Bucs-Ravens: ‘It’s every man for himself’

The Bucs lost their 12th straight road game started by Jameis Winston, who hasn't led them to a second-half touchdown in consecutive weeks.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, left, and head coach Dirk Koetter speak in the first half. [AP Photo/Gail Burton]
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, left, and head coach Dirk Koetter speak in the first half. [AP Photo/Gail Burton]
Published December 16 2018
Updated December 17 2018

BALTIMORE — It may be too late for Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. At 5-9, his team clinched its second losing season in three years by falling in the raindrops 20-12 to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

"Losing is not fun,'' Koetter said, almost apologetically. "When you get beat, you're always going to look at the things that your team could've done in all phases, including coaching.''

Tampa Bay was eliminated from postseason consideration Sunday, missing the playoffs for the 11th straight season. Only Cleveland, at 16 seasons and counting, has a longer active drought. At least the Browns (6-7-1) cling to slim AFC playoff hopes.

Not the Bucs, and Koetter may be forced to walk the plank.

But it's fourth-and-2 for Jameis Winston.

The Bucs quarterback is about to complete his fourth season and has only two games left, at Dallas and home against the Falcons. That's all the time remaining to prove he is worth that $20.1-million club option for 2019.

Winston's career is now more one of aggravation than adulation.

On Sunday, against a stout Ravens defense, Winston completed 13 of 25 passes for 157 yards with no touchdowns and one interception as the Bucs (5-9) were eliminated from playoff consideration.

Not all the big drops fell from the sky. His receivers had at least three passes slip out of their hands.

But the Bucs managed to only score 12 points, including three in the second half. They've been held without a second-half TD the last two weeks by Baltimore and New Orleans.

Winston hasn't won a road game in nearly two years, a bleak streak of 12 straight losses away from Raymond James Stadium. The last one came Dec. 4, 2016 — a 28-21 victory at San Diego.

So Winston can't win on the road. Not in the rain. Not on a train. He cannot win here or there… . You get the point.

In fact, on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Winston was outplayed by Lamar Jackson. The Ravens rookie improved his record to 4-1 as a starter by rushing for 95 yards and passing for 131 yards and a touchdown.

Ask Winston about his future with the Bucs and his eyes snap open like two window blinds.

"Nah, man. I'm just trying to win,'' Winston said. "My future, that's in God's hands. I just want to win no matter what. That's all.''

But Winston and the Bucs didn't win again Sunday.

They didn't win because Jackson and Ravens running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon combined to rush for 247 yards.

They didn't win because the Ravens owned a nearly 14-minute advantage in time of possession. Tampa Bay had only four possessions in the second half. Four!

They didn't win because they failed to capitalize on the Ravens mistakes and red zone opportunities.

When Ravens punt returner Cyrus Jones muffed a kick from Bryan Anger in the third quarter, Josh Shaw recovered at the Baltimore 14 yard line. But two plays later, Mike Evans was flagged for offensive pass interference. That forced the Bucs to settle for Cairo Santos' 28-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-12.

The Ravens tacked on a field goal and the Bucs last best chance came a few minutes later. Trailing by one score, the Bucs faced third-and-1 at the Baltimore 30. Peyton Barber was dropped for a 3-yard loss.

On fourth down, Winston fired incomplete to Chris Godwin.

"I should've checked out of it on third-and-1, thinking we could get it with one yard,'' Winston said. "Peyton (Barber) had been running the ball real well. Just miscommunication in terms of being crisp.

"(Godwin) was actually my second read. That's another play that we left on the table. On the left, we had Adam (Humphries) and (Evans) one-on-one. I could've put us in the better situation to the left once I saw we had press man on that side.''

Winston wasn't the reason the Bucs lost Sunday. The defense allowed Baltimore to convert 9-of-16 on third down.

And the Bucs may not have had many yards passing if not for Winston's brilliant scramble to his left and 64-yard bomb to Evans that set up a field goal.

"I thought Jameis threw the ball really well in the first half,'' Koetter said. "We just didn't do a very good job of catching it. It wasn't a throwing issue, it was more of a catching issue.''

All of that may be true. But Koetter is on the ropes and now Winston may be there with him. The Bucs needed only 21 points to beat the Ravens and Winston couldn't deliver them.

There was Winston's three-game suspension for violating the NFL's player code of conduct. There was his benching after going 1-2 in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Since returning to the starting lineup, Winston's performance has been uneven at best. He beat an improving 49ers team and then handed Carolina its fifth straight loss in a game the Bucs intercepted four passes.

But against the better teams, like the Saints and Ravens, Winston can't consistently lead the Bucs to the end zone, much less a victory.

"It's every man for himself at this moment,'' tackle Demar Dotson said afterward in the Bucs locker room. "I'm not going to worry about saving Dirk's job, I'm worried about saving my own. So that's the way I look at it.''

And right now, nobody seems safe, not even Winston.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud