Jameis Winston’s task for 2018: become more of a mental magician

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) leaves the field after throwing an interception during the second half of an NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (Loren Elliott, Times)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) leaves the field after throwing an interception during the second half of an NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (Loren Elliott, Times)
Published January 1
Updated January 2

TAMPA ó Remember the last pass that Jameis Winston threw in 2017. Remember it for all its beauty, falling like an egg into Chris Godwinís hands for a winning 39-yard touchdown with nine seconds left to beat the New Orleans Saints. Remember it for its improbability to complete a 95-yard drive with no timeouts in 1:39 against the NFC South champions.

Also, remember it for its sheer stupidity.

Because that one pass, into a headwind of having already thrown three interceptions, is what is bewildering and bedeviling about the Bucs quarterback.

"It was a crazy play because with 15 seconds left, if Chris gets tackled inbounds, the game is over," veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We didnít have time to get up there and clock the ball. There was a lot of emotions going through my mind at that point. But that was a great throw, maybe his best throw all year. What a great pass when we needed it and Chris came up with the big play, kept his feet up and scored."

The right football play in that situation is to throw the ball to tight end Cameron Brate on a sideline route so he can get out of bounds to stop the clock and give Patrick Murray a chance to win it with a 47-yard field goal.

But Winston doesnít play quarterback by the book. He plays it with competitive fire and heart.

Now he has to learn to play the position with his head.

Thatís really the only thing missing. Winston has to grow up ó as a quarterback and as a man. He has to learn to contain the passion that drives him to want to become one of the best players in the game.

As coach Dirk Koetter said Monday, you never get used to the suddenness of the end of an NFL season. A few hours after beating the Saints, players met with their position coaches, were addressed one last time by Koetter, cleaned out their lockers and went home for the offseason.

Itís a time to reflect, but also a time to look forward.

"Iím happy itís a new year," Winston said. "Iím happy we can bring in this year with a win. Like I said, everyone has their goals and stuff for the new year. But my goal this year, Iím going to sit down this week and get my mind mentally ready for not being in this situation next year."

Winston admitted that the Bucs got a little over their skis. They believed the hype. They thought it was justified. They still do.

"I was so confident in the beginning of the year," Winston said. "A lot of us were confident and the hype was for real. It really fuels me because it lets us know just because the hype is there, it doesnít really mean anything. We got to go out there and play on the field. And I said that a lot, like, yeah, weíve still got to go out there and play.

"But thatís just a true testament, no matter what someone can say about you, even if someone can bring you down, you still got to go out there and prove your pudding every single play, and not just in the offseason or not just for Hard Knocks and not just at the end of the season. Itís every single play youíve got to prove your stuff."

In hindsight, Winston probably would have been better off not trying to play with an injured shoulder. The guy is a warrior, but he didnít help his football team in the end. He did, however, win it over.

Winston didnít care about his numbers. He played with pain because he thought he gave his team the best chance to win.

"Heís as tough as they come," Fitzpatrick said. "You always hear about his competitiveness and his leadership and all that, but just the toughness he showed this year playing through what he did. He didnít want anybody to feel sorry for him. He was just out there doing his best to try and get wins for the team."

Winston said getting healthy will be one of his biggest priorities. He also didnít seem to know whether any minor surgery might be required on his shoulder.

"Again, Iím going to have to evaluate it," Winston said. "Iím going to have to rehab. Iím going to have to focus on my body more than Iím really focusing on developing my craft. Ö I think I got better in a lot of ways this year, so right now Iím just trying to be 100 percent healthy, come back on mission and get everybody on board."

Itís simplistic to say that Winston has to learn how to protect the football. He improved in a lot of areas. How concerned is Koetter about that entering 2018?

"Turnovers are the No. 1 thing that get you beat, so very concerned, and Jameis knows that," Koetter said.

The Bucs were 3-7 in one-score games, and one fewer turnover in those losses might have flipped that record.

Winston also had to get on the same page with receiver DeSean Jackson. He plans to spend more time with him this offseason. He knows he has to become better throwing the deep ball.

The NFC South is the toughest division in football. Winston has to play better than Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Itís a high bar to get over.

But that wonderfully stupid pass he made into the New Yearís Eve Sunday makes you believe Winston can do it.

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