Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can Jameis Winston and DeSean Jackson finally connect?

TAMPA — Jameis Winston needs to get better at throwing the long ball. Nobody knows this better than WR DeSean Jackson, who consistently ran past defenders but did not have a deep impact on the Bucs offense this season.

"DeSean Jackson is a really good football player. His track record shows that, and if you just had an (isolation) camera on DeSean Jackson when he was on the field this year, DeSean Jackson wins most of the time," coach Dirk Koetter said. "When he is trying to get behind the defense, he can get behind the defense. We did not do a good job of getting him the ball in positions that he is used to getting it, which is over the top."

Jackson missed the last two games with an ankle injury. He caught only 50 passes for 668 yards, second fewest of his career. His 13.4 yard per catch average was more than 4 yards below his career mark of 17.7 entering 2017.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The average target to Jackson was 15.82 yards through the air. He failed to catch any of the seven passes thrown 40 or more yards to him.

Winston’s right shoulder injury didn’t help that production. The Bucs quarterback also says he talked with Jackson and plans to spend more time this offseason throwing with him.

"We have to get our work in, man," Winston said. "A lot of that has to do with just me being able to get him the football in the way that he likes the football. That’s gonna be important. So I’m gonna sit down and talk to him and go over some things with him."

The Bucs guaranteed Jackson $20 million of his $33.5 million contract, meaning Jackson and Winston will have more chances to hook up in 2018.

Teeing off

Patrick Murray stepped in and performed well on field goals after taking over as the Bucs’ kicker early this season, going 17-for-18 on field goals shorter than 50 yards.

He missed 3 of 5 from 50 yards and beyond, and Koetter brought up another concern Monday about his leg strength on kickoffs.

"Pat, his strength is not his kickoffs," Koetter said. "We have teams in this league kicking it 80 percent touchbacks, and if you just look at what a kickoff return really is, if you just took a touchback every time and took the ball to the 25-yard line, you are going to be in the top 10."

The Bucs had the NFL’s lowest touchback percentage at 35 percent in 2017, down from ranking ninth in 2016 with a 64 percent touchback rate when Roberto Aguayo handled kickoffs. Murray’s average kickoff went 60.8 yards, which ranked 25th.

Making matters worse, the Bucs gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the final two weeks of the season — Carolina’s Damiere Byrd went 103 yards, then New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara went 106. Tampa Bay was the only NFL team to give up more than one kickoff-return touchdown in 2017.

"Part of kicking it to the end zone … is hang time, and that’s one thing Pat struggled with, is hang time on his kickoffs," Koetter said. "When a guy is getting the ball in not the proper hang time and you have to cover those kicks, it just makes it tougher on your coverage team. We struggled with that the last two weeks especially of the season."

Attendance down

Attendance at Bucs home games dropped slightly in 2017, by 2.4 percent in actual attendance despite the team going from 9-7 last season to 5-11.

Sunday’s final home game against the Saints had a season low for announced (55,376) and actual attendance (45,542) at Raymond James Stadium.

The season average for announced attendance — based on tickets distributed — finished at 59,952, down 1.1 percent from last year’s average of 60,625. The actual attendance — a turnstile count reported to the Tampa Sports Authority — averaged 51,912, down 2.4 percent from 53,176 in 2016.

The ratio of the two attendance averages reflects the turnout rate among fans with tickets. That figure also dropped slightly, from 87.7 percent in 2016 to 86.6 percent this season.

The Bucs finished 29th out of 32 NFL teams in average home announced attendance. That’s down one spot from a year ago.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

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