Why wait? Time for Bucs fans to start missing Jameis Winston

Winston won't begin his three-game suspension until after Aug. 30, but his performance in Saturday's 30-14 win over the Titans let the Bucs know what they will miss.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston looks for a receiver as he scrambles in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston looks for a receiver as he scrambles in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Published Aug. 19, 2018|Updated Aug. 19, 2018

NASHVILLE — Here in the land of love-sick country ballads where the dog dies, the pickup truck tires are slashed and somebody leaves a note on the way out of town, Bucs fans should already start missing Jameis Winston.

Oh, he's not gone, gone, gone just yet.

Winston doesn't have to leave the building until after the Bucs' final preseason game against Jaguars on Aug. 30, when he begins serving a three-game suspension.

But anybody who bleeds pewter and red should start missing him already.

Just consider the highlight reel he packed into the second quarter of Saturday night's 30-14 preseason win over the Titans.

While you're at it, remember the helium ball thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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Winston entered the game in the second quarter and reminded everyone why he was picked No. 1 overall in 2015, ahead of Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.

On his first pass attempt, Winston threw the ball over the wrong shoulder of receiver Mike Evans, who made a circus catch and hung on despite taking an illegal hit to the head that tacked on 15 yards.

Winston connected with DeSean Jackson in stride over the middle for 19 yards. He did a Houdini escape from pressure and found Chris Godwin for a 20-yard touchdown, even though the pass was called back for a holding penalty on tackle Brad Seaton.

The Bucs settled for a 44-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, but the fuse was lit.

What Winston did on his next two drives was pure Winst-magic.

He started by dropping a dime for 54 yards into the arms of Jackson.

Jesus, Take the Wheel. A deep ball! Winston to Jackson.

"It was just good to get out there with the ones and the offensive line. Those guys played great," Winston said. "Hard work pays off."

Jackson said the long ball has been a long time coming.

"Last year was tough getting the down the field balls," Jackson said. "It's something we've been keying in on and if we can have a lot of productive plays like that down the field, it's going to help our offense be very explosive. We have a lot of weapons, a lot of options."

Winston then hit tight end O.J. Howard over the middle for 20 yards. He fired 5 yards to rookie Justin Watson.

Then on the next play, with Titans draped all over him and falling off his back foot, Winston spun free enough to aim one of the patented "Oh no, no, yes, yes, yes," throws he's known for, finding Godwin for an 8-yard touchdown. The play capped a 91-yard scoring drive.

"We've been emphasizing throwing touchdowns in the red zone," Winston said. "It was a good opportunity. Godwin got open and I threw it up to him, giving my guy a chance. In film, I'm probably going to get yelled at. But at the end of the day, I've got to learn from those."

That the Bucs began the drive on their own 9-yard line wasn't lost on coach Dirk Koetter.

"That was a heck of a drive,'' Koetter said. "Ninety-one yarders are hard to come by.

"That's a tough route against quarters and you got to be able to hit it and we finally hit it."

On his final appearance of the half, Winston completed four more passes, rolling to his right and firing a strike to Watson in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to give the Bucs a 20-7 lead.

Winston finished 13-of-18 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. In one quarter of work.

He wasn't perfect. His misses were big. He hung onto the ball like it was a family heirloom.

But my goodness, if there was ever a night to realize how much Winston has put Tampa Bay's season in jeopardy, this was it.

The contrast between Winston and Fitzpatrick was startling.
On the first play of the game, the Bucs' 35-year-old backup-now-turned-starting quarterback threw too long to Evans. He had Jackson open behind the defense, but the ball floated like paper in the wind and was under thrown.

Fitzpatrick was done after one quarter. His 5-for-13 performance for 46 yards is representative of how he played. He led the Bucs to a field goal.

"I thought I left some throws out there, some stuff I could've done a better job on," Fitzpatrick said. "But overall, being in there for a quarter. I didn't get in a great rhythm being in there a quarter. But sitting back watching that second quarter and have Jameis throw for 200 and whatever it was yards in a quarter and two touchdowns and watch all those guys run their routes and the way we protected was pretty fun to watch."

Considering the way the Bucs played Saturday, Winston still gives this team the most hope to win.

The Bucs defense wasn't very good. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul made some good plays against the run, tackle Gerald McCoy and end Vinny Curry got some good pressure. But Mariota was able to dump short passes in front of the linebackers, and the tackling was awful.

Mariota was allowed to dink and dunk his way to 4-of-7 for 80 yards, 47 of them coming on a screen pass that Tawan Taylor took to the house.

There were too many penalties. The Bucs failed to line up right on offense a few times. Avoidable stuff. Winston saved the day.

But oh, Jameis, what have you done?

"Obviously, he's going to be gone," Jackson said. "I just think he's being a professional and taking care of his job and doing the best he can with the circumstances on himself. I respect for that because he's not letting it be a distraction.

"The good thing is we have Fitz and he's played a lot of ball. He knows how to get the job done, too. It is what it is, we've got to deal with it. Jameis is moving forward and getting better and that's all you can ask for."

As Luke Bryan would sing, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud.