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Jones: Don't hang Bucs' loss on Winston

HOUSTON

Rookie quarterbacks, even the promising ones, can you give you migraines.

They make bad decisions. They make horrible plays. They do dumb things.

Bottom line: they lose football games.

That's why you can't help but constantly worry about them. Except in Tampa Bay. As is always the way with the dysfunctional Bucs, nothing is ever the way it's supposed to be.

When it comes to the Bucs, don't worry about the rookie quarterback. In fact, Jameis Winston is the last guy you should worry about.

It's everybody else that's the problem.

Case in point: Sunday's 19-9 loss to the Texans. The Bucs managed to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory.

They made bad decisions. They made horrible plays. They did dumb things. And they lost a football game.

But none of it — well, very little of it — can be blamed on the kid signal-caller making his third NFL start.

"Jameis Winston is a good football player, simple as that," coach Lovie Smith said. "He will have some bad plays like all quarterbacks do. But his arrow is pointed up. He'll continue to get that. He learns something new each week, which rookies do. Again, there are a lot of us that need to play a lot better. Of course, he included, but we're going to win a lot of games with him."

But the Bucs will continue to lose a lot of games with him, too, until they can either find better players to put around him or get better play out of the players they do have.

Until then, pass the Tylenol.

Winston was far from perfect Sunday. The Bucs converted only one of 12 third downs, and some of that was Winston throwing his darts well outside the bulls-eye.

But don't blame Winston for the loss. Blame kicker Kyle Brindza, who missed three field goals (two of them gimme putts) and an extra point.

Don't point the finger at Winston. Point it at a rushing defense that was carved up for 186 yards and a passing defense that turned little Ryan Mallett into Tom Brady.

Don't pin the loss on Winston. Pin it on costly drops, most notably by the rusty Mike Evans.

When you are listing reasons for why the Bucs lost Sunday, there are plenty of candidates.

Attack the rushing offense that produced 57 yards on 20 carries. Criticize the 10 penalties for 84 yards. Slam the guy for not filling up the Gatorade buckets with enough ice.

But don't you dare blame Winston.

Only one person was silly enough to do that. Naturally, you can guess who.

"It's a thin line between winning and losing," Winston said. "I have to meet the quota. I have to produce on third downs."

Winston wasn't sacked Sunday, but he was under some serious pressure from Houston beast J.J. Watt and his Texans teammates, and that led to a few misfires. But if every ball that should have been caught had been caught, Winston's numbers would have been a whole lot better than 17-for-36 for 261 yards.

Here's another number that would have been different: the final score. The Bucs would have won, I'm sure of it.

"I miss throws, too; everyone isn't perfect," Winston said. "Everyone makes mistakes. We can't put our head down. We got to get back up and bounce back."

What's encouraging about Sunday is the Bucs could have won. Probably should have won despite playing poorly on the critical downs.

"I guess you could look at it that way," Smith said. "Or really disappointing that (you didn't win)."

Let's face it, the Texans aren't that good. They didn't win Sunday as much as the Bucs lost. For Tampa Bay, it was the classic example of a team that still hasn't figured out how to win.

That shows up when your bad penalties kill your own drive and extend those of your opponent. That shows up when you can't catch third-down passes. That shows up when you can kick a 58-yard field goal in the first half but miss 41- and 33-yarders when the game gets tense.

"These are the things that losing teams do," Smith said.

This is to be expected. This is a young team that won two games last season. This is a bad team that lost 14. Transformations don't happen overnight. Not when you're young. Not when you lack talent.

Winston tried to find the positive. He admitted it sounded strange, but he called the loss "promising."

"My goal is to get better every single week," Winston said. "I believe we got better as a team. I believe I got better."

He's half right. He got better. The team around him did not.

In the short term, some of it can be fixed. Evans is better than he showed Sunday. Brindza will make field goals or the Bucs will bring in someone who can. Some of the penalties can be cleaned up.

But in the long term, the only way this gets better is if the Bucs get better players. That takes time.

The good news is they already have the quarterback.

Jones: Don't hang Bucs' loss on Winston 09/27/15 [Last modified: Sunday, September 27, 2015 9:04pm]
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