Maybe at some point during the first half, you had had enough. Maybe the Buccaneers-Rams game on Thursday Night Football got so out of hand that you changed the channel. Maybe you decided that Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating People special on ABC offered more intrigue. Maybe you just had to know whether Pizza Rat made the cut.
Whatever the reason, if you changed the channel, good call. And if you stayed away the rest of the night, your conviction is admirable.
But you might have missed excellent water cooler material.
After the game, when the Bucs and Rams exchanged hellos, handshakes, hugs and jerseys, Jameis Winston wasn't smiling.
The rookie quarterback appeared to be taking the loss hard. And that matters to some people, especially to the fans who look forward to the game all day, the fans who drop everything for four hours. When it doesn't go well, the last thing they want to see is the players they root for smiling after a loss. Case in point: In October, Gerald McCoy was vilified for laughing with opposing players after the Bucs' collapse against Washington.
When it comes down to it, though, seeing Bucs players scowl doesn't do much besides easing the sting. What matters more, of course, is the execution and effort on the field. There's no reason to question the effort on Thursday night, but the execution clearly wasn't there. The Rams were too much for Winston and the Bucs to handle.
There were some positives for Winston, including a couple of good throws under pressure during the Bucs' first possession of the second quarter. On a third-and-2, the Rams rushed six defenders, and with the pocket on the verge of collapse, Winston stepped up, jumped off his back foot and hit Mike Evans in stride on a crossing route. While Evans picked up 10 yards, Winston's jump left him defenseless as defensive tackle Aaron Donald speared him into the turf. Winston was hobbling after the play but stayed in the game.
Four plays later, on a second-and-13, the Rams sent cornerback Lamarcus Joyner on a blitz between the right tackle and right guard. Winston took his three-step drop, and although he wasn't able to step into his throw, he delivered a strike to Adam Humphries on an in route to set up a more manageable third-and-6.
The drive stalled, however, when the Rams stuffed Doug Martin on fourth-and-1 two plays later.
The defender who made the stop? Donald, who nastily fought off Logan Mankins' block and wrapped up Martin for a 2-yard loss. In the run game or the pass game, the Bucs had no answer for Donald, who had six quarterback pressures (three hurries, three hits), according to Pro Football Focus.
It's no surprise that the Rams blitzed Winston early and often. They're an aggressive, relentless defense and were no doubt well aware of his struggles against the blitz. Before the game, his 50.9 completion percentage against the blitz was among the lowest in the NFL (Marcus Mariota's completion percentage against the blitz is about 60 percent).
QBs w/ lowest comp % vs. blitz Cassel 44.0 Bradford 47.8 Tannehill 48.0 Kaepernick 48.7 Cutler 50.4 Winston 50.9 E.Manning 52.0 Luck 52.8— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 16, 2015
Winston's final stat line of 29-of-50 for 363 yards (his first 300-yard passing game), two touchdowns and one interception looks solid, but 238 of the yards came in the fourth quarter.
When asked what worked for Winston in the fourth quarter that didn't work earlier, coach Lovie Smith attributed the production to "better protection, getting open, a little bit better throw." More likely is that the Rams, up 28-6 at the start of the period, didn't apply as much pressure, as they usually rushed only four defenders and settled into more Cover 2 zone coverage. They were content to allow completions underneath.
Based on my game charting, in the first three quarters, the Rams sent five or more rushers after Winston on almost 70 percent (16/23) of his pass attempts, of which he completed 50 percent for 111 yards. But when facing four or fewer pass rushers in the fourth quarter, he was 14-of-19 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
For the entire game, Winston was 7-of-14 for 92 yards when facing five rushers and 5-of-10 for 78 yards when facing six or more.
|Four of fewer rushers||Five rushers||Six or more rushers|
|First three quarters||2/7, 14 yards||4/7, 53 yards||4/9, 58 yards|
|Fourth quarter||14/19, 179 yards||3/7, 39 yards||1/1, 20 yards|
|Total||16/26, 193 yards||7/14, 92 yards||5/10, 78 yards|
|Source: my eyes|
As for Mariota, his season might be over after he suffered a right knee sprain during the second quarter of the Tennessee Titans' 33-16 loss to the New England Patriots.
Marcus Mariota's season is done, per sources. Right knee MCL sprain. He had a left knee MCL sprain earlier in year.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 21, 2015
Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey said Monday that Mariota would not play this coming Sunday against the Houston Texans but stopped short of ruling him out of the season finale.
"He will be out this week and evaluated again at the start of next week to see where he's at," he said. "The injury is basically the same injury as the other knee but less serious. Again, we even had discussions yesterday about putting him back in but wanted to be overly cautious and smart about it. We're going to do the same thing. Obviously, he's not going to play this week, but we'll reevaluate and see if he can play next week."
Before his exit, Mariota was 3-of-6 for 36 yards. He lost his sixth fumble of the season when Chandler Jones knocked the ball out of his hand as his arm was coming forward. The Patriots fell on it in the end zone to take a 14-0 lead one minute into the second quarter. Mariota has fumbled once in three straight games (lost two) and 10 times total this season.
Passing charts (Week 12-15)
Although Winston was good and bad Thursday, he was good enough to post a respectable 85.7 rating, causing almost no change (plus-0.029) in his season-to-date rating of 85.4. It was the first time this season he has posted a rating over 85 in a loss. Mariota's overall rating, meanwhile, fell slightly from 91.9 to 91.5.
Through 15 weeks, Mariota ranks fourth and Winston ranks sixth among quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. They trail Robert Griffin III (104.2), Ben Roethlisberger (96.3) and Dan Marino (96).
Passer rating does not include fumbles lost, but if it did, less than 0.2 points would separate Winston and Mariota. Winston, who has lost one fumble as a passer, would have a rating of 84.5; as mentioned above, Mariota has lost six and would have a rating of 84.7.
Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)
QBR is an ESPN metric that rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale.
QBR, which accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and time, was not as forgiving of Winston's play. His 38.8 rating was the fifth-lowest of the week, worse than lackluster performances by Miami's Ryan Tannehill (43.8) and Baltimore's Jimmy Clausen (42.1). In terms of QBR, it was his poorest outing since he threw two interceptions in a Week 10 win against the Dallas Cowboys. Overall, Winston's and Mariota's QBRs are nearly identical, with Mariota holding a 0.2-point edge.
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)
DVOA is a Football Outsiders metric that measures a quarterback's value on a per play basis relative to the league average. The formula factors in down, distance, time and strength of opponent (QBR is not adjusted for strength of opponent). A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player.
Winston's DVOA improved this week from minus-3.7 percent to minus-1.2 percent, which ranks 20th, between Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater (minus-0.5) and Denver's Brock Osweiler (minus-5.1). Considering his knee injury, it's doubtful Mariota, who ranks 27th with a minus-14.2 percent DVOA, will catch Winston.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.