For the first time this season, Jameis Winston is better than Marcus Mariota.
Though the Bucs blew a 24-point lead Sunday in a sickening 31-30 loss to Washington, Winston did all you could ask, except cover Jordan Reed in the red zone.
He turned in the best performance of his pro career so far, completing 21 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. For the second straight game and third time this season, he did not throw an interception. Winston's stat line was good enough to push him past Mariota in statistical measures created by ESPN and Football Outsiders.
Before Week 7, Mariota and Winston ranked 26th and 27th, respectively, in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), which rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. Winston (48.5) now ranks 24th, behind Cam Newton and ahead of Peyton Manning, while Mariota (42.0) — who did not play against the Falcons because of an MCL sprain — remains 26th.
Football Outsiders' DVOA measures a quarterback's value on a per play basis relative to the league average. The formula factors in down, distance, situation and strength of opponent (QBR does not adjust for opponent). A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player.
Mariota has struggled since his four-touchdown debut against the Bucs, sinking below league average for the first time after the Titans' Week 5 loss to the Bills and falling further after turning the ball over four times in a 38-10 Week 6 loss to the Dolphins. Aside from a four-interception setback against the Panthers in Week 4, Winston has made a steady climb toward league average. Out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks, Winston ranks 22nd (minus-7.4 percent) — ahead of Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater, Newton, Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck — while Mariota ranks 28th (minus-18.0 percent).
One statistic in which Mariota maintains an edge over Winston: the traditional and more frequently cited quarterback rating, 93.2-85.7. The problem with quarterback rating, though, is that it doesn't adjust for situation and treats all completions the same. A 5-yard completion on third-and-15 is no different from a 5-yard completion on third-and-5.
Through the first seven weeks of the season, Mariota's passer rating ranks fifth out of 42 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. Winston ranks seventh, two points behind Michael Vick.
One of the reasons for being bullish on Winston coming into the season was the weapons he had at his disposal. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were both very good last season not only at running downfield and being tall (both are 6 feet 5) but also at catching passes. The duo caught 138 for 2,053 yards and 14 touchdowns. Add to that a healthy Austin Seferian-Jenkins, also 6-5, and veteran offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (6-5 in his first year as head coach of Boise State in 1998), and the Bucs had the makings of a promising offense.
But a preseason hamstring injury kept Evans out of the season opener and limited him to little more than a decoy in Week 2. Seferian-Jenkins caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener but has been out of the mix since suffering a shoulder strain in Week 2.
Before Sunday, Winston and Evans hadn't clicked yet, especially down the field. On passes beyond 20 yards, Winston was 0-for-6.
Against Washington, Winston did not waste any time targeting Evans. On his first dropback, he launched a pass more than 35 yards down the left sideline and hit the second-year receiver for a touchdown as he outran cornerback Will Blackmon.
Winston also targeted Evans deep in the third quarter, on a pressure-packed third-and-5 from Tampa Bay's own 25-yard line. Washington had just stormed back to make it a 24-21 game and was threatening to force a three-and-out when Winston again took advantage of a one-on-one matchup between Evans and Blackmon along the left sideline.
Winston could have waited for tight ends Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers as they came out of their shallow crossing routes and checked it down, but he instead showed a tremendous amount of confidence in tossing it up to Evans.
The ball was well placed, too; Winston dropped it over Evans and toward the sideline. Blackmon was not in position to deflect the pass, and the best he could hope for was a bobble or step out of bounds.
Winston targeted Evans deep once more in the fourth quarter and had him open but overthrew him. Overall, Evans caught eight of 12 targets for 164 yards and a touchdown.
Mariota, who could be out as many as three more weeks if reports of a Grade 2 sprain are accurate, is expected to participate in drills today. Here are Mariota's passes over his past four games (all losses to Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Miami):
Zach Mettenberger started in Mariota's place Sunday and completed 22 of 35 passes for 187 yards in a 10-7 loss to the Falcons. He threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.