TAMPA — It's hard not to appreciate the love Jameis Winston has for all his teammates. It's endearing. It's genuine. But lately, his postgame news conferences contain more whoppers than Burger King.
Winston is down to one NFL starting receiver — Mike Evans. That's why Winston has targeted Evans 32 times in the past two weeks (16 catches, 278 yards, no touchdowns, eight drops).
Yet he would have you believe rookies such as Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye and second-year Ivy League tight end Cameron Brate are enough to keep the rest of the offense afloat.
This is not meant to dump on the aforementioned young players who are doing the best they can. They all have a great upside and, under the circumstances, have produced about what you could expect. In some cases, more. And Winston believes in his guys.
But has anyone noticed the Bucs offense has scored only one touchdown in each of the past two games, with Winston running it into the end zone on both occasions?
What's more, the Giants and Cowboys defenses ganged up on running back Doug Martin. After three consecutive 100-yard games, Martin is averaging 3 yards per carry (29 rushes, 94 yards) over the past two weeks.
The Bucs have no Vincent Jackson, who has missed two games with a knee injury. No Louis Murphy, who is on injured reserve with a torn ACL. No tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns until he went out in Week 2 with a shoulder injury.
"Yeah, we're going to be better when we get those players," coach Lovie Smith said.
And when might that be?
"It was close for a few of them (Sunday)," Smith said. "But you know, when a guy is out, it's a process, it takes a little bit of time to heal. Hopefully, we'll get a few of the guys back."
In the meantime, the situation for Winston and the Bucs offense stinks like garlic gum.
Winston has torpedoed some of the Bucs' best drives too. He threw high to tight end Brandon Myers and behind Humphries on Sunday, with both deflected passes intercepted by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath.
The Bucs went 1-for-4 in the red zone against the Giants, yet still were an overthrown two-point conversion pass to Russell Shepard away from tying the score at 20 in the fourth quarter.
"We had the ball down there a couple other times when turnovers hurt us," Smith said about Sunday's game. "If we could've gotten points there, I think we're talking about a little different situation. We missed a field goal. We've been getting into position to do some things."
Credit Winston, Evans and his patchwork quilt of receivers for putting together the biggest drive of the game Sunday when they absolutely needed it. The Bucs marched 56 yards in nine plays for the winning touchdown — a 1-yard bootleg by Winston.
Evans drew a holding penalty. Dye caught his only pass for a first down. Myers made a catch in traffic for 17 yards.
"Play-calling, it starts with that," Smith said of the winning drive. "Line-wise, we needed protection when we threw the ball. We spread it around. It went through Mike, like anyone would, quite a bit. It was a good mix throughout. … I think everyone felt they had a part of us moving the ball down there.
"One drive. You can't make any major mistakes and we get an opportunity to make plays. Linemen, snap count, everything has to be perfect and that's what we got. Yeah, we had a couple close calls, but it's that way every play … you don't necessarily want to see your quarterback out of control like that in the air (on Winston's attempted dive for a score). But the last drive, though, whatever it takes, you do. And for us to cap it off with a touchdown was big."
It stood out. It stood alone. It stands to reason the Bucs will need more than one touchdown per game moving forward.
But Winston, with no visible signs of his nose growing or his pants on fire, said he saw all this coming.
"We knew Mike Evans was going to come and have an amazing game this week," Winston said. "We knew that Adam Humphries was going to come up and have another amazing game this week. We knew the tight ends were going to step up. We knew Donteea Dye was going to get his first catch, his only catch, make some guys miss and get a good first down for us."
Hey, who doesn't like a little extra mustard on their whopper?