it in for a touchdown with Winston hobbling towards him as he raced down the sideline.

Winston never came out of the game on the final two possessions, although Arians said postgame that he had considered putting little used backup Ryan Griffin in with the margin 34 – 17 and Winston ailing.

It’s no secret that Winston is fighting for his Tampa Bay future, as the Bucs have floundered to a 3 – 7 start, and he leads the NFL with 18 interceptions. And, as we also pointed out on Sunday Tampa Bay is now 7 – 22 in their last 29 games that Winston has started over the last three seasons.

None of those numbers bode well for him receiving a long-term contract.

As for Griffin, he has been a star in each of the last two pre-seasons and is the only viable Buccaneer backup at the moment. Tampa Bay lost veteran Blaine Gabbert to a left shoulder injury in preseason and he has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Although Winston is expected to play out much of the remaining six games, if Tampa Bay looks bad/losses Sunday in Atlanta to drop to 3 – 9, there may be more growing sentiment to give Griffin a look to see if he is potentially someone that could quarterback the team in the future.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Should Bruce Arians take over Bucs play calling?

Florida Football Insiders

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Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

As the Bucs get ready to battle another NFC South opponent on the road Sunday, their overall struggles have dropped them to a 3 – 7 record. And while their pass defense is the worst in the NFL, increasing criticism is growing of their offense and specifically, play-calling. And that’s where head coach, Bruce Arians, may come into play.

For the first time in his NFL career, since he became a play-calling offensive coordinator and then a head coach, Arians has given way on the play-calling on game day this season to offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich.

Now on the surface, the Buccaneers have been scoring a bunch of points. In fact they are seventh in the NFL at 27.7 ppg and have scored at least 23 points or more in every game since week two.

However, a deeper examination shows that the Buccaneers are lacking seriously in balance on offense. That includes Sunday against the Saints, where they only ran the ball eight total times and just six times from their running backs.

This included a first-quarter, where the Bucs only possessed the ball twice and ran a total of 5 plays, as they fell behind New Orleans 13 – 0. Then, as the Saints lead grew to 20 – 0, obviously, the Bucs were going to become much more of a passing team to try to get back in the game.

But, even when they did get a touchdown and then eventually a third-quarter field goal to cut the lead to 20-10, Leftwich did not mix in run plays, as the second half unfolded.

Yes, the Buccaneers used screen passes to Ronald Jones and also receiver Scotty Miller to try to offset the Saints pass rush, but the lack of commitment to the run was glaring Sunday. And the other component is: this nullified any play-action threat from the Buccaneers, which they’ve had success earlier in this season.

Since Jones became the starting running back four games ago, he’s only carried the ball more than 11 times in one game, and that was 18 carries in the 40-34 OT loss at Seattle three weeks ago. He carried four times Sunday.

As for Leftwich, he did call the plays for second half of last season in Arizona and has been very familiar with Arians’ offense. This is because he previously played with Arians and Ben Roethlisberger in the same offense in Pittsburgh.

Still, when you’re the guy responsible not only for the gamenplan, but for what to call and when, the pressure turns up.

Again, the Buccaneers have scored a bunch of touchdowns, but some of them have been late in games, while the team has been trailing by two or more scores and that can skew the overall offensive stats and scoring, too.

The reality is Tampa Bay does not have an identity with their run game right, now and with six games to go they need to try to figure out, if they can get one back.

And, it may be that Arians who had tremendous success in Pittsburgh and in Indianapolis prior to becoming the Cardinals coach by calling plays, takes those reins back over at least for a game or two to see if it makes a difference.

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