Lost in the disappointment of the Bucs' collapse at Washington last week is the remarkable play of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
His five-turnover game in the loss to the Panthers on Oct. 4 did not get inside his helmet. He shook that off to play back-to-back games without throwing an interception or losing a fumble. He passed for a career-high 297 yards and two touchdowns against the Redskins and is the first rookie to pass for at least 200 yards in his first six games. Winston's 40-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans was his best throw of the season, helping the Bucs build a 24-0 lead.
"Jameis did a nice job in this game," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "(He) played his best game, did a nice job, didn't turn the ball over, made good decisions, got the ball out of his hand, got the ball out of his hand early."
Winston has completed 107 of 181 passes for 1,472 yards, with nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions. His overall passer rating is 85.7, which ranks 24th in the NFL. He's the 20th-rated quarterback in the NFL, profootballfocus.com says. That's better than the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, the Ravens' Joe Flacco, the Giants' Eli Manning, the Colts' Andrew Luck and the Lions' Matthew Stafford.
It seems like only yesterday the Titans' Marcus Mariota was bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Winston was labeled a bust after the Bucs' loss to the Titans in the season opener. Using ESPN's total QB ranking, which rates passers on a 1-100 scale, Winston (48.5) is ahead of Mariota (42.0).
Several plays illustrated Winston's improvement last week.
"He had a tendency on his deep routes to be waiting too long," Koetter said. "It's common with a young quarterback. They want to see it. By the time they see it, they outrun his arm. Jameis has a strong arm, so the first deep ball to (Evans), that was a good one.
"The other one was the second series when we went (into the red zone). We had the third and 2, I think. We ran the naked boot, and he threw the ball away out of the back of the end zone. You talk about hard for Jameis to throw it away on the goal line. Every quarterback out there is dying to throw a touchdown pass from the 2-yard line.
"We had a lot of check plays on the road with crowd noise. We were having a lot of issues with my headset, my coach-to-quarterback going out with him. Jameis, he handled that like a champ."
When the Bucs were down to two healthy receivers, Winston directed the tight ends who were asked to play unfamiliar roles.
"Jameis is growing fast," Koetter said. "He is doing a good job. … Jameis played good enough in that game for us to win."
NO KILLER INSTINCT: The Bucs have exceptional talents in DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David. But they lead a defense that lacks mental toughness and can't close out games, a weakness that was obvious before the Bucs blew a 24-0 lead to the Redskins and lost 31-30.
Coach Lovie Smith knows his best players are not making plays when it matters most — at the end of games.
"One stop … that's what we're missing right now," Smith said. "That's what we're trying to find, composure or just somebody stepping up and making a play in the situation. As you look throughout (last week's game), (the Redskins) made some tough catches on that last drive. And they were almost perfect with what they did.
"Eventually we are going to get to a place where … our defensive line wants that. That's the time when you get sacks, strip fumbles, all of that, and a chance to get some picks. We're not there yet."