GLENDALE, Ariz. — Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston dropped back to pass and immediately was under pressure from the hard-charging Cardinals defense.
He scrambled to his right, looking desperately for an open receiver. He kept running but soon was tripped up from behind by Arizona's Chandler Jones.
Now here's the part that makes you shake your head. There was less than a minute left in the game. And the Bucs were down by 33. Which leads to this simple question: Why in the heck was Winston still in the game?
In fact, why was Winston in the game for the final 10 minutes when this stinker was pretty much over early in the second half?
"I don't think Jameis would have come out," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "A lot of guys were finishing the game for both teams."
Who cares about a lot of other guys? There is no player more important to the Bucs than the player who was picking himself up off the ground late in the fourth quarter of a blowout.
"We could have taken him out, but he would have wanted to finish," Koetter said. "Some of you may not understand this, but the captain always wants to go down with the ship, and that's how it is, and Jameis is that kind of guy."
Count me among those who do not understand. Why would you risk losing your best player, your franchise's more important piece in a game that was already lost?
"You can criticize me all you want," Koetter said. "He stayed in the game. … You can get mad as you want. He stayed in. Write what you're going to write."
Okay then: The Bucs will go only as far as Winston takes them. That's not exactly breaking news, that a team's success generally relies on the play of its quarterback. But if you needed proof, the past two weeks certainly offered examples. Winston threw four touchdowns in the opening-week victory at Atlanta and four interceptions in Sunday's disheartening loss at Arizona.
For the record, Winston was fine with staying in Sunday's game to the bitter end.
"I want to play," he said. "I'm here to play. I play football for a living. I'm going to be out on the field with my brothers fighting until the end."
That's admirable, and it's that kind of leadership that makes Winston so popular among teammates. It's also what will make him a special player.
But Winston, ultimately, shouldn't be the one who decides when he should come out of a game. Koetter is the one who should have yanked him, because the next 14 games are more important than the final 14 minutes of Sunday's debacle.
At one point late in the game, Winston actually got into a shoving match with an Arizona player after Winston threw a heavy block. Two other times in the final four minutes, Winston was knocked to the ground. While Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer spent the final 10 minutes wearing a ball cap and playing spectator, Winston was out there running for his well being.
Brave? Sure. Smart? Not so much.
This game was over, and there was nothing more to be gained by throwing him back out there.
Maybe Koetter was just hoping for something positive to finish off a game that started slow and got worse as the day went along.
Winston can't be blamed for all four interceptions. One was tipped. Another came on a desperation heave on the game's final meaningless play. Oh, and he lost a fumble when his arm collided with teammate Charles Sims.
Still, he pretty much stunk up the joint on Sunday, and it's just another reminder that he is a kid who is still trying to figure out this quarterback thing in the NFL. Good one week and bad the next. It didn't help Sunday that he lost one of his main weapons in the first quarter when running back Doug Martin was injured. And it didn't help that he was forced to throw the ball a career-high 52 times because the Bucs were down a bunch all day. And it didn't help that he was under heavy pressure most of the afternoon.
Now, if you're looking for something positive, it's that Tampa Bay is tied for first place in the NFC South and has yet to play a home game. If you had told most Bucs fans that before the season, they would be neither upset nor surprised. What makes Sunday's game a little hard to swallow is how they lost.
They played a really good team and simply weren't up for the challenge. They were outclassed by a team that is clearly much better than they are.
You can be discouraged by the result, but you really can't fault the effort. The Bucs tried hard. In fact, you could argue they were trying too hard.
Why else would you have your franchise quarterback out there in the last minute, taking hits, in a game that was long gone?