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The Bucs keep the hits and records coming in Motown

Rick Stroud’s instant analysis | Tampa Bay’s fourth straight victory was driven by record-setting performances, most notably Jameis Winston’s
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Detroit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Detroit. [ DUANE BURLESON | AP ]
Published Dec. 15, 2019

DETROIT — There’s no better place to make records than Motown and that’s what quarterback Jameis Winston and linebacker Shaq Barrett did Sunday.

The hits kept coming. First Barrett sprinted off the edge to sack Lions quarterback David Blough in the first quarter at Ford Field, tying Warren Sapp for the franchise record with 16.5 that had stood since 2000.

Then Winston passed for 308 of his career-high 458 yards in the first half. He finished with four touchdown passes, including three to Breshad Perriman to lead Tampa Bay to a 38-17 victory over the Lions. That reset Winston’s own single-season club record of 30 touchdown passes.

Of course, it’s the platter that matters and the Bucs’ fourth win in a row improved them to 7-7 overall.

If there were any fence-sitters about whether the Bucs need to find a way to lock up Winston and Barrett for 2020, well, put on the tape of this game.

It’s true that the Lions, who lost their seventh straight game to fall to 3-10-1, didn’t offer much resistance until the second half when they cut a 24-3 lead to one score. The game was sealed when rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting returned an interception of Blough’s pass 70 yards for a touchdown.

But those performances by Winston and Barrett were noteworthy because decision-time is looming. Both Winston and Barrett are set to become free agents in 2020.

The debate used to be which player the Bucs cannot let out of Tampa Bay. The correct answer is quickly becoming neither of them.

Winston is in the final year of his contract that pays him $20.9-million. A long-term deal may still seem unlikely, but the franchise tag would pay him between $25 million and $27 million on a one-year contract.

Nobody expected a record-setting season from Barrett when the Bucs signed him to a one-year, $4-million deal as a free agent from Denver. He had only had 14 career sacks in five seasons with Denver as an apprentice to great pass rushers such as Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

But he started the season on fire, with nine sacks in his first four games. In addition to leading the NFL in sacks, his six forced fumbles also are the most in the league.

Winston had already reached 300 passing yards before halftime, including 221 in the first quarter, the most by any quarterback in the first quarter since Peyton Manning threw for 247 against the Packers in 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Of course, there is the turnover thing. Winston’s third pass attempt of the game was intercepted by Lions middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai.

It’s the fifth time this season the Bucs’ first series has ended in an interception. His 24 interceptions are a career-high and the most in the NFL. But after that early interception, Winston hit eight of his next nine passes for 190 yards and two touchdown passes, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller to complete a 99-yard scoring drive.

Winston had five completions of 25 yards or more in the first half, including a 51-yarder to Chris Godwin and two over 30 yards.

Watching Winston can be hard on the stomach. It’s a thrill ride every week.

But you consider that he started the game without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin was injured in the third quarter, he did well to have such a big passing day.

The Bucs have until March to sort all this out. Usually, teams have to decide whether to use either a franchise tag or a transition player tag. The first guarantees a player the average salary of the top five highest players at their position in exchange for essentially forgoing free agency.

The transition tag guarantees the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. It is a one-year contract equal to the average salary of the top ten players in the league at the player’s position.

Because 2020 is the last year of the collective bargaining agreement, the Bucs will have the use of both the franchise and transition tags.

Regardless, games like Sunday’s just make it more obvious that Winston and Barrett are record-setting players.

You don’t let those artists sign with another label.