TAMPA — Stop the roller-coaster, I want to get off.
The Bucs should, too.
The up-and-down career of Jameis Winston has taken another plunge. This time it was an international disaster. He disintegrated in London, five interceptions and a fumble. Now the whole world knows.
This is not going to work. Maybe it was never going to work, ever since the Bucs staked their future to Winston.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians did not express alarm after the long flight home, punctuated by Winston’s game stats not making it through customs.
And just in time for the Bust Bowl, two weeks from now, when the Bucs, off their bye, travel to play Tennessee and Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 to Winston’s No. 1 in the 2015 NFL Draft. That is, if Mariota plays. He was lifted for Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. The Titans might have given up. The Bucs can’t be far behind.
Ah, the Bust Bowl, not to be confused with the Dust Bowl.
Or maybe it should be confused with the Dust Bowl.
The Grapes of Winston.
I bet that boat at the Georgia lake house has never looked so inviting to Arians, the man tasked with turning around Winton’s career. Once he had Ben Roethlisberger. Once he had Andrew Luck. Once he had Carson Palmer.
Nothing to see here. Yet.
“If it happens again, yeah, it will concern the hell out of me,” Arians said.
It happened in the opener against San Francisco. Then, after three blissful Winston performances, including in the upset win at Los Angeles, the bad Jameis returned with a fury in London.
Winston is making $20 million this season. If we had a $20 million baseball player who couldn’t hit in the clutch, we’d be killing him. The Rays have no such player, never will. If the Lightning had high-priced talent that came up short in the playoffs every season, then … wait, they do.
Where were we?
Oh, yes, the quarterback.
Winston can’t take pressure, the pass rush. He never faced much at Florida State, but now it is all around him. He is not up to the challenge.
“When you get hit, I don’t care if you’re Tom Brady, when you get hit early in games, it’s different,” Arians said. “And we got him hit early in the game … we got him hit too much early in the game.”
Repeating: Winston and Brady are in no way similar.
Nor is Winston anything like Roethlisberger, who would stand back there with people all around him, injuries or no, or Luck, who stood in there, to the ultimate detriment of his now-ended career.
It’s not that way with Winston. It never will be. Sunday was the clearest indictment yet. He has had five seasons to learn to avoid these meltdowns. And he can’t do it. He’s not Superman, we’re all agreed on that. But does he have to be first-team all-kryptonite?
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He clearly does not like that feeling of being surrounded by 300-pound guys who want to kill him. If polled, 99.9 percent of human beings would react the same way.
Where’s our $20 million?
It has been five seasons.
“Five games for me,” Arians said with a smile.
Six, actually, but Arians is early in the process.
Winston is down the road in his process.
It’s not time to break down him vs. Mariota. The Bucs and Titans were both wrong. Neither team has a franchise quarterback. They see the rush and the flinch. They feel the rush and they crumble. That’s Mariota. That’s poison for any quarterback. Winston gets jittery. His confidence gets blown by one mistake, which leads to others. It really is that simple.
Sunday felt like the last chance. Not that you panic over bad games. But when you know they’re coming, just know, it’s over.
You can’t say Winston hasn’t had his chances. His career record as a starter is 23-37. True, there is a lot more to losing than a bad quarterback. Sometimes Winston is at his best and the Bucs still barely win. But they never win when he plays like he did Sunday. And he’ll eventually play that way again. Just give him time.
Only Arians can speak truth to power. He is taking his time, though.
“I think as we continue to grow together, we’ll get better and these games will be one in a million, not one every five,” Arians said.
Or two every six
Winston is just a guy. He is not a franchise quarterback.
It doesn’t add up. It never did.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly