TAMPA — So, how concerned are you about quarterback Jameis Winston?
"Very,'' said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter after Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Broncos. "I'm very concerned.
"He's not regressing, but we've got to take care of the football. I mean, we've got to take care of the football. We can't turn it over three times in a half. We just can't do that.''
Winston threw two more interceptions Sunday, giving him eight on the season. Both were picked off by Aqib Talib, the Broncos cornerback who read Winston like a Sunday newspaper. He's the one player Winston needed to avoid, yet Talib wound up blowing kisses to the Raymond James Stadium announced crowd of 60,375.
Both interceptions by the ex-Buc resulted in easy scores for the defending Super Bowl champions. The Broncos had to go 11 yards for the first one in the first quarter, a pass to receiver Demaryius Thomas from Trevor Siemian, who later was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. For the second score, in the second quarter, they needed to travel only 27 yards.
"The first one was just a bad throw,'' Winston said. "The second one was just a great play.''
Winston finished 17-of-35 for 179 yards with no touchdowns. It was only the third time the second-year quarterback failed to throw for at least 200 yards in a game. He also was sacked five times. The Bucs' 215 total yards of offense was a career low under Koetter, the offensive coordinator last year.
As if the two interceptions weren't enough, Winston's inability to know when the journey is over might have resulted in the third turnover of the first half.
With the Bucs trailing 14-7 late in the second quarter, running back Charles Sims was stood up short of a first down on third and 1 at the Denver 26-yard line. But referee Jerome Boger was slow to blow the whistle, and Winston raised his arms and appeared to call for Sims to pitch him the ball. The resulting fumble was recovered by the Broncos.
"I believe he was (calling for the ball),'' Koetter said of Winston. "That was not a smart play on our part.
"It sure appeared that way. It's not by design. Again, that's not one of our finest moments right there.''
When asked if he called for the ball, Winston said, "I thought the play was over, actually. It wasn't.''
The Bucs are not in a very good place offensively. Running back Doug Martin is going to miss at least another game with a hamstring injury, and Sims (15 carries, 28 yards) has proven not to be very productive. Koetter said he might consider giving more carries to Jacquizz Rodgers, who had 25 yards on six rushes Sunday.
But far and away the main reason why the Bucs are in a tailspin with their third straight loss heading into a Monday Night Football game at Carolina (1-3) a week from today is because Winston is careless with the ball.
Talib, playing his first game in Tampa since being traded by the Bucs to New England in 2012, said he watched a lot of tape of Winston and knew he took chances.
"We saw how confident he was in his arm,'' Talib said. "So we knew we'd have five to six opportunities to get our hands on the football. I think we capitalized on three of them, so we'll take that.''
Though Winston's fight is admirable, it's also what hurts him as an NFL quarterback. Koetter said Winston has to know his limitations.
"Not every play is going to be a big play,'' Koetter said. "We went through this very similar thing the first four games last season. And hopefully we'll learn the same lesson we learned last year and get on a little roll here.''
A year ago, Winston, as a rookie, had six interceptions through his first four games. Then he virtually willed himself to stop turning the ball over. He went four straight games and five of six without an interception or a lost fumble.
That's what the Bucs need Winston to do right away. Otherwise, the player who gives the Bucs the best chance of winning is the biggest reason they will keep losing.