GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jameis Winston knows how to compete, you have to give him that. It’s what he does best. Even on a day when his offensive line put its own twist on the team slogan — (under) Siege the (whole) Day — by allowing him to be sacked seven times, Winston nearly pulled off a rare win over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Returning to the lineup after missing three games with a shoulder injury, Winston passed for 270 yards with two touchdowns to tight end Cameron Brate and no interceptions in the Bucs’ 26-20 overtime loss Sunday.
"I knew we were going to have a great day because, for one, I was happy to be back," Winston said. "It’s been so long since I was able to step on a football field and play and you’ve got guys behind you playing so great. We got coaches calling a great game, it felt like things were going right."
But this is the thing about Winston. And maybe, it’s going to be what his entire NFL career will be about.
Everything seems to be going great and then Winston puts the banana in the exhaust pipe. He drops the fly in the soup. He pours water on a grease fire.
It happened again in the second quarter Sunday. The Bucs had a superb start, scoring a touchdown on the opening possession for the first time this season. Winston picked the Packers apart, completing 4-of-5 passes for 60 yards, including a 28-yard pass that Brate caught with just his right hand in the end zone.
A blocked punt set up the Packers’ first touchdown and gave them a 10-7 lead. Then Winston made the kind of mistake he has become known for.
He scrambled out of the pocket which collapsed like a soufflé, andwith nose tackle Kenny Clark riding his back, Winston tried to throw the ball to Brate anyway. His arm hit somebody as he was winding up, the fumble popped into the hands of 296-pound defensive end Dean Lowry, who returned it 62 yards for a Packers touchdown.
"I don’t even know how the ball came out," Winston said. "I had Cam Brate on a route in front of me and I was about to throw it to him and when I reared back, it hit somebody."
If you’re keeping track of such things, and we are, that was Winston’s 50th turnover in 41 games. Fifty.
Protecting the football is the most important job a quarterback has because he literally has it in his hands to start every play. For as brilliant as Winston has been at times the past three years, for all the highlight reel plays where he escapes and launches some insane pass that few could make, you have to live and often die with his mistakes.
"That could be an issue," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That definitely can be an issue. That’s something we’ve talked about this many times. Jameis is going to make some plays. He made a couple really nice scramble plays. He was under pressure all day.
"That particular one right there, in a perfect world, he would’ve gotten that ball out of his hands but they were on him quick. You’ve got to remember, he’s 23 years old and experience is still the best teacher."
Anytime now, Winston should graduate to becoming the next level NFL quarterback. But it hasn’t happened. Not yet, anyway.
The Bucs should’ve won this game. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t playing. His replacement, Brett Hundley, had 84 yards passing and a 48.3 passer rating. He did more damage with his feet, scrambling seven times for 66 yards.
In a matchup of Winston versus Hundley, Winston should win eight of 10 times no matter where the game is played.
"I think sometimes that’s how football works," Winston said. "But when we look back on that film, we’re going to say we could’ve done this better, we could’ve done that better. But out there? It felt good. It felt good as an offense. It felt good as a team."
But nobody feels good today at One Buc Place.
It’s not Winston’s fault that the Bucs were down to their third center in Evan Smith on Sunday. Or that Smith’s block in the back on a 40-yard screen pass to Charles Sims with the score tied at 20 may have ultimately cost them the game.
But the losses keep piling up. The turnovers keep rising. The calendar keeps flipping.
And Winston? He keeps spilling coffee on his shirt.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud