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Bucs’ Bruce Arians absolves Jameis Winston of two interceptions

The coach said the last of two pick sixes resulted from a poor decision, however
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) passes the ball in the fourth quarter during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 08, 2019 in Tampa. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Sep. 9
Updated Sep. 10

TAMPA — On a day Bruce Arians complained about not having access to an in-house instant replay system at Raymond James Stadium, he challenged his own original call that two of Jameis Winston’s three interceptions in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the 49ers can be pinned on the Bucs quarterback.

Upon further review, he said running back Peyton Barber ran a poor route, resulting in the pick six by cornerback Richard Sherman.

“The turnovers, after looking at the film, the biggest problem with the touchdown for the interception was Peyton was three yards too deep on his route,'' Arians said Monday. "Last night, I thought he was fine. But he was too deep. That ball was thrown perfectly.’’

Of course, there was no excusing Winston’s second pick six. Needing a touchdown to win and 2:11 remaining in the game, running back Dare Ogunbowale got caught in traffic on a screen pass that Winston threw anyway, resulting in another interception returned for a touchdown.

“The one for the screen, that’s just got to be a thrown away,’’ Arians said.

Every Winston interception — 61 of them in 57 games — has its own story.

But what did you expect from Arians?

For much of Winston’s career, whether it’s been Lovie Smith or Dirk Koetter or now Arians, the pattern has been the same.

Winston starts slow, commits some turnovers, and coaches deny, alibi and justify.

When Winston’s first NFL pass resulted in an interception for a touchdown, Bucs coach Lovie Smith said, “It’s one game. Let’s not overreact to a bad performance. … We have the guy that’s perfect for us."'

When Dirk Koetter put limits on Winston and ran Jacquizz Rodgers 30 times in a win at Carolina in 2016, he said, “There can be no person on this planet, other than his parents, that’s more confident in Jameis Winston than me.”

Now it’s Arians’ turn, only this time, he really has no choice.

Arians was hired to help Winston make better decisions and avoid mistakes like he made late in the 49ers loss.

Furthermore, he’s eliminated all real competition by keeping Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin as the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks.

It does no good for Arians to blast at his quarterback in public when the opportunity to coach Winston is his stated reason he came out of retirement.

There is plenty of truth, you suppose, to what Arians is saying.

Quarterback is the most dependent position in the football field. When O.J. Howard has a catch-able pass bounce off his hands for an interception, it’s not Winston’s fault. When a 15-play drive is sabotaged by Howard’s lost fumble, it’s not Winston’s fault. When Mike Evans doesn’t read the blitz and cut off his route, leaving only one option to throw to Barber, it’s not Winston’s fault.

When Demar Dotson erases not one but two touchdown passes to Cameron Brate due to holding penalties, well, you know the rest.

Even so, there was a familiarity to what happened Sunday against the Niners.

The Bucs defense played surprisingly well, allowing only 17 points while scoring on Vernon Hargreaves; interception return for a touchdown.

But the effort was wasted with a forgettable opening day performance by the quarterback.

It could’ve been the ’99 season opener when Trent Dilfer threw two pick sixes and lost a fumble in a 17-13 loss to the New York Giants.

It could’ve been Josh Freeman throwing an interception on opening day in 2013 that led to the Jets only touchdown or kicking the football out of the back of his own end zone for a safety.

In each case, Bucs coaches cherry picked which mistakes to highlight.

On Monday, Arians made no mention of the interception linebacker Kwon Alexander dropped before he was ejected from trying to decapitate Winston. Nor was any big deal made about the late pass on fourth-and-2 to Chris Godwin broken up but dropped in the end zone by defensive back Tarvarius Moore.

The fact is Winston has been a notoriously slow starter during his NFL career. His first pass as a pro was a pick six. He lost five of seven to start as a rookie. He lost three of his first four games under Koetter. He went 3-10 in 2017. After coming off a suspension, he lost two of three starts and was benched last season.

No matter how poorly they had played, the Bucs had the game in their hands with just over two minutes remaining. It’s four-down territory. NFL quarterbacks are asked all the time to mount a drive in the final minutes and win the game.

You just need to move the ball 10-yards at a time. The clock is not a factor.

Arians was asked if a quarterback like Winston in his fifth season should know to throw the ball away in that situation and live to play another down?

“He was under pretty good duress, but yeah, you would hope so,’’ Arians said.

No excuses or explanations there.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud



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