TAMPA — There may be polarizing opinions about his play, but no one doubts the toughness of Jameis Winston.
The Bucs quarterback has played through various injuries during his career, missing only three games in 2017 with a sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder.
After visiting a hand specialist Monday to examine a hairline fracture in his right thumb, Winston is expected to start Sunday’s game at Detroit.
Although the Bucs aren’t sure when Winston broke his thumb in the Bucs’ 38-35 win over the Colts on Sunday, he had trouble gripping the ball after halftime and missed one offensive series before returning to the game.
Winston passed for a career-high 456 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for a score.
But coach Bruce Arians said that Winston had additional swelling and soreness in his thumb Monday, and the Bucs wanted to make sure he’s not risking a longer-term injury by continuing to play.
Winston is cleared to play, though the injury may limit his practice time during the week.
Ryan Griffin is the only other quarterback on the Bucs’ 53-man roster. He had not taken a regular-season snap in nearly seven NFL seasons until he started the second half for Winston and went 2-of-4 passing for 18 yards while leading the Bucs to only one first down.
“It was cool,” Griffin said of playing in his first regular-season NFL game. “It felt normal. It felt like it’s always felt. I would’ve liked to have gone out and scored but glad it’s behind me.”
The Bucs also lost receiver Mike Evans, who sustained a pulled right hamstring catching a 61-yard touchdown pass from Winston. Left tackle Donovan Smith, who finished Sunday’s game, has an ankle and knee injury, and is undergoing further testing.
Winston already has re-set his franchise single-season passing mark with 4,115 passing yards with three games to go. He is on pace for 5,065 passing yards, which would be the sixth-highest all-time.
But Winston also leads the NFL with 23 interceptions, the most of his career. In fact, he has a chance to lead the NFL in both interceptions and touchdown passes in the same season. Winston has 26 touchdown passes, two behind the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.
Arians said he also rides the emotional roller-coaster with Winston.
“You go with the highs and you go with the lows,” Arians said. “There was a stretch when it was like, ‘He’s afraid to throw it now.’ Slap him in the face and throw the damn thing. Don’t hold it.”
Watching the Bucs should come with a warning label for motion sickness. Winston took the Bucs on a wild ride Sunday. For the third time this season, his first pass of the game was intercepted. He still managed to keep the Bucs in it with the long-range strike to Evans for a touchdown. Then he threw his fifth pick six of the season. Before the first half ended, Winston led the Bucs on an 11-play, 75-yard drive. In the second half, Winston overcame a 14-point deficit.
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“Like I said, I’ll judge (Winston) from these games, from this year, from my work with him, not what’s happened in the past,” Arians said. “Ben (Roethlisberger) and Peyton (Manning) ― I had Peyton his first three years. It was a roller-coaster. Twenty-eight interceptions or whatever it was. It’s not an easy position to play. But when you see an interception (returned) for a touchdown, you come right off from the sideline and right back down for a touchdown — there’s something there.”
While the Bucs were eliminated from playoff contention for the 12th straight year when the Vikings beat the Lions on Sunday, Arians suggested his team has much to play for.
The Bucs (6-7) are riding a three-game win streak and have won four of their past five games. A win Sunday over Detroit would improve them to 7-7 with home games against the Texans and Falcons.
“The resiliency of the team, the ‘we’re not quitting,' the fact that we are now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs is not going to change anything," Arians said. 'We’re going to come, we’re going to work. We’re going to try to win four in a row, five in a row, and then six in a row."