GREEN BAY, Wis. — After missing three games with a shoulder injury, Jameis Winston gets the start today. But this is really about starting over.
The eraser being used to wipe out everything Winston has accomplished until now is the Bucs 4-7 record. Winston has no playoff appearances entering the final month of his third season. He has even begun to disappear from the pundit’s list of great young passers, falling behind Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson.
With the NFL investigating allegations he groped a female Uber driver 21 months ago, the possibility of a suspension looms.
Winston’s head coach and play-caller, Dirk Koetter, looks vulnerable if the record slips to 4-12, 5-11 or even 6-10.
Winston and only Winston has the ability to change this tragic trajectory, both professionally and personally.
If the final five games are a referendum on anyone, it could be Winston.
For the first time in his football career, he has been forced to miss multiple games with an injury. He’s watched someone else do his job and do it well, with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick going 2-1. He’s had to deal with a painful injury to his right throwing shoulder.
"Very humbling, but it was a whole learning experience," Winston said.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy saw his first two seasons reduced to nothing by injuries, and as the No. 3 overall pick in 2010, he said it tested his resolve.
"You find out who you really are. Not just as a player but as a man," McCoy said. "You learn if you really are as mentally as tough as you thought you were. I always say it’s about what you do when you get knocked down. We’ll see. He’s resilient. I think he’s a mentally tough guy but we’ll see."
Winston had an opportunity to not only see the game from a different vantage point, but to better understand his role in it.
The first thing he learned is the show goes on. No matter your pedigree, even as a No. 1 pick, you’re not bigger than the organization. Also, as Fitzpatrick proved with solid but unspectacular performances, the team can win without you — at least in the short term.
The message to Winston is that he’s not guaranteed anything from the Bucs. He’s not guaranteed a $100-million contract extension, a franchise player tag or even a fifth-year option.
Is there more pressure on Winston in this re-start than anyone else?
"I’m just going to guess and say that he would say that," Koetter said. "I don’t think anyone else is looking at it that way."
But people will have a more critical eye on Winston the final five games of 2017. Players such as DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard will be watching to see if he can get the football to them, accurately and on time, to allow the offense to thrive.
Defensive players will be watching to see if Winston can build leads and put them in the best position to close out games.
The Glazer family, which owns the team, aren’t about to give up on Winston, but they will be evaluating whether Koetter is the right coach to take him to the next level.
"I think he will respond," Koetter said. "I know he is going to do everything he can to try to help our team get a win on Sunday."
That would be the best place for Winston to start.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud