TAMPA — Jameis Winston insists he has had only one really bad game in three starts this season, a four-interception day at Cincinnati. It was the Fitzmagic phenomenon, he said Wednesday, that probably led to his benching.
"Really look at film. The Cincinnati game was just a really bad game,'' Winston said of the 42-28 loss in Week 8. "If you were to grade me in those other two games, I played pretty good football.
"The Atlanta game (a 34-29 loss in Week 6), I had a bonehead turnover in the red zone that could've cost us. The Cleveland game (a 26-23 overtime win in Week 7), I had a bonehead turnover in overtime. Previous to that, we drove the ball downfield and we gave our team a chance to win late in the game.''
So why wasn't he given more chances?
"I think we can go back to how this season started. Fitzmagic," Winston said. "That was all the talk. He was playing excellent."
After Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and put the Bucs in a 31-14 hole Sunday against the Giants, Winston came off the bench and led the Bucs to touchdown drives in four straight possessions. He finished 12-of-16 passing for 199 yards with two touchdowns in the 38-35 loss. His only interception came when he tried to connect with DeSean Jackson on a deep pass with 23 seconds remaining.
That performance earned Winston the start Sunday against the 49ers. The Bucs have picked up his fifth-year club option for $20.9 million, but it is guaranteed only against injury.
The Bucs seem willing to roll the dice on that in order to use the final six games of the sesason to determine whether they want Winston to return in 2019. Winston was asked if this amounts to an audition for his future in Tampa Bay.
"I think every game to me is kind of like that just because of the standard of excellence in this league and the aspirations that I have to be the best,'' Winston said. "So, I'm always trying to show what I'm about, showing how I can lead and show how I can execute.''
After the NFL informed Winston in July of his three-game suspension to start the season after its investigation concluded he groped an Uber driver in 2016, Winston took second-team reps mostly in training camp and the preseason as the Bucs prepared Fitzpatrick to start.
Fitzpatrick passed for at least 400 yards in each of his first three games, an NFL record. He also threw 11 touchdown passes.
Meanwhile, Winston could not be around his teammates and had to organize workouts with former NFL players and free agents. He acknowledged all that might have affected his play.
"I think that's been a part of my reality this year," Winston said
Winston played the second half in mop-up duty in a 48-10 loss at Chicago in Week 4. He threw four touchdown passes at Atlanta but also had two interceptions in that loss.
In his second start, Winston beat Cleveland. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 40-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Then Winston threw an egregious interception in overtime.
"We've talked about this before,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "The reason people don't switch quarterbacks in the NFL is because they either don't like their backup or they don't trust their backup. And so, hey, I've had quarterbacks be hot and cold before, and we've stuck with them because they were really our only quarterback."
Winston was asked if he was hurt by Koetter going back to Fitzpatrick after the Bengals game, essentially proving he had more trust in another quarterback.
"(Koetter) didn't say that,'' Winston said. "It showed that he wanted to win. I think it hurt me more that we lost.''
All the while, Winston said he still believed he was the best quarterback to lead the Bucs.
"In my heart, yeah, I believe I can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL,'' Winston said. "But we have an opportunity to show that. For me to be in the ranks with all those high-ranked guys, I have to show that consistently."
Does Winston believe the Bucs are committed to him for 2019?
"I just know I'm committed to this team and to do my best to provide opportunity for me later,'' he said.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud.