TAMPA — At least one or two times each Sunday, Jameis Winston will go off script, turning the game into a night at the Improv. He will risk a drive-killing sack or, as he did against Chicago in Week 10, a safety, breaking every rule of playing quarterback, only to complete some ridiculous pass that should have no chance of succeeding.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says his pulse still races when it happens, but he has learned to live with it.
"I'm sure the guys on the headphones could tell you I've had a few, 'No, no, no! Yes, yes, yes!' plays," Koetter said.
"Or then I'll say, 'That's just how you draw it up.' But that's just how it is. That's part of me knowing how to adjust to him. That's him. He's playing. I'm just coaching."
There is probably not another relationship as delicate, complicated and conjoined as the one between an NFL coach and his quarterback. If that head coach is the play-caller, it's more critical.
"Look at Belichick and Brady, Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb. And then of course, this," Koetter said. "There's nothing like it because you continue to build on it."
At 22, Winston is playing quarterback almost as well as anyone in the NFL. Koetter was fortunate to start coaching him as a rookie last season when Koetter was Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator.
By almost any identifier, they couldn't be more different. Winston, a precocious kid from Alabama who won a Heisman Trophy and national title in 2013 at Florida State. Koetter, 57, a self-described "lone wolf" and party wallflower from Pocatello, Idaho, a former college quarterback and football coach at Boise State and Arizona State before he joined the NFL in 2007 as offensive coordinator in Jacksonville.
"When it's time to work, we are just alike," Winston said. "When it's time to get out on that field, we are identical as far passion, as far as drive, and I love that.
"I loved him because of his confidence and how he held himself and how he approached the game every single day. Coach Koetter is very demanding, and he's a perfectionist. That's how I try to present myself, especially to the guys."
Koetter said when Winston visited the Bucs before the 2015 draft, he had the football IQ of a 45-year-old coach.
"More than any guy I've been around, you said, 'This guy gets ball,' " Koetter said.
The relationship is built on trust and an insatiable desire to improve and win.
Winston lives up to the cliche of the first guy in the building, last to leave. Koetter's plate is never too far from the quarterback's room.
"It's the kind of relationship where you got a son that sees his dad working hard and all that son wants to do is try continue to make his dad happy," Winston said. "That's what I'm doing. By me studying, me preparing, I'm making Coach Koetter happy in the big picture. Together, we're making this team get better."
The Bucs enter today's game against the Saints at 7-5 and in a virtual tie with the Falcons for the NFC South lead. If the playoffs began today, the Bucs would hold the final NFC wild-card spot.
Winston is on pace to surpass the passing marks he set as a rookie, when he made the Pro Bowl. His 23 touchdowns are one more than he threw last season. He has 3,180 passing yards with a month left.
Again, the quarterback-coach relationship has been instrumental. And both say any disagreements are short-lived.
"One of us will go back over and say, 'Hey, you were right,' " Koetter said. "And we've both been wrong, and we've both been right.
"That's another thing that's great about Jameis. Some guys are pouters. Some guys hold grudges. He gets over it fast."
Koetter credits Winston's parents and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher for preparing Winston for his role as the face of an NFL franchise.
"He's been coached hard his whole life, and he sometimes tells me I need to coach him harder," Koetter said. "More than once he's told me that."
During the game, the quarterback makes split-second decisions that will potentially affect the game and the club for years to come. He holds the football and the careers of a lot of men and their families in his hand each play.
While the goal is to win Super Bowls, Winston has personal accomplishments he would like to achieve in his career, and he's trusting Koetter to help get him there.
"I still have my dreams and aspirations, even though I'm part of a team," Winston said. "Your individual goals. And he helps keep my individual goals alive. I couldn't imagine a successful NFL career without a coach I really love and really respect."
How fortunate does Koetter feel to begin what he hopes is about a 10-year journey with Winston?
"Oh, very. I mean, are you kidding me? Shoot. Watch the game," Koetter said. "I mean this kid is special. This kid is special and what he's done, forget dropping back and passes over the middle, what this guy has done as a leader and with the team at his age. It's impressive."