All aboard the Bipolar Express!
Your conductor: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.
Next stop: Jacksonville.
We can stop pretending now, can’t we? Like we don’t know what’s going to happen next week? Like we don’t know anything at all about Winston? Like he’s some kind of inscrutable mystery?
He’s not. We know exactly who he is. We’ve watched 67 games and 2,356 passes. Goodness, what more do we need to see?
You know, if an ax murderer appeared at his trial in a Tampa Bay courtroom — with ax in hand — I’m not sure the jury would convict him.
Yes, Karen, I get that the defendant is covered in blood, but how do we REALLY know that he did it? Maybe the victim fell on the ax. I say give him back his weapon and let him walk. Let’s see what happens.
Back to Winston. If you’re a devotee, you might want to try to extract meaning from his performance Sunday in the Bucs’ 35-22 win over the Falcons. That would be a pointless exercise.
Sunday wasn’t a step forward. Nor was it a step backward.
It was more of the same.
He was bad. He threw an interception during the Bucs’ first possession for the third time this season. Four passes later, he threw another, bringing his total to an NFL-high and Jay Cutler-esque 20. The Falcons took over at the Tampa Bay 19-yard line and scored a touchdown less than three minutes later.
And he was good. He threw three touchdown passes and gained more than 300 passing yards for the sixth straight game. His deep pass to Chris Godwin on the first touchdown, a 71-yard catch-and-run, was as good as it gets, the type of anticipatory throw and completion that only a handful of NFL quarterbacks can make. Then, on a critical third down at the start of the fourth quarter, he dodged pressure from both his left and right sides, stepped up in a collapsing pocket and, knowing he was going to take a shot to the ribs, zipped a heater to Mike Evans.
He was quintessential Winston — the quarterback who can do anything at any time. Good follows bad, and bad follows good. The bad never lasts long, but neither does the good. One moment you feel hope; the next, hopelessness.
It’s not theory. It’s reality. In physics, it’s known as Winston’s Law of Emotion. For every good play, there is an equally bad play. For every bad play, there is an equally good play.
“Who is Winston?” is the wrong question and so very 2018. We’re beyond that. The question now is this: “Can the Bucs win with Winston?”
Not if he keeps throwing interceptions at this rate. As if his league-leading 4.6 percent interception rate weren’t enough cause for concern, consider this: His 20 picks represent 7.2 percent of the total thrown across the NFL. If he maintains his current pace, he will be responsible for the largest share of interceptions in a single season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
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The last quarterback to account for more than 6.3 percent of the NFL’s interceptions? Another former Bucs first overall draft choice: Vinny Testaverde, who threw 35 picks in 1988, his second season the league. Winston is in the middle of his fifth season and playing in an era in which interceptions are much less common than they were three decades ago.
Coach Bruce Arians has maintained that he has not made a decision about whether Winston, whose contract expires after this season, will return to the Bucs in 2020. He did, however, say after Tampa Bay’s Week 10 win over Arizona that “there’s a real good chance.”
Say Arians truly hasn’t made up his mind. How much weight should the Bucs’ last five games carry? Little, regardless of whether Winston succeeds or struggles.
History tells us he’ll succeed. Every season, he improves during the second half and teases a breakout. Each time, it turns out to be false hope. The breakout never comes.
The lack of carryover from one season to the next isn’t specific to Winston. It’s typical of all quarterbacks. Improvement during the second half of a season isn’t predictive of performance the next season, according to Football Outsiders research. Full-season performance is more predictive.
In other words, the Winston you’ve seen to this point in his career is probably the Winston you’ll see next season.
Deep down, you already knew that. Might as well buckle up.