TAMPA — Mike Evans said the first interception was his fault. He should have come back for the ball.
Bruce Arians said some of the interceptions were the linemen’s fault. They should have blocked better.
Still waiting for someone to blame the Carolina Panthers. Did they really have to be so mean?
The Buccaneers always seem to do a better job protecting Jameis Winston on weekdays than they do on game days.
Yes, they admit, he could have played better, but it really wasn’t all his fault.
This is a pattern — actually, more like a strategy — that goes back to Winston’s days at Florida State. Whatever mistakes he makes on the field, whatever transgressions he commits off the field, can all be overlooked because he’s still growing/maturing/learning/understanding/recognizing. Or it’s just plain someone else’s fault. Those crab legs he stole at Publix just looked too danged good, man.
This is what happens when you have the potential to be a star. Those around you will do Cirque du Soleil-like maneuvers to make sure you remain on the road to celebrity. And if you make a grim, cold, cost vs. benefit calculation, there is some logic to that strategy.
Except it hasn’t worked for Winston.
We can agree on that, right? He has been given free passes for five years in Tampa Bay, and still doesn’t seem prepared to pay off that debt anytime soon. There is the occasional step forward, and then two interceptions backward.
And, yet, this isn’t the right time to give up on Winston. Not mid-season. The Bucs have already gone all-in on Winston for 2019, so it would be like folding your hand while you still have $21 million in the pot. If there’s even a slim chance of winning, you might as well see it all the way through.
So what is the answer?
Maybe it’s time to stop coddling. Stop making excuses. Maybe it’s time Arians grabs Winston by the proverbial lapels and screams what everyone in Tampa Bay has wanted to shout at one time or another in the past few seasons:
STOP SCREWING UP!
Will it help? I seriously doubt it. At this point, the evidence suggests that Winston will never have the feel, or intuition, to pick apart an NFL defense. He may play 15 years in the league and may even take teams to the playoffs, but it will always seem like there is something missing in his repertoire.
Still, a change in approach is worth a shot. Instead of constantly giving Winston the impression that he’s not to blame, maybe it’s better to finally pull back the curtain and explain reality to him.
Quarterbacks are the stars.
Quarterbacks take the blame.
You can fire coaches. (The Bucs have done that twice.) You can invest in the offensive line. (The Bucs are spending a ridiculous amount for their slap dash group.) You can manipulate the numbers to make them seem less incriminating. (Arians once suggested Winston’s problems stemmed from constantly playing from behind, which just isn’t true).
But in the end, the quarterback is responsible.
And, honestly, the Bucs may be doing Winston a disservice by trying to shield him from that reality. Because, the way things are going, it’s hard to imagine investing another big contract in him once this season ends. He’s in danger of playing himself out of tens of millions of dollars.
This isn’t about being punitive or macho. This is about accountability — the one thing Arians promised to bring, along with his famed quarterback coaching skills.
Think about the past few months. Arians called the defense soft. He suggested a rookie receiver better get over his injury if he wanted a roster spot. He publicly mused about whether another rookie had even been on the field in a preseason game because he had so little impact. He once said his offensive linemen got their butts kicked.
But when it comes to Winston, the coach is always measured. Always prepared to defend.
That could be because Arians knows Winston better than we do. And he recognizes a player with a psyche so fragile that it constantly needs to be reinforced or else all hell will break loose. If that’s really the situation, then maybe there is some justification for the constant excuses.
On the other hand, if Winston is really that fragile, this will never work anyway.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.